Women In Focus Inc., a local non-profit dedicated to supporting the education of students of color in the Madison community, have announced that they will be hosting their annual MLK “I Have A Dream” Ball” on Saturday, Jan. 18, 2020, at Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center.

The event was first held way back in 1986.

“This is the 34th annual ball – All of them raising money for scholarships for students of color in Dane County,” says Sally Hestad, Women in Focus, Inc. 2020 Dream Ball Chair.  “Every year we try to raise as much money as we can for the scholarships. That is our goal. It is a wonderful party and a lot of fun and we love the celebration, our actual goal is to produce more scholarships for students who really deserve it.

Members of Women in Focus, Inc. at last year’s “I Have a Dream” ball.

Since its formation in 1983, Women in Focus has awarded over $500,000 worth of scholarships for students of color in the Madison area who are pursuing college and continuing education degrees. Some scholarships also are granted to adult students returning to college after a hiatus for various reasons.

“It’s a life-changing thing that everybody who comes to the ball is doing: to help these students of color go to college and begin their careers,” Hestad says. “The students’ lives are enriched and job opportunities are enhanced by educational opportunities.” 

An early photo of Women in Focus Inc. from the ’80s

Women In Focus, Inc. envisions a world in which “dreams are fulfilled through a worldwide partnership where all barriers to education are erased for students of color.”

“When I first joined Women in Focus 15 years ago, I just really loved the mission and I still love it today. If anything, it’s more important today than ever,” Hestad says.

“We are looking for all kinds of kids for these scholarships but one type of student that we are looking for, in particular, is a DACA [Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals] kid who is not able to access the kinds of scholarships that others can because of their status,” she adds.

2019 Women in Focus Scholarship winners

The theme for this year’s “I Have a Dream” Ball is “Celebrating 34 Years of Community Impact.”  Cocktails and live music begin at 6 p.m., followed by dinner at 7 p.m., program at 8 p.m. and dancing from 8:30-11 p.m.

“We’re really excited about this year’s event. We’ve changed it up a little bit. This year, we’re having DJ Ace [Vanessa McDowell] to play music to dance by that will suit everybody in all age groups,” Hestad says. “We also have the Madison Marimba Quartet – they are wonderful. And they will be playing during the cocktail hour and part of the dinner.”

There will be a vocal performance by Miss Black USA TeKema Balentine.

TeKema Balentine, Miss Black USA

“We always have a returning scholarship winner from the past who comes and speaks at the ‘I Have a Dream’ Scholarship Ball and this year it is Quilen Blackwell, who has done all kinds of exciting things after he finished his education,” Hestad says. 

Blackwell is the president and founder of the Chicago Eco House, whose mission is to train inner-city youth in sustainable social enterprises to alleviate poverty. The Chicago Eco House’s two signature programs are a flower farm and 3D printing youth social enterprises. The Eco House has won several awards for its work including the UL Innovation Education Award, Delta Institute BOOST Award, and the Keep Chicago Beautiful Community Vision Award. Quilen is interested in advancing youth entrepreneurship in the environmental education field.

Quilen Blackwell

“He’s going to tell us all about his Chicago Eco House and all of the wonderful things he is doing,” Hestad says of Blackwell, who graduated from East High School and received a Women in Focus Scholarship in 2003. “He is one very interesting young man.”

The “I Have a Dream” Scholarship Ball, as always, honors Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.  

“It’s a great tradition. We give the ball in honor of Dr. Martin Luther King and it is on the MLK holiday weekend. It’s a celebration of his birthday but also a celebration of his dream,” Hestad says. “All of the guests are participating in this wonderful project to help students of color go to college but also having a great party at the same time. It’s a win-win.”


The Women in Focus, Inc.’s 34th annual MLK “I Have A Dream” Ball will be held on Saturday, Jan. 18 at Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center, 1 John Nolen Dr.. Tickets are still available. The deadline to purchase tickets is Jan. 13. For more information, click here.