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Black History Month: Honoring the Importance of Black Lives, Artists, and Nonprofit Founders

Updated: Jun 10, 2022

This Black History Month, we want to honor nonprofits that were founded by Black leaders or that work specifically with African-American populations.

Eileen and Callie’s Place empowers, educates, and trains young women through building relationships, forging connections with mentors, and providing access to counseling and other resources.

Founder and Executive Director Dr. Natalie Ellington

After having her own tough experiences as a young adult, Dr. Natalie Ellington decided that she wanted to make a difference. She founded Eileen and Callie’s Place to help women through the tough transitional years after they age out of the foster care system.

The organization also hosts an annual “Celebrate 18” event that honors women turning 18. They receive clothes, shoes, jewelry, and makeovers, and are given the opportunity to make professional connections. If these young women are willing and ready to cooperate, they have a wealth of opportunities at their fingertips.

We reached out to Dr. Ellington to hear more about her vision in her own words.

Why does the plight of young women aging out of foster care matter to you?

“The plight of these young ladies matters to me for several reasons. First, they’re in this situation through no fault of their own. Children end up in foster care because of some poor decision made by an adult that was supposed to love and care for them. Secondly, they age out unprepared for adulthood. In the best of situations, 18-year-olds cannot handle the intricacies of adult decisions on their own. Without guidance and support, the challenges are so overwhelming it seems to be easier to give up. And lastly, I remember what it was like being 18 and thinking I knew everything!”

What has been the most rewarding result of starting Eileen and Callie's Place?

“The most rewarding result of starting Eileen & Callie’s Place was hearing a young lady say ‘I appreciate you’; another said, ‘Would you go with me to pick out my wedding dress?’; and another calling and saying, ‘Dr. E, I did something I shouldn’t have done. Can we talk?’”

What have you learned throughout your journey with this organization?

“I’ve learned it doesn’t take much to make a difference in someone’s life. We have so much that we take for granted and until we stop and look around us, we’ll continue to live in our own little world and walk past others who need our help.”

Donate or learn more about Eileen and Callie’s Place here.

Vashon Center for the Arts' "Vashon Remembers" Portrait Gallery memorializes Black lives affected by or lost to police violence. Artist West McLean created the portraits; over the summer, they were hanging in individual businesses, but McLean thought that putting them all together would create a greater sense of the loss of collective Black life.

McLean says,

"Seeing all the faces together will help to underscore the scope of the epidemic of violence. Seeing one or two while walking through town, I've been told, is affecting to a degree. I'm hoping that the collection of faces will underscore that these are not isolated incidents or statistical outliers. The sheer number of killings by police is horrifying, and I could paint a victim of police violence every day of the year and never be wanting for subjects.”

Each painting is paired with a QR code that leads to a website with more information on the lives of the subjects, not their deaths. McLean’s goal is to highlight the personhood of the victims, not sensationalize the violence they suffered.

According to Lynann Politte, the Gallery Director at VCA, the community embraced the project wholeheartedly. McLean collected the the portraits from around town (most of them; some still hang in businesses throughout the town) and then installed them outside in a breezeway. While he was putting up the portraits , people stopped to gaze. McLean installed it on a Sunday, and on that Monday (Martin Luther King, Jr. Day), there were candles and flowers underneath the exhibit to honor the lives affected and lost. Politte says it was deeply powerful to see this groundswell of support from the community so immediately after the display was installed. “People are processing this last year, the plight of BIPOC people in regards to the police and the legal system. People want to do something, and we’re doing our work to figure out what we need to do. We can do that processing through art.”

When the gallery reopened in June, community members walked in with tears in their eyes. The museum’s centering principle for reopening was “resilience,” and 70 artists rose to the call and provided art they had made during those first few months of the pandemic. “That’s the power of the arts,” Politte says. “It can help with healing or processing pain and solitude. People stuck in their homes are suddenly buying art because they want beauty around them.”

McLean is still working on painting more portraits. Ms. Politte says that the exhibit will go through February and probably beyond; “We’re not in any hurry to take it down.”

Read more about the exhibit here, or visit VCA and go see it in person. The portraits are located in a breezeway, so it’s perfect for socially distant observing.

The League of Minority Voters is a nonprofit in Portland, Oregon, that advocates for minority voters, educating and empowering them to make a difference in their communities.

Founder and President Promise King

League of Minority Voters' mission is to fight for the advancement of minority voters’ rights within the electoral process through education, empowerment, and bringing a voice to the issues that uniquely impact communities of color.

We asked Antonio Giuletti, Founder Promise King's assistant, some questions to learn more about their organization.

What were some of the action steps you took to help improve access to voting this past election?

“We participated in the Get Out The Vote education campaign with community organizations by creating a public service announcement about voting in partnership with KATU News.”

What does the League do to advocate and make change when it's not an election year?

“Outside of election seasons, we organize programs that aim to empower minority communities through education and training. Our Speech and Debate Leadership Program is highly successful, and we are very proud of the work we do to motivate youth to become leaders in their communities. We also created the Regional Equity Initiative, which creates an inclusive rally point for equity and diversity conversations happening in local communities.”

Dignity for Divas is a nonprofit committed to empowering women experiencing homelessness and encouraging them to find housing, stability, and self-sufficiency.

Founder Nikki Gane-Butler

Founder Nikki Gane-Butler created Dignity for Divas to focus on self-care as a means to help women get out of difficult situations. Inspired by her own experience with homelessness, Gane-Butler was moved to help other women going through such a difficult and traumatic experience. Her approach focuses on self-care as a means to help women regain their dignity and reconnect with their true selves.

Dignity for Divas provides ongoing support to women. Not only do they provide helpful services to the unhoused, they also support those who have recently secured housing and provide access to workshops to help women educate and establish themselves.

We're grateful to highlight such amazing nonprofits, and we're excited about the work they're doing in the community. Let us know how you're lifting up others' voices at!

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