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Nonprofits

Nicole Kidman Headlined Genesis Women’s Shelter’s 30th Annual Luncheon

The May 12 event raised more than $1.1 million for the women’s shelter.
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A crowd of 1,500 gathered inside the Hilton Anatole ballroom May 12 for the 30th anniversary Genesis Annual Luncheon. Catherine Wendlandt

Traditionally, the pearl is the 30th anniversary gemstone. But the story of the pearl is also a metaphor for the women who come to Genesis Women’s Shelter & Support, said the organization’s CEO Jan Langbein at its annual luncheon last Friday.

Pearls are formed when irritants enter the shell of a mollusk, which creates protective coatings to defend itself. Over time, those protective layers become pearls. Women in domestic abuse situations are similar, Langbein said, putting up layers to protect themselves. “But at Genesis, we know that there is something beautiful inside women who have had the courage to reach out.”

On May 12, Genesis celebrated its “30th Anniversary Pearl” luncheon at the Hilton Anatole. Before the program began, 1,500 guests in bright and springy attire chatted and milled about the Chantilly foyer. There, Genesis set up a “Pearl Tribute Wall,” where guests could snap a selfie in front of a photo wall of pearl necklaces draping down. People could buy “pearls” in honor of someone and then a cutout of that person’s name would be pasted onto one of the wall’s beads. 

The ballroom doorway was framed by Genesis’ pink house logo, like the organization was welcoming the entire crowd home. More than 100 circular tables, decked with pink settings and rose-and-hydrangea centerpieces, were spread around the ballroom. One long center table sat members of the “Genesis Pearl Society”—the luncheon’s previous chairs over the past three decades. 

The First Luncheon

In the early 1990s, not long after Langbein started working at Genesis, she began looking at the nonprofit’s various buckets of income, she told D Magazine. They were mostly getting money from grants at the time. Wanting to diversify those funds, she thought, “well, let’s have a luncheon. Everybody else is doing it, right?” 

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The Pearl Tribute Wall outside the Genesis Annual Luncheon. Courtesy of Genesis

So, Genesis threw a style show at the Warwick Melrose Hotel for 400 attendees. Over the years, the event has grown to a 1,500-person luncheon at the Hilton Anatole. The luncheon has become an important source of income for Genesis, she said, along with other special events, the benefit thrift store, grants, and donations from corporations, foundations, and individuals.

Luncheon-raised money is “unrestricted” income, Langbein says. If Genesis relies on government money (Genesis doesn’t take governmental funds), then how much it gets depends on the administration. If Genesis asks a foundation for money to fund a project, it can only spend that money on that project. Langbein can’t use it to pay the cook’s salary nor a fix a backup in a drain. “The unrestricted nature of those funds is huge for any nonprofit agency.”

This Year’s Goal 

Genesis, though, is used to raising money. The nonprofit raised $20 million to build its new headquarters and outreach office. At Friday’s event, senior director of fund and community development Amy Norton announced Genesis was only $50,000 short of its $1 million goal for the day. She encouraged the buzzing audience to donate by purchasing a tribute wall pearl or one of the table centerpieces. Guests could also buy raffle tickets, for prizes like a Neiman Marcus shopping spree or $5,000 cash, from attendants circulating the ballroom or from a QR code in their programs.

The Program Itself 

As Friday’s luncheon got started, students from DeSoto High School serenaded with a song called “Revolution.” The lights dimmed. Guests munched on a spiced pearl salad with burnt honey-rosemary dressing; chicken fig saltimbocca with serrano ham, polenta, and asparagus spears; and either a champagne cream cake or a coffee mocha tiramisu for dessert. 

Norton welcomed the crowd. “You are a part of the revolution to make this world a more peaceful place for generations to come,” she said before shouting out city and county leaders in attendance, including Mayor Eric Johnson, Police Chief Eddie Garcia, Dallas County Sheriff Marian Brown, U.S. Attorney Leigha Simonton, and more. 

The audience listened to an invocation from Sheron Patterson, senior pastor at The Park United Methodist Church, remarks from event chairs Monica and Brent Christopher, and a short speech from Langbein. Then, it was time for the day’s headliner. 

A Talk with Nicole Kidman

After all the food had been served, Langbein welcomed actress Nicole Kidman to the stage for a 35-minute fireside chat-style interview. Over the years, Genesis has called on a mix of big names to speak at the annual luncheon, Langbein told D, like former U.S. Secretary of State Condoleeza Rice and singer Michael Bolton.

But Langbein said they don’t bring in a big name just for the star power. Everyone who comes “can have a conversation with me about the issue of domestic violence.” Langbein said they reached out to Kidman because of her work with the United Nations and because of her acting roles in productions like Bombshell and Big Little Lies, which “show the complexities of being a woman in these different situations.” 

During their conversation, the pair talked about Kidman’s work as an U.N. Women Goodwill Ambassador, her marriage to Keith Urban, her parents, and motherhood. Kidman stressed the importance of education to “eliminate the shame” victims feel and to “create a different world.” But that education can’t just be limited to teaching girls to protect themselves, she said. “It’s our daughters and it’s our sons.”

The pair spent a large portion of their conversation discussing Kidman’s role in Big Little Lies. In the HBO series, Kidman starred as Celeste Wright, a woman experiencing domestic violence. Kidman said her body would get bruised when fellow actor Alexander Skarsgård, who played her character’s husband, had to throw her around while filming certain scenes. Then, “I [got] to go home to a family that’s very nourishing and loving,” she said. “And that was heartbreaking to me.” 

She said the role educated her about the insidious nature of abuse and its psychology. One of the first steps is acknowledging what you’re experiencing is actually abuse. “There’s so much self-blame and a lot of times disassociation,” she said, “where ‘it’s not me that’s in an abusive relationship. Maybe that person is, or that person is, but I’m not.’” Kidman talked about her character’s fear of leaving the relationship and how that would “crumble her family.” But, she emphasized, her character’s experience is just one situation that women across the world face. 

Not only did Kidman star in the show, she also co-produced it with costar Reese Witherspoon and others. But when they were optioning the book Big Little Lies to turn it into the show, Kidman did not initially plan to play Celeste. But when she met with author Liane Moriarty, “she basically said, ‘Well, you have to play Celeste,’” Kidman said. “And I was like, ‘Whew, okay.’” While Kidman joked that she balanced playing gritty characters with movies like Aquaman. She said seeks out roles like Celeste, ones that “I feel are important.” People don’t necessarily want to see these traumatic stories, but if they do, “then they build compassion and they learn understanding,” she said. “And somehow I do believe that that helps the world.” 

The Final Tally

As their conversation drew to a close, Langbein encouraged the audience to “stand together as human beings with zero tolerance for violence against those who are defenseless.” She thanked Kidman for sharing her story and the attendees, then announced the raffle winners. 

The lights came back on, and the music blasted. Not quite ready to leave, many in the crowd remained in their seats and talked with their tablemates for a while. Many carried out their newly purchased centerpieces or waited in line to buy a tribute pearl or take a photo in front of the pearl photo wall.

Friday’s luncheon raised more than $1.1 million for the nonprofit. Throughout the event, the crowd chattered and smiled, ready, as always, to donate. Said Langbein, “it’s one of my favorite days.” 

Author

Catherine Wendlandt

Catherine Wendlandt

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Catherine Wendlandt is the online associate editor for D Magazine’s Living and Home and Garden blogs, where she covers all…

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