What do you get when you put together Roslyn Dawson Thompson, president and CEO of the Dallas Women’s Foundation; Co-chairs Lael Brodsky and Tricia Miller and Honorary Co-chairs Matrice Ellis-Kirk and Ambassador Ron Kirk; and top sponsors like Presenting Sponsor Toyota, Target, Lyda Hill and Nancy C. Rogers? You get the foundation’s 33rd Annual Luncheon on Wednesday, November 7, at the Hilton Anatole Hotel—an event that boasted the biggest turnout (1,570 guests) and the most money ever raised for a luncheon in the foundation’s 33-year history.
While guests like Toyota’s Sandra Phillips Rogers, Nancy Ann Hunt with daughter Ashlee Kleinert, Paige Flink, Muffin Lemak, Lisa Singleton, Carine Feyten, Emily Maduro, Pam Gerber, Jane Rose Hurst, Rex Thompson, Shonn Brown, Caren Lock and Laysha Ward found their way into the Anatole’s Chantilly Ballroom to the song “Girl On Fire,” everyone was welcomed by Lael and Tricia. A few minutes later, the co-chairs said that since Nancy Rogers had pledged $100,000 “to inspire us to give today,” they wanted every guest to pony up $100, adding, “You’re now free to enjoy your lunch … if you’ve made your gift.”
Lunch was definitely enjoyed, as it included Chimichurri Grain Bowl with Grilled Marinated Chicken, Freekeh, Tomato, Black-eyed Peas, Blanched Carrots and Cucumber with Chimichurri Vinaigrette. Desserts were a choice of Chocolate Macarons, Cheesecakes, or Mini Crunch Bars.
Soon enough, it was time to hear from luncheon keynoter Ava Duvernay, a pioneering writer, director, producer and film distributor who would be interviewed onstage by her friend Michelle Norris, a former host of National Public Radio’s “All Things Considered” program. Ava, who directed the Oscar-winning historical drama, “Selma,” told the crowd that while she loved going to movies growing up in Compton, California, she didn’t start pursuing movie-making as a career until her early 30s.
After working as a journalist—and deciding it wasn’t for her—she joined the publicity department of a movie company, setting up press tours for filmmakers. Several years later she made the leap to making her own movies, catching the eye of critic Roger Ebert with her first narrative feature, “I Will Follow.” “Roger tweeted about it 17 times,” Ava recalled of the film, which was made in 14 days for $50,000.
Her second narrative film was accepted at the prestigious Sundance Film Festival, where Ava became the first African-American woman to win the festival’s U.S. dramatic directing prize. “I’d been rejected from Sundance seven times before that,” Ava told Michelle. Now when she rolls into the festival, she joked, “it’s like the Red Sea parting.”
Acceptance into the industry’s upper echelons didn’t come easy, Ava said. Along the way she learned three valuable lessons, which she offered up to the audience as hard-won pieces of advice: Find your own lane. Develop your own vision. Figure out how you can be an ally to others.
“Selma,” which deals with the 1965 Selma to Montgomery march for civil rights, was nominated for Best Picture at the 2014 Academy Awards, further bolstering Ava’s reputation as a progressive, creative filmmaker who’s “out to change the culture.” Her “Queen Sugar” TV series, about three siblings struggling to run a sugar-cane farm in Louisiana, did the same. “Entertainment can be a teacher,” Ava told Michelle. She said she’d just wrapped up her latest project, titled “Central Park 5,” and was looking forward to her next—a documentary about Prince.
With that, Roslyn took the stage again, ebullient about the 33rd annual luncheon and its accomplishments. Not only was it the largest in the group’s history, grossing $1.5 million—and netting more than $1.1 million, it would be learned later—but it marked the culmination of the foundation’s five-year-old, $50 million fundraising campaign. As a result, Ros went on, “history is being made today, as the Dallas Women’s Foundation is being transformed into the Texas Women’s Foundation.” The new name better reflects not only the group’s status as one of the largest women’s foundations in the world, but also, Ros would say later, its mission to “transform Texas for women and girls by advancing economic security for [them] across the state.”
* Photo credit: Kristina Bowman