Washington is in many ways a small city where the very poor and vulnerable live within sight of the rich and powerful. Rarely do the two groups meet or talk. Saturday night was an exception.
At a private home in the tony Kalorama neighborhood, surrounded by embassies and multimillion-dollar residences, the elite women of D.C. spent an evening with women who have survived addiction, incarceration and poverty.
This gathering was, surprisingly, a natural and warm experience.
The inaugural event to honor the Rebecca Project for Human Rights
was the brainchild of founder and executive director Malika Saada-Saar
and Autumn VandeHei
, the group's consultant for policy, advocacy and development. Attendees were asked to donate online
or by pledge cards.
"We wanted to raise the profile of Rebecca Project, so I thought, what group do I have access to? Who do I know?" explained VandeHei, wife of Politico co-founder and executive editor Jim VandeHei. "And I realized I know powerful media women on TV, newspapers, the Internet. So if we bring together the Rebecca Project with women who are powerful in their own right, we can come together to elevate and learn from each other's power and strength."
The contingent of leading media women was out in full force, including CNN's Dana Bash, Amy Holmes, Jessica Yellin and Edie Emery; NBC/MSNBC's Norah O'Donnell, Betsy Fischer, Carrie Dann; ABC's Robin Sproul; NPR's Michel Martin; Politico's Tammy Haddad, Kiki Ryan, Nia-Malika Henderson; CBS/FishbowlDC's Christine Delargy; The Hill's A.B. Stoddard; Congress Daily's Erin McPike; the Washington Times' Liz Glover; the Washington Post's Sally Quinn, Liz Spayd and Ceci Connolly; and Time's Jay Newton-Small.
From the realms of politics, lobbying and philanthropy were: Deborah Lehr
of Stonebridge International
; the evening's hostess Juleanna Glover
of Ashcroft Group
; Shanti Stanton
of Elmendorf Strategies
; Christina Sevilla
of the U.S. trade representative's office; First Lady Michelle Obama's press secretary Katie McCormick Lelyveld
; Ludmila Cafritz; Susan McCue
, the former chief of staff to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid and now president of Message Global LLC
; White House officials Stephanie Cutter
and Carole Browner
; and writer/producer Susanna Quinn
Invitations had been sent to the women, but men came as plus-ones. Among them were John Rogers
of Goldman Sachs, who sponsored the evening through the charity 10,000 Women
; White House economic adviser Austan Goolsbee
; Jack Quinn
of Quinn, Gillespie
; Matt Stanton
of Fortune Brands
; John Arundel
of Washington Life
; DJ/writer Tommy McFly
; Richard Wolffe
of Public Strategies
; Geoff Tracy
of Chef Geoff's restaurant; Hugo Gurdon
, publisher of The Hill; Mark Liebovich
of the New York Times
; former Rep. Tom Downey
; Conrad Cafritz
; Winston Lord
; Michael Feldman
; Perry Bacon
; Lee Brenner
; Mark Paustenbach;
and Dr. Chris Degannes
, proud husband of Malika Saada-Saar.
Two years ago, Saada-Saar and VandeHei came up with the concept of "Co-Madre" -- Spanish for "mothering with" -- bringing successful women and young mothers together across lines of class, race, education and life experiences to support one another.
The "Mother Leaders" of the Rebecca Project spoke to the attendees to share their life stories, advocate for family services and alternative sentencing, and mostly to show the strength and courage it took to transform their lives. Rebecca Project co-founder Imani Walker circulated through the crowd with Lorna Hogan, Rosetta Kelly and Angela Day to bravely and unabashedly tell their stories to potential donors and reporters.
Day, in particular, silenced the cocktail party chatter with her tragic story. In April 2008, while Day was out of town to celebrate her 10th anniversary of sobriety, her 24-year-old daughter Sheena, a teacher with a master's degree in education, was shot and murdered by her boyfriend (the father of her infant son) while she was sleeping.
Maintaining her sobriety through devastating grief and the trial that followed (the boyfriend was given a 50-year sentence), Day is now raising her grandson. She said she came to the event because "my daughter would have wanted me to." But her grief, anger and pain are still very close to the surface. Day said that she "feels blessed to have been Sheena's mother for 24 years. But God has mysterious ways."
Hogan, who has been sober for "eight years and eight months," says that if not for family treatment, "I don't know what would have happened to me." Hogan said she had been "incarcerated, addicted, hopeless and separated from my children."
It was only through family treatment -- four months as an in-patient and then 22 months as an outpatient – that she was able to heal the "underlying trauma from childhood abuse that drove me to drugs." She was also able to get her four children back from the foster care system and into her home.
The Rebecca Project for Human Rights is a non-partisan, non-profit that advocates for public policy reform and justice on behalf of the most vulnerable women and girls. The group, founded in 2001, has changed laws and criminal justice methodology at the national and local levels.
Scroll down to see photos from the Saturday night.