Sandra McKinley is the founder of D.I.V.A’s for Christ, also known as D.I.V.A's, an organization she created around the same time that AVillage came to be. D.I.V.A's means “Divinely, Inspired, Victoriously, Assigned sister”. The mission of D.I.V.A's for Christ is to empower, strengthen, and encourage individuals living in low-income communities as well as those coming out of jails and other institutions through a network of services and programs designed to help them succeed and survive in today's world. Although D.I.V.A’s still needs a 501c3, one of its most significant focuses is in helping people gain access to construction jobs and the rebuilding of their community and themselves.
Sandra McKinley’s connection with God has been a throughline of her life. Her faith not only continually brings her guidance and restoration, but served as an inspiration for her community work.
“D.I.V.A's was revealed. It wasn’t something that I thought up. It was something that was revealed to me through my heart, through my situations and my struggles and my life. So as I grew to know who God was, he taught me who I was.”
Sandra McKinley cares deeply about fighting the oppression that black men and women face, and wants to break through the wall that separates our communities from true success. She thinks community members need to be empowered to hold non-profits responsible for the change they commit to make, and knows that connecting marginalized people to resources is a round-the-clock job. “D.I.V.A's is here to try to help them get to an open door. We can get them to the door, and they can stand and stare at it all day but if they don't walk through it then nothing’s gonna happen.”
Sandra McKinley’s organization is run by willpower and determination. She values the importance of getting the community the information that will help them the most. She knows that the systemic issues facing black people in poor communities loom large, and that even huge organizations can’t find resolutions for every problem. But as sure as Sandra’s faith serves as a guidepost for her values, there’s a Bible verse for that.
“If I was to use one sentence to describe what I do for D.I.V.A's it would be, ‘To walk someone through to the other side of where they are.' The bible tells us that we should be helping one another. Philippians 2:4 says, ‘Let each of you look not to his own interest, but also to the interests of others.’ And hopefully as I grab hold of somebody and walk with them, they will grab two.”
Sandra McKinley is a healer, a leader, a friend, and a coach, all in one. She aims to build the faith of those who feel that they have none left. Although Sandra is still trying to build her organization’s capacity, she doesn’t let that stop her from bridging the gap between youth and the type of opportunities she missed out on herself. “God shows us where we wasted time and by investing in someone else and my hope is that they won’t waste so much.”
She is an incredibly self-reflective individual, and talks about the lessons she wishes she could tell her teenage-self. “Somebody has to water your dream. Somebody has to encourage us. It puts joy in people’s hearts that makes them blossom. That makes that flower come up and their backs get straighter.”
I ask Sandra what brings her the most joy. After all, so much of her life has been intertwined with helping people through the hardest moments of theirs. Her answer comes with a brief pause, a bright smile on her face. “When I see someone who was down, get up.”
If you would like to support D.I.V.A’s, or know someone who could help the organization get a 501c3, e-mail Sandra McKinley at divasforchrist2017(at)gmail.com.