After back-to-back virtual events because of the COVID pandemic, the Women in Focus “I Have a Dream” Scholarship Ball, an inspirational evening that raises money for scholarships for young scholars of color in Dane County, will be back in person on Saturday, Jan. 14 at the Monona Terrace Community and Convention Center.
“The purpose of this event is to raise money for scholarships and to highlight Women in Focus but it’s also a great time for fellowship and to create community amongst our guests. We’re excited to be coming back in person. This will be our first in-person ball since 2020,” Women in Focus member Jodie Pope tells Madison365. Pope is this year’s ball chairperson and also a past scholarship award recipient. “We’re really excited to gather again to raise dollars for our students of color. Last year we gave away about 22 scholarships. So we’re always excited to try and do even more the next year and to work with our community to increase that to 23 or 24 or 25 [scholarships].”
Women In Focus Inc. is a local non-profit dedicated to supporting the education of students of color in the Madison community. Pope herself received a returning adult scholarship in 2012 and joined Women in Focus in 2019.
“We’re elated to bring everyone together,” Pope says. “This year’s theme is ‘perseverance.’ We feel like our scholars and everyone are persevering … certainly through this pandemic. We’re featuring an auction. It’s already online, and then we’ll have some things in person to bid on. Our deejay for the event, Vanessa McDowell, a.k.a DJ Ace, is a past scholarship recipient as is our keynote speaker, Matthew Braunginn.”
Braunginn is an engagement partnership consultant working for EQT By Design, a freelance writer for Daily Kos (and a former columnist for Madison365), and a longtime community and political activist who also does political digital communications and organizing.
“The program starts with a cocktail hour at 6 p.m. and the dinner and program take place at 8 p.m.,” Pope says. “After 9 p.m., the deejay will play until 11:30 p.m. where everybody can dance the night away.”
Women in Focus has focused its social media pages leading up to the event on featuring past scholarship alumni and letting the community see where they are now and what they have accomplished.
“Our mission is trying to work to erase barriers for post-secondary education for students of color, and so I think it’s important to not only to be able to give away this money for scholarships, but to try and help in any way that we can as a support system,” Pope says.
“We are family here at Women in Focus. And so if you need something, reach out,” she adds. “I have an advising background and so I use that to help students and to let them know that advocating for yourself is huge. And if you have questions in higher education, I might be able to help, too. And if I can’t, I will try to figure out who I can connect you with not only in higher ed but to all of the resources in Women in Focus and our extended networks of scholarship recipients that are now part of your family.”
First established in 1983, Women in Focus, Inc. is a Madison-area organization composed of passionate women who are single-minded in their promotion of educational excellence and the healthy development of children of color. In 1986, the organization hosted its first Scholarship Ball honoring the memory of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.
“We have quite a history here at Women in Focus. As a member, I’m in awe of the sisterhood and of those who have come before me,” Pope says. “And I have leaned on those relationships to help both inspire me and to help me. When I’m at a crossroads in life, I can lean on fellow Women in Focus for advice. It’s a wonderful network of women for not only our past scholarship winners, but myself, personally, as someone who hasn’t been a member that long.
“We’re really excited to invite everybody back in for the scholarship ball. It is a dress-to-impress event. We are excited to be able to just network with each other and see each other and catch up. The theme is perseverance and we’ve all gone through a lot and we look forward to offering an opportunity to create community because I think we are excited to be able to see each other and to commune with each other and to just some fellowship with each other.”
Women in Focus is currently inviting Dane County high school seniors and continuing students of color to apply for a 2023 Women in Focus Scholarship. The deadline is Tuesday, Feb. 15.
“As far as scholarship money that we’ve provided over the years, I think we’re well over half a million dollars and we’re pushing $600,000 over the last 38 years,” Pope says. “I think the last number I saw was about 379 scholarships [in our history given out.] And so we’re elated to be able to do that.
“And this is the way that we do it – at this scholarship ball. It’s our signature event. And we wouldn’t be able to do this work without the generous donations from the community and people purchasing tickets to attend our balls. We’re so grateful for all of those who have done that these last 37 years. We’re excited to see folks on Jan. 14.”