WASHINGTON — The Washington School for Girls will hold its 25th anniversary gala on Saturday, May 14th, as part of a $1M fundraising effort meant to boost the finances of the tuition-free, all-girls Black Catholic institution.
The event, to be held at the athletic center of Trinity Washington University—another majority-Black, majority-female Catholic school—is being spearheaded by Pulitzer Prize-winning author Dr. Marcia Chatelain, media maven Wonya Lucas, and finance executive Pinkie Dent Mayfield, who will serve as honorary chairs.
The theme is “Our Girls, Our World, Our Future”, evoking WSG’s history as a school founded in 1997 by the Society of the Holy Child Jesus, the Religious of Jesus and Mary, and the National Council of Negro Women to educate at-risk youth in Southeast Washington, DC.
“The three of them came together and started an after-school program in the basement of an apartment building. That's what it was for, I think, two full years and then it turned into an actual middle school,” said Lina Permut, the school’s chief development officer.
“They really saw a need for a program that addressed young girls and their access to quality education and activities that would help instill in them the joyful pursuit of learning.”
The independent school, which now serves grades 3 through 8 on two campuses (including one at the Josephites’ own Our Lady of Perpetual Help Catholic Church), has been predominantly Black since its founding and is unique among Catholic schools in that it does not charge tuition—as a rule.
“We’re one of only 13 schools across the nation with a similar model for girls, and we’re the only one in the DC area,” Permut said.
“We are mostly able to keep our school because of funding from independent and individual donors.”
This latest fundraising effort, culminating in the gala and representing one of the largest in the WSG’s history, comes as the school “prepares for expansion”, according to a press release.
“We are hoping to raise one million dollars there during the night,” said Permut.
The event will also feature the presentation of WSG’s Founding Spirits Awards, which will go Sr Mary Bourdon, RJM, the school’s founding director; Sr Eileen McDevitt, SHCJ, director of the Holy Child Network of Schools and WSG board member; and Jennifer Gibbs-Phillips, the school’s former headmistress.
The school’s Innovator Award will go to William C. Smith, Chris Smith, and Skip McMahon—who have assisted the school through its partnership with the THEARC, a resource complex where the school hosts one of its campuses.
Dr. Monique W. Morris, a nationally known author, scholar, and advocate for Black girls, will also be honored during the ceremony for her work in the vein of WSG’s founding mission.
In addition to awards, the talents of the school’s students will also be on display, in tandem with presentations on traditions in the Black community.
“They will be doing a short history lesson on what ‘stepping’ looks like in our community and putting on a small step performance,” Permut said.
“We sing “Lift Every Voice and Sing” every morning, so they'll also be giving a small history lesson on [the song] and performing it as well.”
The gala will not be livestreamed, but in-person tickets are $175 and those interested in donating can do so on the WSG website. Subscribers to the school’s email updates will receive a short 15-minute informational video sent out the night of the event.
Specifics on the campaign’s fundraising totals so far are being kept under wraps, but Permut is optimistic and hinted at good news to come.
“We’re walking in with some definites,” she said.
“Just know we’re going to hit our goal.”
Nate Tinner-Williams is co-founder and editor of Black Catholic Messenger, a seminarian with the Josephites, and a ThM student with the Institute for Black Catholic Studies at Xavier University of Louisiana (XULA).