Ever since Mary Harriman (and early League members like Eleanor Roosevelt) worked with poor immigrant families in New York City more than 100 years ago, Junior Leagues have worked to create awareness of the impact of poverty on women and children. Now some Leagues are trying a simple but highly effective strategy to draw attention to the problem.

What can you do to alleviate poverty? Well, one way is to create public awareness about the problem in ways that stimulate debate.

And that’s what the Junior League of London has done with its Little Black Dress Initiative (LBDI), a week-long poverty awareness and fundraising campaign that asks League members to wear a single black dress for the entire week in order to illustrate the effects that poverty has on access to resources, confidence and employment opportunities. Augmented by social media, the initiative also helped drive donations for its community projects as well as clothing drives that, in coordination with community partner Smart Works, provide professional attire for low-income women in London.

A great idea! And now that great idea has now spread to the U.S.
Because Georgia has one of the highest poverty rates for children in the United States (with over 26 percent living in poverty), the LBDI model was a great fit for Leagues there. Beginning with a kickoff in Metro Atlanta and running through November, 11 Leagues in Georgia will host their own LBDI events. Efforts to shine a light on generational poverty (along with participants’ pins that read “Ask me about the Dress”) have already sparked conversation and are spreading awareness of the initiative and its objectives. (Participating Leagues are Athens, Atlanta, Augusta, Cobb-Marietta, Columbus, DeKalb County, Douglas County, Gwinnett & North Fulton Counties, Macon and Savannah.)

The ripples from that first event in London go even further, though. The Junior Leagues of Tulsa and Lufkin each introduced their own LBDI events earlier this fall, and the Junior League of Northwest Arkansas used the structure of the project for a Little Black Dress Campaign designed to bring attention to Domestic Violence Awareness and Prevention, the community focus of the League.