Arlington native Thasunda Brown-Duckett established the Otis and Rosie Brown Foundation in 2013 to advance the legacy of her parents, who instilled in their three children a recognition that all things are possible through love and stewardship and a belief that all have the duty to extend a hand to help lift up our fellow man. Over the past eight years the foundation, with the help of like-minded patrons, has undertaken dozens of projects that have improved the lives of people in the Arlington area. This month, Brown-Duckett shares what the foundation is all about.
How did the Otis and Rosie Brown Foundation come to be?
The Foundation was created in 2013 to advance the legacy of my parents, Mr. and Mrs. Otis and Rosie Brown. From a young age, they instilled in my brothers and me the belief that all things are possible through love and this idea that we all have a duty to extend a hand to help lift up others. My parents were not wealthy, so it was not that they had so much more materially than others, but they were a real-life example of giving from what they did have, of knowing that what truly matters is what’s on the inside and that love, kindness, and the spirit of generosity can always – always – be used to the benefit of someone less fortunate than you. I really wanted to find a way to uplift and celebrate that spirit in other people and the Otis and Rosie Brown Foundation was born.
We are a grant-making institution, and so in addition to a couple of signature events that we do every year, we also award scholarships to graduating seniors and community grants to schools and nonprofit organizations annually. These are our mainstays that we will always do, but in the last couple of years, as we have grown our presence and partnerships in the region, we have had the opportunity to support some fantastic projects in the city. In 2019, we unveiled Rosie’s Reading Nook in the new library downtown. In 2020, in addition to increasing our grants made to meet the needs from the pandemic, we rolled out a new initiative in partnership with Mayor Williams to install Kindness Benches at each elementary school in Arlington.
Who in the community does the movement serve, and how so?
We believe anyone and everyone can be extraordinary, and, accordingly, we work to ensure our efforts are aligned to achieving just that. We serve high-school students through our annual character-based scholarship program. We bring old and new friends and family together each August for friendly competition on the basketball court while at the same time donating funds and supplies to elementary and middle school students. Our grants have ranged from organizations serving young children, to teen girls, to seniors experiencing homelessness and beyond.
Back to our mission, the theme that runs through it all is our driving belief that what is inside of each one of us is something powerful, and, no matter your circumstance, we want to help you tap into that and use it for the good of others. Some of us are aware of this truth and are loudly (or quietly) sharing our gifts with the world – and those are the people we want to celebrate. Some of us have forgotten the importance of what’s inside of us, and some of us have never known –- and those are the people we want to encourage.
The foundation initiated the ExtraordinaryIs movement. What is at the heart of this powerful platform?
We take inspiration from the belief that within each and every one of us, there lies something extraordinary. That individuals who find and use their extraordinary are those who touch our lives and change the world. We envision a world where all people have the tools to unlock their extraordinary and are provided the encouragement and investment to unleash it. What is it that makes a person extraordinary? Extraordinary is Kindness. Extraordinary is intellectual curiosity. Extraordinary is giving. With ExtraordinaryIs, we aim to inspire a global movement where people are celebrated because of their character and where we invest in people based on their potential.
Who are the principals of the foundation and of the movement?
Now we are on to one of my favorite parts, and that is the people who make the Otis and Rosie Brown Foundation what it is! We are a young organization, small but mighty, run with the help of our amazing Executive Director, Ms. Shannon Flowers, and an equally amazing and dedicated Board of Directors composed of Richard Duckett, Otis Jamaal Brown, Reggie Brown, Anick Brown, Gara Hill and Erin Parisi, who give of their time and talents to make our programs such a special experience for everyone who comes in contact with the Foundation.
How can people become involved with the movement?
There are several ways to get involved with the ExtraordinaryIs movement, and we love to add new volunteers to the ExtraordinaryIs family! Each year, we have volunteers help us surprise our Extraordinary Scholars with their scholarship awards; it takes a strong core of volunteers to put on SlamFest each August and the ExtraordinaryIs Awards Gala in the Fall. We are always raising funds to help support and grow the scholarships and grants we are able to make. And, of course, a way that any and everyone can get involved is by helping us amplify the ExtraordinaryIs message; by finding and unleashing their own extraordinary and encouraging others to do the same. To sign up, you can visit us at extraordinaryis.org or email us (email@example.com).
You have a fundraising gala coming up. Please share the particulars about that, so our readers can become involved in the project, should they so desire?
Yes! Our 7th Annual ExtraordinaryIs Awards Gala will be held on Nov. 12 at Live! By Loews in Arlington. We are so excited to be back after sitting out 2020 due to the pandemic. We call it a gala because it’s beautifully decorated, and we try to pull out all the stops, but it feels more like a family reunion or a block party. We want you to come, feel comfortable, eat a good meal, maybe hit the dance floor and make some new friends, as we celebrate some of the hidden heroes in our community … people who are using what they have to serve others … who have found their Extraordinary and are using it as a gift for someone else. In addition to highlighting community grant recipients and other amazing community members, we also raise funds through a silent auction and other fun activities throughout the night. Tickets, tables and sponsorship packages are available on our website at extroardinaryis.org or you can email us (firstname.lastname@example.org), and we’d love to help you get involved.