Empowering Texas women and girls was the order of the day on Tuesday, September 26, when the Texas Women’s Foundation held its 38th Annual Luncheon.
Titled “Past, Present and Future,” the fundraiser attracted nearly 1,000 guests to the Hilton Anatole Dallas.
The empowerment theme was established from the get-go, when Tiffany Solano and the Highland Park Lads and Lassies group welcomed the attendees with a lively rendition of “Brave.” Popularized by Sara Bareilles, the song urges speaking up for oneself in the face of adversity — which Luncheon Co-Chair Ashleigh Everett said jibed perfectly with the event’s purpose.
“We want to see girls and women be brave, and with the necessary tools and support, we can help make that happen,” Ashleigh said. She was joined onstage by Co-Chair Yolanda Garcia and members of both their families: Ashleigh’s mother and two daughters, as well as two of Yolanda’s three daughters. Yolanda said the work of the TWF investing in strategic initiatives and advocacy efforts and services is “making real change for women statewide.”
Following recognition of the luncheon sponsors — including Target, Hunt Consolidated, Toyota and Presenting Sponsor the Dallas Mavericks — Mavs CEO Cynt Marshall took the mic. Appearing like nothing so much as the head cheerleader at a pep rally, Cynt exhorted the crowd to be great teammates on behalf of the TWF mission, before ending her talk with a shout-out to Dallas’ NBA team. Say it together “on the count of three,” she instructed the guests: “Let’s go MAVS!” And everybody did.
Next up to the lectern was Becky Sykes, one of 19 founders of the then-Dallas Women’s Foundation in 1985. Becky provided a colorful history of the organization, including details about its primary founder, Helen LaKelly Hunt, and its first executive director, Pat Sabin, both of whom were among the luncheon guests.
The 1980s-era DWF was unlike any other women’s organization at the time, Becky said, because “its leadership was intentionally diverse racially, politically and socio-economically. We promised to ‘make the funding pie bigger’ for dollars to fund women’s needs and not take money away from existing women’s programs, which were already woefully underfunded.”
Becky then introduced Candice Hill, co-chair of the XIX Society, a group of philanthropists that’s named for the TWF’s 19 founders. Candice noted that during the past year TWF invested $4.9 million in grants to 197 organizations. That brought to more than $78 million the total the foundation has invested over time “to better the lives of women and families statewide,” she said.
After a pitch to text a donation of at least $119 in support of the 19 founders, the lunch (roasted chicken breast with risotto and broccolini, a caramelized banana pastry or chocolate fudge layered cake) was served at last. Half an hour later it was time to hear from the day’s featured speaker, Emmy-nominated actress and producer Storm Reid.
One of Hollywood’s most sought-after young actors, Reid has appeared in films including “12 Years a Slave” and in TV series like “The Last of Us.” She has an independent, multi-media production company called A Seed & Wings Productions, launched with her mother, Robyn Simpson, as well as a philanthropic endeavor, ArashiBlu 1720. As if all that weren’t enough, she’s also a student at the University of Southern California.
The Atlanta native was interviewed onstage by NBC 5 co-anchor Deborah Ferguson. Storm related how she’d told her mother at age 7 that she wanted to be on TV and be a “superstar,” and that now, at age 20, “I’m so blessed to be able to do what I do.” In contrast to some other young actors, she said, “I’ve had amazing support that’s kept me level-headed.”
Asked by Deborah about her activist and advocacy work, Storm said, “I’m using my art to push forward issues that I care about.” Those issues include women as well as the Los Angeles Boys & Girls Club, she said. “I’m making sure young people that are dreamers feel invested and empowered and concerned. I have my hands in a lot of pots, working for a more equitable world, especially for our children.”
She’s also been a “Global Voice” for Maybelline’s Brave Together, a global initiative focusing on mental health issues like anxiety and depression. “They’re helping people, but also educating me,” Storm said.
Meanwhile, her Seed & Wings — the “Wings” part of the name refers to butterflies, which “aren’t supposed to be able to fly, but don’t know it” — seeks to “tell stories that haven’t been told, or haven’t been told in the right manner,” Storm said. An upcoming case in point is a documentary about the rise to fame of the Brooklyn-based Double Dutch (jump-rope) team, titled “Jazzy Jumpers.”
After pointing out that the TWF is living out its legacy of supporting women and girls, Deborah asked Storm what “legacy” might mean for Seeds & Wings. “I hope our legacy will be impactful,” Storm replied. “You want to be remembered for what you’ve done in the world.”
Perhaps, she added, “I allowed people to be seen and heard.”
Nearing the end of the conversation, Deborah noted that 200 young girls from schools and organizations across North Texas were in attendance at the luncheon and asked Storm what advice she might offer them.
“I look around at rooms like this — this is proof that people are willing to invest in you, to empower you, to pour into you,” Storm answered. “You are seen. You are heard. Don’t take no for an answer. Go after what you want. Because you’re a woman doesn’t mean you don’t deserve it — it means you deserve it even more!”
TWF Interim President and CEO Dena Jackson concluded the event with brief remarks, recalling a quote from Ruth Bader Ginsburg, the late Supreme Court Justice. “It says, ‘Fight for the things that you care about, but do it in a way that will lead others to join you,'” Dena said.
“Let’s fight for Texas women now!”
* Photo credit: Kim Leeson for Texas Women's Foundation