A Moveable Feast: How "Dinners for Divas" is changing women's livesDerreck Kayongo
As we come to the end of February, I wanted to reflect on its importance as Black History Month. Not many of us really appreciate the importance of this month: It’s supposed to be a time of self-reflection, especially on the incredible contributions of the African-American community to these great United States of America.
First, let’s consider where this tradition came from: In 1915, Dr. Carter G. Woodson founded the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History, now known as the Association for the Study of African American Life and History. The Association conceived the idea of “Negro History Week,” which was first celebrated during a week in February 1926 that encompassed the birthdays of both Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass. Fifty years later, President Gerald Ford expanded the celebration to a month.
As I reflected on the milestones in racial equality that the people of the United States have, I couldn’t help but think about the still-gaping stumbling blocks that face African Americans — women in particular. In 2000, the Bureau of Justice Statistics reported that African-American women experienced domestic violence at a rate 35% higher than their Caucasian counterparts. According to an ongoing study from Black Women’s Blueprint, 60% of black girls report experiencing sexual assault before age 18.
While the aforementioned facts are disquieting, I was pleased to have recently run into the most amazing woman fighting these realities in the African-American community.
Meet Ms. Alma Davis. Alma, herself an African American, was a victim of abuse at an early age all the way into her marriage. One thing she was never able to get away from was the sense of abandonment and neglect that she carried throughout her life. Alma suffered through this time with great dignity and was eventually able to come to terms with it, at which point she decided to turn that grief into a mission to help young women going through a similar struggle.
Alma started an NGO called AIM for Youth, an organization that brings kids in need together with professional athletes, entertainers, and civil leaders. While this was a program to groom youth leadership, Alma felt something was missing. So one day she got a vision to start “Dinner for Divas!”
“Dinner for Divas” is an all-day event organized to take women and young girls who are victims of abuse to a special dinner where they are celebrated for who they are. What is charming about this event is that the women and girls don’t usually know why they are being pampered. They usually think they are going out to a small nice event and that’s it. Once they arrive and get their hair and makeup done, then styled and dressed in formal attire, they start to suspect something special is going on. Once they arrive at the dinner, they realize there are more than two hundred other women and young girls like them, all dressed to the nines! Then they all get into this massive ballroom where they are celebrated for who they are and reminded that the abuse they have faced over the years doesn’t define who they are as females or as human beings.
Then the tears start to run down their cheeks because for the first time in their lives they are the center of attention and being valued for who they are. You see, some of these girls have been sex-trafficked, some have been raped, others have been torn down and beaten all their lives and told they will never amount to anything. Yet during this dinner, a new world is opened up to them. A world where as women and girls they are told they matter!
I must tell you as a former refugee and victim of senseless war during Idi Amin’s era, there is nothing as important to one’s survival during and after the abuse like someone reassuring you of your humanness and value. When a woman is raped and assaulted in all forms, sometimes a reassuring gesture to show her that she is not going through this alone can be the most promising and hopeful thing you can ever afford her. I am glad to say “Dinner for Divas” is doing exactly that for these women and young girls.
During my first meeting with Alma she was despondent, and fretted the looming and constant thought of inadequacy. Even after having done so much to help herself and others, she still felt a bit unloved. I told her that what she was feeling was the emotion of not being loved — just like all the women and girls she was about to show love were feeling. I reminded her that as their spirits screamed out into the universe for help, Alma was the only one who could hear that cry because she had been there and could recognize that sentiment of fear and the lack of love that each one of these women and girls was feeling. And so it is in all our lives. The universe ushers us into these dark places and then pulls some of us out to go organize resources so as to go back into the belly of the beast to claim those victims out of these doldrums.
As we conclude Black History Month I am proud to say that even though the stats don’t look great, there are women like Alma who are bent on reversing these negatives. The question then becomes what can the rest of us do to encourage women like Alma in their work to do good. On my end as a man who is part of a brotherhood that is sometimes responsible for bringing this sort of pain, I chose to write about Alma and to encourage her to continue doing good. In addition, I promised to get the word out about “Dinner for Divas.” For more about this motivating story please visit Alma’s website, and get inspired!