I would have been a New Member of the Junior League of Richmond (JLR) in the Fall of 2002, but I missed the deadline to apply – so unlike me. Given this epic fail, I checked the website religiously to make sure I would not miss the deadline again. After checking month after month, the New Member application was finally available and it was my turn to become a part of a group of women whose commitment to community service and personal development was stalwart. The kickoff event, Super Saturday, was held at the North Richmond YMCA. I remember walking in and the energy was infectious. The voices of chatting women, the blur of women moving past me to make sure things were in place – I would soon learn that is the normal movement of League women! J As a brown woman, when I walk into the room, I always look for women who look like me – it helps give me a flavor for “how things will be.” Will I have to be the sole voice of the African American community or will there be someone else to help me explain the whys of African American Culture. It took me a little while, but I found two other brown faces in the crowd, in a sea of about 140. It was fine – I was used to that ratio. I attended a private, predominately Jewish private school in Baltimore from first to twelfth grade – the grade level ratio there was about the same.
Super Saturday ended and I was hooked. I jumped into League life, taking advantage of all the training and volunteer opportunities my schedule could absorb. After “graduating” from New Member to Active, I served on the Children’s Museum committee (now the Literacy Through Art Outreach committee). It was a coveted placement and I remember the tinge of jealousy I would get from tenured Actives when I told them my placement. The committee was amazing! The impact we made on the lives of families as we crafted insects inspired by the book Mrs. Spider’s Tea Party brought me to tears after most sessions. The families loved having us there, but I would venture to say, while we thought our impact was great, the impact of the families on our lives was FAR greater.
I have always been torn between the Community and Membership councils of the League. The work of both councils resonates with me and I made a conscious decision to alternate between the two during our placement selection process. Well, you know that saying, “easier said than done?” Insert that here. After serving on the Children’s Museum committee, I was on Maternity Leave “on paper,” but was asked to serve on the Board of Directors (we had appointed members then). Amazing opportunity! After that year, I was strictly a Membership council volunteer. Now that I think back on my run on the Membership council – it wasn’t an accident. The beauty of being a New Member, New Member Advisor, New Member Assistant Chair, New Member Chair, Membership Vice President-Elect, Membership Vice President, President- Elect and President, is that, by virtue of my role, I attended eight of a possible thirteen Super Saturdays from 2003 to 2014! I was still lookin’ for the brown faces now, but from a different perspective. I wanted to make sure that, if they were anything like me, and needed the reassurance of seeing a face that looked like theirs, they saw it. The other great thing about attending Super Saturday for so many years, was I saw the hues of the faces change right before my eyes. Every year, there were more and more women that looked like me joining our ranks. Our commitment to diversity and inclusion states “…we welcome all women who value our mission. We are committed to inclusive environments of diverse individuals, organizations and communities.” We can say that all we want, but if we can’t see it in who we are, it’s lip service.
We were starting to walk the walk. There was a shift taking place and I was excited to be in the number. This shift meant that there would be more opportunities for the League to reflect the RIC community. This shift meant that other women would learn more about the African American experience and most importantly, this shift meant that we had a better chance of retaining brown faces, for the simple fact that there were more in the room.
Last year was the year that I realized that the reflection of myself in the pool of Junior League women would mean the most. I had the amazing opportunity to be a trailblazer last year – I served as the first African American President of the JLR. It was a great experience and I’m so grateful for the opportunity to serve. The true testament, however, is the excitement I feel seeing more African American Women in leadership roles in JLR.
My membership in the JLR means the world to me. I encourage everyone to find your place to give back to your community. Maybe it’s the JLR – maybe it’s not, but you’ll know it when you find it. It will be the place where your serve without thinking twice, where what you give is smaller than what you get back, and where you don’t know what you’d be doing if you weren’t there. I’ve found that place in the Junior League of Richmond.
Monica Brinkley Davis is the immediate past President of the Junior League of Richmond, 2015-2016.