As I detailed in my book, Begging for Change, I LOVE to walk to work. I take many routes to get to where I’m headed, but no matter which road I wander down, it opens up doors to the city I serve—Washington, DC.
This was appropriate today, as I was walking downtown to keynote at the annual Serve DC gathering.
I probably shouldn’t say this, but when I speak, I never write my speeches down. Don’t get me wrong, I know what I want to convey, but the way I get there—well, I make that up, based on a predictable process of being open to inspiration.
I don’t know how it works, but I never fail to find an idea, or an anecdote that makes my speeches personal, passionate and to the point.
Case in point….today, when I left our house in Mt Pleasant at 7am (allowing myself a good hour and a half to stroll) I didn’t really know what I was going to say.
And as I pondered…I wandered.
Right off the bat, I walked past the home where music legend Bo Diddley lived in long ago, which was marked (along with other historic sites) by Cultural Tourism DC, a nonprofit that has created amazing historic tours throughout DC, which tempts tourists off the Mall and into the neighborhoods that make up our Capital City.
I walked down Mt. Pleasant Street, where rioters rampaged a decade ago, to protest police insensitivity to Central and South American refugees that moved here when DC was a “sanctuary city.” I walked past the Latin American Youth Center, CentroNia and the Carlos Rosario School— nonprofits founded by three dynamics women (Lori, Beebe and Sonia) who have helped hold together and heal that neighborhood.
I walked through Malcolm X Park, where Sunday night drum circles fill the air with rhythm and joy…past the offices of Washington Parks and People, a nonprofit that, along with countless others, protects and preserves our environmental resources, keeps our city one of the most beautiful capital cities in the world.
I walked down to 14th and U, which was an epicenter of riots following the murder of Dr. Marti Luther King Jr. in 1968, and where thousands of people converged 40 years later to celebrate Barack Obama’s election….as not only the first black President, but the first President to get his first job at a nonprofit.
I walked down 13th street, past Duke Ellington’s boyhood home (another spot on the historic tour), and then past the 12th St YMCA, one of the country’s oldest nonprofit organizations.
Then I turned right on 9th, and walked past Shiloh and New Bethel and Sweet Daddy Grace’s United House of Prayer…nonprofit houses of faith which held that community together during decades of decay and neglect.
I walked past Emmaus Services for the Aging , a great nonprofit which works to keep elders at home and active as long as possible.
Further down, I walked past Blagden Alley, where arts flourished and helped introduce a whole new generation of Washingtonians to a side of the city few saw from the universities or the Hill internships that brought them to DC.
Those young men and women are now staying in DC and raising their kids here (versus moving to the suburbs) because nonprofit charter schools are providing a rich variety of educational options… where, coincidentally, social enterprise businesses like DC Central Kitchen are serving locally sourced, cook-from-scratch meals which keep kids healthy and engaged, while employing people who now pay taxes and contribute to our city’s ongoing vitality.
And then I walked into the hotel and down to the ballroom where hundreds of my nonprofit colleagues had gathered for the day.
And you know what I told them? I told them about my walk…and the city we share and the community we love.
I told them that ALL of those nonprofits I passed…they create profit. Not only are they ALL employers and tax paying businesses (contributing millions in payroll taxes), their combined work BINDS this city together and creates the environment which traditional businesses require to create wealth.
TRY making money in a town without education, healthcare, arts, culture and a clean, inviting environment. You can’t…period.
I told them to own that…and to say with pride… “there is no profit without nonprofits.”
And then I challenged them to step forward, stand together and speak UP, and help candidates and political leaders know that cuts to nonprofits limit our city’s ability to attract visitors, retain citizens, launch businesses and THRIVE.
Nonprofits in Washington employ 26% of the city’s workforce. Like NY City, where nonprofits are now the NUMBER 1 private employer….we need to own it and use it…not in a belligerent, defiant way, but in ways that help our city grow and our country understand that nonprofits are dynamic, powerful and important partners who stand ready to rock.
And that’s why, when I got done with my speech, I walked towards the offices of CForward…to help make that happen.