Diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) have always been at the heart of the District of Columbia (DC) Chapter of Partners of the Americas. Our commitment to DEI is reflected in the diverse background of our members and leadership. Past presidents and officers have come from all over the United States and other countries.
Our current president, LaShelle Richmond, is originally from Washington, D.C. She served as the DC Chapter Chair of NGO/Government Relations before being elected the Chapter President in August 2020, becoming the first African-American woman to serve as DC Chapter President. Richmond works as Program Coordinator at Sasha Bruce Youthwork, Inc., an organization whose mission is to improve the lives of at-risk youth in Washington, D.C. She brings experience and the true spirit of volunteerism to the organization.DC Chapter President LaShelle Richmond
The Chapter's commitment to DEI is also visible in the breadth of topics highlighted in our agenda of programs, projects, and events. We have worked with Chapters in the U.S. and across the Western Hemisphere on topics ranging from education and cross-cultural integration to the environment and advocacy for people with disabilities, with the ultimate goal of improving lives and fostering empowerment and mutual understanding.
Inspired by President John F. Kennedy, Partners of the Americas (Partners) was created in 1964 “as the people-to-people component of the Alliance for Progress,” to bring people together through volunteerism to tackle and solve difficult challenges and improve lives in local communities throughout the Americas.
Over the years, Partners has adapted to our changing times and recalibrated its focus and approach to better meet communities’ needs and carry out its mission. One such change has been encouraging its local Chapters to shift their bilateral approach (of working only with their sister Chapter) to a multilateral approach of working with Chapters across the U.S. and the hemisphere. More recently, even though Partners has always valued and promoted diversity, equity, and inclusion, the organization decided to create a DEI Committee to increase its focus on these important issues.
Following in the footsteps of its parent organization, the DC Chapter has embraced these changes as noted in the mission statement:
“The DC Chapter of Partners of the Americas, through its volunteers, brings together development professionals, government officials, business leaders, educators, and artists in our hemisphere and matches them to resources, knowledge, and funding opportunities. We empower citizens to become agents of change and develop lasting solutions to tough challenges. We believe that through partnership, we can enhance social, economic, and cultural well-being across the Americas.”
The DC Chapter is committed to building and sustaining an inclusive environment by welcoming people of all backgrounds, experiences, viewpoints, and perspectives. The Chapter's projects and activities reflect our intention to foster DEI. We honor values and principles of service, respect, partnership, access, mutual understanding, impact, and resilience.
The Chapter strives to maintain transparent and effective communication with its members. Communication is a very important element in DEI — it ensures individuals from varied backgrounds, religions, communities, or age groups share a strong rapport and do not face problems working together. The board members of DC Partners represent diversity. Harvard Business Review has found that diverse teams are able to solve problems faster than teams of cognitively similar people.
As Chapter officials, we have demonstrated our willingness to promote diversity, offer opportunities, and advocate for inclusion in programs and projects, in previous and current Chapter leadership, with our members and partners.Denise Decker, Former DC Chapter Vice President for Membership and Partners Board Member
As a person with a disability, the late Denise Decker, who served as the DC Chapter Vice President for Membership and a Partners Board Member, was constantly aware of equity and inclusion. From 1995 to 1997 as a Partners Kellog Fellow, Denise worked with Brazilian counterparts to found the first independent living center for people with disabilities in Brasília. In 2019, Denise wrote an Advocacy Guide that was translated into Spanish and Portuguese and distributed in Brasília and through the Partners membership portal.
In 2009, DC Chapter President Richmond traveled to Brasília to visit organizations and agencies that provide services to youth and their families. The trip was very impactful on her as it was her first opportunity to travel outside the U.S.
“My visit to Brasília will forever guide my commitment as a social worker, teacher, mentor, community advocate, and youth leader.”
We are certain that this experience informs her tenure as the DC President as she implements the Chapter programs along with her fellow board members.
The DC Chapter will continue to make efforts to increase membership, and support and implement projects and exchanges involving community service, NGO and government-related professions, youth, and educators, while taking action on DEI. This will be done by building on a strong framework of protocols and procedures put in place by the previous administration and following established best practices.
As an example of our commitment to DEI, the Chapter will develop a project to honor the memory of Denise Decker and her advocacy for people with disabilities. President Richmond and Ex Officio Maricy Schmitz will work with the Washington, D.C. Government Office of Disabilities Rights to make it happen.
By making sure to welcome and include everyone, DC Partners seeks to adhere to the guidelines of its parent organization: serving as a connector and working with Chapters in the U.S. and across the hemisphere to make positive contributions to local communities everywhere, one person at a time. We believe this can have a multiplying effect to promote mutual understanding and improve lives around the world.
Marcia Loureiro, Secretary
Maricy Schmitz, Immediate Past President, Ex Officio Board Member
This blog submission is part of the PartnersIDEA initiative under the General Diversity & Inclusion focus area.