Since its inception in 1946, The Links, Incorporated (The Links) has been a beacon for African-American advancement in economics, education, and service. Two accomplished Black women, Margaret Hawkins, an artist and teacher, and Sarah Strickland Scott, a passionate guidance counselor, first brought together their friends to form an inter-city club in Philadelphia. They quickly realized that success was not sustainable unless others in the community who shared their passion were invited too. Together, they established an organization that would have a three-prong focus – civic, educational and cultural. Since its founding, The Links now has more than 15,000 professional women members, and its local chapters have developed enduring partnerships with national corporations, local foundations, and non-profits in advancing their goals in communities in four regions including 41 states, the District of Columbia and the Bahamas.
The Denver (Colo.) Chapter of The Links, Incorporated (Denver Links) was founded in 1952 by Fairfax B. Holmes. A notable member of this first group of women included educator, politician and civil rights activist Rachel B. Noel. Today, the Denver Links has 56 active members and 12 alumni members, which include Little Rock Nine’s Carlotta Walls Lanier and former first lady of Denver Wilma Webb. While best known for hosting community favorite Ebony Fashion Fair Luncheon for more than 45 years (ending 2007), the Denver Links has contributed more than $1 million to programs that advance the education, economics and culture of the Metro Denver African-American community and beyond, including a $10K donation to renovate a primary school in Durbin, South Africa and a $50K donation to support the establishment of the Blair-Caldwell African-American Research Library in 2002. The library’s community conference room is named in honor of the Denver Links and is an inspiration and tribute to the chapter’s continued philanthropy.
The $50K donation was the culmination of fundraising for The Links, Incorporated Western Area Conference in 2001, hosted by the Denver chapter (also, then celebrating its 50th anniversary). To mark Denver Links’ 65 years, the Western Area Conference returns to Denver June 14, to and will host more than 800 representatives from 59 communities in the 10 states (Alaska, Arizona California, Colorado, Hawaii, New Mexico, Oregon, Washington, Wyoming, and Texas) that make up the region headed by Western Area Director Roxann Chargois.
“Our local, area, and national community investments – our time, talent, treasure and testimony, from members, chapters, areas, community partners and corporations and foundations have positively impacted the African-American community through the years, allowing programs to be introduced, expanded and sustained as our community needs have continually changed.”- LaDawn Sullivan, President Denver (Colo.) Chapter, Links Incorporated.
Since its founding, the purpose of The Links has not changed from its focus on education, economics, and culture, but it has evolved. “A Mind for Business and a Heart for Service” is the theme that was adopted for the 2015-2017 biennium. Understanding that business and service in the community fit hand to glove, there are high expectations of chapters and members to focus on the national organization’s five facets and develop local programs to meet community needs.
•Services to Youth
•Health and Human Services
In Denver, there is currently an umbrella program at Hallett Fundamental Academy supported and led by the Denver Links that integrates the five factsof educational and culturally relevant activities. Working “to equip Black youth to use their intellect and spirit of achievement to become successful and productive citizens,” the program focuses on K-5 students in building and sustaining a strong foundation of basic fundamentals, culture awareness, and a healthy curiosity.
Students at the academy are also becoming global citizens. In the Change for Haiti program, students collect change and donate money to the Children of Haiti project. Local businesses, foundations, and Denver Links members have stepped up with matching funds. Through the Black History Showcase,5th-grade students developed presentations describing the influence of African-Americans in the civil rights movement which included a “hands-on” exploration of African American firsts and inventors with their families.
“This is part of the long and growing legacy of the Denver Links,” says Denver Chapter President LaDawn Sullivan. The first project of the chapter in 1952 was providing shoes for local needy children. The members did this locally for years and it eventually evolved into providing shoes for children in Africa and Haiti. “Some children living in Haiti are required to wear black shoes in order to attend school,” said Sullivan, “So, we’ve collected shoes every year and sent them to the island.” Sullivan, who came into Denver Links a little over eight years ago, has also seen the expansion of the international focus as the Denver chapter supported a Ugandan female student with annual tuition through high school graduation and most recently the Western Area’s fresh water well project in Haiti.
The African-American population in Denver and Colorado may be considered small in comparison to other parts of the country, but it has made significant investments and impact through its philanthropic efforts. The Denver Links has been considered a pioneer in this effort with a long history of giving back to secure a bright future for the community. For more than 25 years (ending 2005) Tribute to Black Youth, a scholarships program, recognized over 500 middle and high school students highlighting student achievement and community service. Former scholarship recipients include Denver’s own Mayor Michael Hancock.
“We have been a pro-active community partner, but we have also been tapped to connect in areas that are important to Denver’s African-American community,” said Sullivan. Denver Links has also partnered with the Denver Center for the Performing Arts, and more recently Curious Theatre, in an effort to lift the African- American story through the arts. The Denver Links has supported numerous grassroots non-profit organizations including Cleo Parker Robinson Dance and The Spirituals Project as well as Historic Black Colleges and Universities. This year’s Hallett students will be able to attend the Cleo Parker Robinson Summer Dance Camp, thanks to the generosity of the Denver Links and Western Area chapters of The Links, Inc. Conference attendees will be invited to visit the dance camp as well as theBlair Caldwell African American Research Library. “We are going to provide an opportunity for our visitors to see the Denver community, meet our young people and hear about their experiences,” said Sullivan. Denver Links’ member Terry Nelson, Senior Special Collection, and Community Resource Manager will give tours of the library and share information about Denver’s rich African-American history.
The collective investment of time and talent has been central to the Denver Links’ community impact. Logging an average of 4,500 local service hours per year (more than one million nationwide), Denver Links local programs and activities align with the national organization’s position that the five facets are holistic solutions to both little-known and well-known issues surfacing in the community. Leaders within Links know that these initiatives continue to have a positive impact. If families are supported with healthy living advocacy and habits, coupled with relevant cultural knowledge and experiences, supportive guidance and mentorship, then children can successfully complete their educational journey and step confidently into the future.
The Western Area Conference in June will include two tracks of the biennium theme, a Mind for Business, as well as a focus on running chapters effectively while embracing a Heart for Service that focuses on critical social issues where Links can continue investing resources for service in the global community. One of the Heart for Service sessions will focus on the 59 For the Future pilot program, in which young girls from each Western Area chapter are engaged in global community issues through strategic thinking, conversation, mentorship, research, and writing. The program was created it “to develop thought leaders and change agents among youth, preparing them to examine and address complex global issues while increasing their competitiveness for college admission and the global marketplace.”
As the Denver (Colo.) Chapter of The Links, Incorporated kicks off its 65th year, they are recognized locally as one of the sustaining African-American organizations that has supported and advanced our community and embraced humanity. Although many people see it as a service organization making significant impact it is more than that. “Denver Links is made up of almost 70 vibrant African American women from varied professions and connections in the Metro Denver community, but what binds us together is our love for the community and our love and support of each other. Because it is a sisterhood,” said Sullivan. “Looking back at 65 years, we have come full circle. We began our journey with a Tribute to Black Youth scholars and our work with Hallett students today include parents who were originally recognized as scholars decades earlier. We are a circle of sisters, 65 years young and strong – bound together in friendship and dedicated to serving our community.”