Sylvia Marita Robinson. For those who knew her and carry her spirit still, the name echoes with the sounds of many ways to seek liberation. Sylvia, a co-founder of Diverse City Fund, hosted all of DC Fund’s meetings in its earliest days – the circle of people who met starting in 2010 and formed the Board of Instigators, the community forums giving shape to the ideas, the Grantmaking Teams deciding on awards, and a film showing and dialogue about inherited wealth/privilege from white forebears involved in enslavement of Africans. And she offered a home at her organization – the Emergence Community Arts Collective (ECAC) – as community space for groups and activities (capoeira, community-supported agriculture, spoken word, Black liberation study groups, emotional emancipation circles, vegan festivals, etc), including several whose work won support from DC Fund.
Recently, activist residents and friends launched a bid for historic designation of the site that housed ECAC, with a vision of honoring Sylvia as well as her predecessors, and ramping up anti-gentrification efforts in the neighborhood. They are pressing for justice – working with partners such as DC Preservation League and sparked by the example of Sylvia and changemakers who for more than a decade have generated resources through DC Fund. Events leading to this moment tell a story worthy of this International Black Women’s History Month (April).
Sylvia took personal wealth from working in the tech industry and dedicated it to transformation – starting with complete renovation of the building at 731-733 Euclid Street Northwest, DC and founding Emergence Community Arts Collective (ECAC), then spearheading or supporting many efforts for community change and creativity. So doing, she kept alive a legacy of earlier Black women and initiatives such as the National Home for Destitute Colored Women and Children that had been on the site in the late 1800s/early 1900s.(A board member for the home, Elizabeth Hobbs Keckley, had been seamstress for Mary Todd Lincoln and was formerly enslaved.)
Sylvia became an ancestor in September 2017 after years dedicated to healing and contributing. In the years that followed, groups that used the spaces left, and ECAC leadership came to identify the organization with the building that sits in an area developers covet. In February, the ECAC board sold to a developer they said expects to construct four private townhouses. They told community members in a meeting that they had no plans for if or how ECAC, or community space, would continue. (See recent Washington Informer news coverage)
Today, friends of Sylvia and folks who organized with her are at work on a historic designation process, mobilizing to save the Euclid Street neighborhood, and revive the purpose and vitality of ECAC. The ECAC board, at its town hall-style zoom gathering in February 2022, promised access to materials that have the facts and stories of the DC Fund/ECAC founder and several surrounding community organizations. Organizers are calling for action to honor Sylvia’s legacy – starting with letters of support for historic designation. For more information, contact email@example.com.
Remembering her legacy are folks who’ve been involved in various ways over the years.
Dominic Moulden, a DC Fund co-founder and member of ONE DC , expressed that “Sylvia is a witness to authentic love for Black people and our community. My visits with Sylvia were filled with dreaming, hoping, and believing that our communities can heal with ‘spirits’ of creative and artistic people on a mission in collective struggle for liberation.”
Burke Stansbury, a DC Fund co-founder and now development director for Social Justice Fund Northwest that helped inspire us early on, said, “I can’t imagine accomplishing what we did in those early years without Sylvia’s wisdom and energy, not to mention the importance of the ECAC building as the location of most of our meetings and events. Sylvia’s legacy, and that of ECAC, live on in the work of the DC Fund.