Four words is all it takes to describe the CEO and founder of a movement so powerful, it brings women together every day. Established in 2011 by Marnell Small, the D.I.V.A. Movement Association, Inc., focuses its mission on empowering women through health and wellness, both mentally and physically. Her passion for service and sisterhood stem from her days as a student at Bennett College in Greensboro, North Carolina, one of two historically black, all-female schools. Dealing with her own ups and downs, Marnell’s drive grew from something within all of us: the desire for sisterly support through shared experiences.
A Movement Begins
Marnell’s Determined, Inspired, Victorious, Accomplished (D.I.V.A.) Movement began with a weight loss journey of her own. “I was 317 pounds,” she said. “I started doing Zumba and as a result I lost 78 pounds within a year and a half.”
As she lost the weight, Marnell shared her progress on social media and began to grow a long list of followers. Now a certified Zumba instructor for all ages, Marnell blends lessons learned from her personal fitness with inner strength and confidence. “My classes became more than just exercise. They became this fellowship of sisterhood.”
More Than a Zumba Class
As the movement continued to increase, Marnell realized she could do much more with her platform. “I have a lot of single moms involved in Zumba, so I always made my class a place where you can still bring your kids because they can work out too,” Marnell said. “I used to bring my daughter to class – when people saw that, they didn’t have an excuse to not work out!”
Known as ‘A Situation of Sisterhood,’ the D.I.V.A. Movement instills that all women at her events are on even playing fields working to reach their full potential. “It’s a no-judgment zone at our events; a sisterly environment.”
So much so, that the participants often banded together to help one another. “We had one lady in our class who was a senior in high school who wanted to lose weight to get into her prom dress,” Marnell said. “My class collectively decided we would pay for her prom expenses. It was a community effort – we took care of everything from her hair, her make-up, her shoes, you name it. I started to do this every year and that’s how this movement kicked off.”
The prom queen makeover initiative is now in its fifth year and includes an essay competition. “Our winner from last year really touched us – it was about her mom. When she read the essay at our celebratory event, there was not a dry eye in the house.”
Divas of All Ages
Shortly after including the younger generation in her movement, she began her Young Divas division, starting with an educational and activity-filled sleepover for girls aged 7-13. “Most times the money [for the events] was coming out of my own pocket,” she said.
When Marnell received her official status as a non-profit in 2014, the sponsorships allowed the organization to grow exponentially. “We expanded our Young Divas program into two groups; ages 7-12 and 13-17. We held a forum on social media etiquette, a bullying workshop, and a class on health and wellness.”
And in 2016, Marnell has even more events planned. Their third annual Young Divas sleepover is expected to take place this April, where at least 30 girls attend, along with their Father, Daughter Ball in June. “Our desire is for our Young Diva events to be free for our girls, so we’re looking for champions to help purchase materials or sponsor a child.”
This past year the D.I.V.A. Movement decided to cater to their more seasoned women as well, ages 55 and up. “We want to touch on all age groups, so we developed ‘Golden Divas.’ They are just as feisty and full of life,” she said. “We decided to do a hand &
line-dance brunch. They enjoyed it so much we have decided to do it again. The second annual will be this year in August!”
Let’s Have a DIVAsation
While the movement caters to both the young and old, the core group of the D.I.V.A. Movement is 18 years and older. “We have a program that we call the DIVAsation, which is really a conversation with women.”
A quarterly endeavor, Marnell said the sessions individually touch on everything from health and wellness to relationships, marriage, sex education, finances, and loving yourself.
“For self-esteem building, we offer a workshop on dressing for your body type. We also have a host of make-up artists to show women how to enhance their look and offer makeovers.”
One of the most important aspects of the DIVAsation, however, is the creation of a network of support. “There is always a woman in the room who is going through what you are going through,” she said.
Giving Back to the Community
As a part of their core values, the D.I.V.A. Movement makes giving back a large part of their organization. A ‘Chat N Pack’ program was established for the Young Divas, where they packed lunches for the homeless and decorated the brown bags with inspirational messages of hope. “The girls absolutely enjoyed it and got really into it,” said Marnell. “The messages were powerful. We distributed them in Southeast D.C. near St. Elizabeth’s campus.”
The movement takes great pride in supporting women of all kinds, including their own. “This year we lost one of our Zumba participants to domestic violence. We were able to organize a Zumba event to raise a trust fund for her kids,” she said. “We also raised $1,000 in October for the DMV House of Love, a safe house for women and children in Prince George’s County.”
The D.I.V.A. Movement partners with many other not-for-profit organizations, such as the Community Kinship Coalition, Inc., and S.H.O.E. Girl Inc., In November, the trio hosted a coat drive for children. “We collected more than 400 brand new coats and distributed to various organizations in need.”
Witness Two Years of Empowerment
In March, the D.I.V.A. Movement will be celebrating their formal two-year anniversary, where they will honor women who have overcome obstacles like domestic violence, drug addiction, cancer, weight-loss, and teenage motherhood.
The event will take place on Sat., March 19, at the Marlboro Moose Lodge, and anyone can attend. Tickets are $50 and can be purchased on their website. “This is our annual celebration event to raise money for the organization. The theme is ‘It’s all about love’ – loving others valuably every day.”
The celebration will feature four parts:
‘Loving Yourself’ – Overcomers Runway Walk and Makeover
‘Loving Our Spouse’ – Speakers on Marriage and Relationships
‘Loving Our Youth’ – Prom Queen Crowning and Young Divas’ Speeches
‘Loving Our Elderly’ – Dance Tribute to our Golden D.I.V.A.s
Currently, Marnell’s movement has a board of four women (Marnell Small-CEO, Yvonne Miller-VP, Chauntonya Eason-Treasurer, Cynthia Pratt-Harris -Secretary) who serve as the main coordinators and leaders for the non-profit, and three loyal and dedicated partners, (Lisa Lemons, Tomeze Brisbon , and Sabrina Cobb). “The group is small. We’re working on establishing an official membership. Our network is our membership right now – we have about 1,000 women who have collectively attended events, contributed and supported.”
Looking to expand, Marnell’s D.I.V.A. Movement is searching for corporations who are interested in seeing growth in young girls. “There are a lot of times we need food to feed people at these events, as well as supplies. People attend because they need something from us, and we want to be able to provide that [for them].”
Interested individuals should e-mail Marnell and her coordinators at firstname.lastname@example.org. Membership is expected to be offered in late 2016.
TO DONATE OR LEARN MORE:
Visit divamovementassociationinc.com or call 202-256-4382.