The Big Reveal!

The moment we’ve all been waiting for is finally here! The name of this mystery nonprofit organization??? *drumroll please*


(big thank you to E-Jay Designs for the graphic design work on the logo)


Yes, Be. One syllable. Two letters. Conventionally used as a verb. Be.

Sounds silly, I know. But go with me here:

This had been in the works for months. The ideas were flowing, but the name just wouldn’t come to me. We started off with “D.A.R.E (Dreamers Achieve Remarkable Excellence) to Be”, and hundreds of names later I believe we left off with Dream to Be. But, I still wasn’t satisfied. I thought about it more and came up with Beyond the Dream, but of course it too had already been used.

Every name we brainstormed was associated with dreaming, higher achievement, but also the action word (verb) BE. Those with the word be, were the ones that really stuck out to me. So one night after our first board meeting, I was at home on my sofa, writing and talking to Ashley and I said “I’m just gonna call it Be.” We laughed, then I said, “Really…. Be.”

Such a simple word, but it can be very powerful, pivotal, and influential. By definition, be means to exist, occur, or take place. Be, precedes popular commands. “Be great.” “Be you.” “Be inspired.” “Be different.” It’s a challenging word… “To be or not to be.” Ghandi says: “You must be the change you wish to see in the world.” I started asking myself what did God command or challenge us to do, where he tells us to be… I remembered ,”And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind that ye may prove what is good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God.”

We had an established mission statement, so let’s revisit it: Encourage and nurture youth to live above their socially-imposed limitations; to develop their character, talents, and leadership skills, allowing them to go beyond a dream and achieve remarkable excellence. Now I’m far from an evangelist, but I can tell you from whence my help cometh and my ultimate source of reference *cues Hezekiah Walker and the Baptist church organ* this is MY interpretation of Romans 12:2 and all the confirmation I needed.

So let’s translate more…
Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world (live above socially-imposed limitations), but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think (develop character, talents, and leadership skills). Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect (allowing them to go beyond a dream and achieve remarkable excellence). That’s it… Be. A Nonprofit Youth Development Organization.

Mission: To encourage and nurture youth to live above their socially-imposed limitations; to develop their character, talents, and leadership skills allowing them to go beyond a dream and achieve remarkable excellence.

Vision (tagline): Beyond a dream, choose to be.™

Whatever higher power you believe in, I think we can all agree that life has thrown us a few curve balls that prevent many people from living out their dreams. Our goal is to help the youth go beyond those setbacks and achieve nothing less than excellence.

Your Call to Action: The Challenge to Be!!!

Today, we launch The Challenge to Be. A fundraiser campaign to generate the money needed to file our application with the IRS and be recognized as an official nonprofit organization as well as money to fund our first service projects. More importantly, this campaign is the start of a movement! By taking the challenge to be, you will receive a t-shirt, making a bold statement that you pledge to live life through the lens of your wildest dreams, not allowing setbacks (socially-imposed limitations) stop you from achieving anything less than excellence.The Challenge to Be! Fundraiser - unisex shirt design - frontThe Challenge to Be! Fundraiser - unisex shirt design - back

No worries ladies, women’s style shirts are also available! 🙂

The Goal

75 shirts in 14 days, which would give us nearly $900 to get started transforming the lives of youth in the Baltimore-Washington Metropolitan area. I’m expecting to far exceed this goal. At the end of 2 weeks I hope to look at the campaign page and see hundreds of shirts sold across the state and the rest of the US.

Share this challenge with family, friends, co-workers, students, someone going through a struggle, literally ANYandEVERYbody. Tweet it. Facebook it. Instagram it. Email it. I challenge you to challenge yourself and others to go beyond a dream and choose to be.

ImageJoin the movement today at!


There is No “I” in TEAM, But There is “M-E”


The journey continues, but not without some bumps along the way of course. As a guide and great resource, I’ve been using the checklist for starting a nonprofit organization in Maryland, from the Maryland Association of Nonprofit Organizations. In short, it reads:

Phase 1: Research and Organize

1)      Establish a purpose (check)

2)      Research similar organizations (check)

3)      Recruit a Board of Directors (?$%!?&??#@?)

4)      Develop a conflict of interest policy (check)

5)      Create a mission statement (check)

6)      Develop program plans & a budget (in progress)

7)      Develop a fundraising plan (in progress)

8)      Draft Bylaws (check)

Phase 2: File for State Corporation Status

1)      Check availability of trade name/register trade name (check)

So as you can see, I’m well in to Phase 2, with the exception of #3 – recruiting a board of directors. This has been the most challenging part of the journey. I reached out to nearly 75 individuals in my personal and professional network to serve on the board and a handful have so graciously obliged. Now to get everyone on the same page, coordinate 10+ successful adults’/parents/professionals’/students’ schedules, and find a decent location for a meeting that isn’t too far of a commute for anyone… virtually impossible!

I have to admit, I was getting a little frustrated and felt like I was spinning my wheels. Or maybe it was just my only child syndrome kicking in and wanting everything to happen on my time, when I want it to (I’m a work in progress). But nonetheless, I was struggling to bring everyone together and make it work. Legally, the Board of Directors is the responsible party for nonprofit organizations; they serve as the fiduciaries. They are the objective, honest, trustees of nonprofits. No way can I move forward without this board established and up and running, right? After all, it’s the law! So now what?

A few Sundays ago, I was streaming the New Psalmist Baptist Church service live and Bishop Thomas said, “You can’t wait ‘til you have your whole team established to do what you were called to do!” He then added, “Don’t wait ‘til you have all of your ducks in a row, use the resources you have.” He spoke directly to me, I mean it couldn’t have been more direct than adding, “Tonee Antonette Lawson” to the end of his statement lol.

But that was it! That was all I needed to hear. I started this nonprofit journey to serve others and that is exactly what I needed to do! Forget the politics. Forget the technicalities. I’m focusing on service and the administrative components will eventually fall in place. While the entire group of board members may not be as engaged or available as I would hope right now, I definitely meet the minimum requirements for the state of Maryland (5 members) and I will use the resources I have.

Shortly after my one-on-one sermon with Bishop Thomas lol, I sent a few emails and planned the first service project for the organization (details to be revealed in a later blog post, so be sure to subscribe). I felt relieved and empowered. My focus was back where it needed to be- on the community and not on the board. Now, this isn’t to say that I don’t need my board members, because heaven only knows with the vision I have for the organization, I need all the help I can get. And I’ll get it, in due time. As for right now, there is no ‘I’ in TEAM, but there is an ‘M-E’ and if it is to be, it is up to me. I’ve been called to serve and that is what I will do.

Promote Yourself… or No One Will


A few weeks back I was invited to attend a spring fashion show at the Center Club in Baltimore, MD. Now if you’re not familiar with the Center Club, it’s a premier, member-only, business dining club for Baltimore’s top professionals; situated in the inner harbor with amazing views of the city’s skyline, harbor, and other tourist attractions. An event at this type of establishment was sure to welcome the elite in the Baltimore region. So, of course I graciously accepted the invitation extended to me by my soror-self-appointed-god mom, Anna.

Anna knows all about this nonprofit journey and is one of my biggest supporters and consultants. Per her advice, I need to get myself out there, meet some people, network, and start generating support (and dollars). So that’s exactly what I did. On a rainy Sunday afternoon, I put my game face on, grabbed a handful of business cards, and prepared myself to shake hands and mingle with the who’s who of the area.

Prior to the gourmet lunch and fashion show, there was a cocktail hour and boutique shopping – the perfect opportunity for me to “work the room,” meet, greet, mix, and mingle, right? WRONG… I froze lol! While everyone was socializing over mimosas and wine and clearly catching up with old friends and colleagues, I stealthily faded to the background and stuck near Anna, almost like a child that didn’t want to leave their parent on the first day of school. I was soooo overwhelmed, not by the venue, or the people (I’ve dined at the Center Club before and been in the company of other successful professionals), but because I felt like I stood out (as I often do). At most professional events, I tend to be tallest, youngest, and of the minority. Most of the time I hold my head high and take it all in, but this was different. I was presenting myself as a young African American woman, founder and Executive Director of this nonprofit organization that no one has ever heard of. What would people think? Will they take me seriously? How do I even strike up a conversation? How do I promote myself? Just a few of the many questions running through my head.

Thank goodness for Anna, she introduced me to her good friends, many of whom hold senior leadership positions at local corporations and universities. She told them I was starting a nonprofit and all I could do was nod my head and chime in agreement (it was so shameful lol). Thankfully, the time had come to be served lunch. On the way to the dining room, I gave myself a pep talk. “Tonee, it’s now or never. Get over yourself! You can do this!” We were finally seated at the table and it was go time. The waiter filled my water glass and I took a huge gulp. I warmly greeted the gentleman across from me and as others were seated, they too introduced themselves and after no real prompting, they eloquently stated their occupation or position and their company. And what do you know… I had found myself in the company of a realtor, entrepreneur, manager of corporate giving, engineer, and educator to name a few.

It was finally my turn to introduce myself. As I spoke, I passed around my card and said, “Hello I’m Tonee and I am the Executive Director of a nonprofit focused on youth development, where we help the youth achieve their dreams while living above what we have identified as socially-imposed limitations.” There, I said it! (whew) *exhale* Everyone nodded in approval and said wow, very interesting, and one guy who I was sure didn’t hear a word I said, read my card and said “WOW, great business card, very nice!” The hard part was over, the ice has been broken, now I can relax.

Conversations were brewing. I listened and took mental note. The seasoned professionals at the table were discussing their commonalities and how their paths have crossed personally and professionally. In a very casual manner they discussed their associations, accomplishments, their responsibilities, and how one person could benefit the other. It was up to them to make a connection, no one else could speak better about them, about their brand, or about (how well they do) what they do. To an average person, it may seem like they were bragging, but this was networking at its finest!

And the moral of the story… in the words of Donald Trump, “Promote yourself or no one will.” Who better to sell them self than you? Who better to promote them self than you? Who can so passionately and succinctly convey the vision of their organization than you? Work on yourelevator pitch,” and be prepared to immediately grab your listener’s attention and concisely explain your organization’s mission and cause. Bait them with just enough information to be intrigued. Take a deep breath and promote yourself, or no one will.


 Anna and I at the Center Club Spring Fashion Show


My business cards were such a hit!