Charisma, savvy, and a passion for helping others- philanthropist Jaci Reid has what it takes to make a difference. And she’s doing just that.
When I was a girl, my mother, no doubt like yours, couldn’t resist quoting this axiom to me from time to time: “Remember, pretty is as pretty does.” And that was usually enough to remind me to bite my tongue, help out a classmate, or tack on a “please” or “thank you.”
I think of this as I chat with Jaci Reid on a recent afternoon. Let me get this out of the way up front: Reid is a stunner. Flawless skin, the right shade of lipstick, and a red-carpet-worthy wardrobe. But she also has a confidence tempered with disarming warmth. She is intelligent and welcoming, and it is what she does that we find pretty notable.
Reid has a passion-and a knack-for philanthropy, in particular those causes that benefit AIDS awareness, women and children, the arts, and conflict-free diamond mining. She’s known for her ability to raise funds and interest and is the go-to hostess/ organizer for benefits, even on occasion opening the lawn of her East Hampton summer home for VH1 Save the Music concerts.
But her prowess isn’t limited to the philanthropic world. Before turning her talents to championing such causes, Reid made a name for herself in the political realm, working alongside barrier-breakers such as Carol Moseley Braun, the first African-American woman to serve as a U.S. senator.
Reid, a Houston native, got her start in politics while volunteering for Texas state senator Rodney Ellis. “I was thrilled when they asked me to come on full-time,” she says. “Through Senator Ellis, I was given the opportunity to work with Ann Richards, the late governor of Texas.”
And doors continued opening. When Carol Moseley Braun won her Senate seat in 1992, Reid moved to Washington, D.C., as one of her staffers. Next up, Reid spent six years with the Clinton administration, working with U.S. trade representative Mickey Kantor and with Madeleine Albright, first female secretary of state.
It’s an impressive résumé, even more so considering the all-star list of female politicos for whom she’s worked. “Not only did I work with them,” Reid reflects, “but I got a chance to work with them on the ground floor, when they were coming in and really trying to figure it out. I’m very proud to have been under the tutelage of such amazing, dynamic women of different races and backgrounds.”
Perhaps the most important connection made during Reid’s political career was her introduction to Morris Reid, now her husband of 12 years. Morris worked for the late Ron Brown, secretary of commerce in President Clinton’s first term. “[Morris and I] would see each other in White House meetings and government meetings and became friends and colleagues,” Reid remembers. “There was a mutual respect for what I brought to the table and what he brought to the table. From that, romance grew.”
And they’re still working together, now as co-managing directors of their D.C.-based public affairs firm, Westin Rinehart. “We’re married, we work together, and we’re still smiling,” says Reid, attributing their success to respecting one another’s space. “I deal with the charity arm of our firm and he does all of the day-to-day business of securing and maintaining our clients via a series of branding and public relations strategies.” They work equally hard at their marriage. “Tonight is a date night for us,” says Reid. The plans? Sushi. “It’s usually sushi, and then we’ll watch a movie at home.”
The duo also shares a passion for philanthropy. Take their annual luncheon honoring the National Basketball Wives Association. “Morris has always been a basketball fan, and we go to the games,” says Reid. “With all the attention that the superstar husbands get, Morris wondered, what are the women behind these phenomenal athletes doing? In the NBA, these players are making decent amounts of money. A lot of these athletes are African-American kids, and they are able to make quite an impact.”
The couple reasoned that with the players often on the road, it must be the women in their lives overseeing not only family life but also their community involvements.
“Morris started looking behind the scenes, and we found a great organization called Behind the Bench.” This wives’ association is a nonprofit focused on the challenges facing families, particularly women and children. The wives of active and retired professional players combine their celebrity status and resources to help charities, such as Boys and Girls Clubs, in the cities where the league has franchises.
“It’s great work,” says Reid, “but no one knew about it. Morris and I decided that we would begin to highlight and honor this group and try to bring awareness from the outside for what they are accomplishing. We want to find synergy within the public and with sponsors we deal with to see if we can help raise more money and more awareness and affect more families and communities.”
Thus, the luncheon was born. Now entering its eighth year, the event is held during the NBA All-Star Weekend. It honors not only the Behind the Bench organization but also other women of influence. Past honorees included Product (RED) president Tamsin Smith and BET chairman and CEO Debra Lee.
One notable partner for the event is renowned cosmetics and fragrance company Guerlain. (Reid is a fan of their products, especially their fragrance My Insolence.) Pamela Baxter, president and CEO of LVMH Perfumes & Cosmetics for North America, has been a keynote speaker for the luncheon in the past and, for many years, has pledged Guerlain products, information, and other resources to support the ladies with their philanthropic efforts and encourage them to take care of themselves as they care for others.
“The women love having Guerlain at the event,” says Reid. “It’s a good place for them to identify products that can help them relax, beautify, and feel more comfortable with themselves.”
Beyond co-hosting the Behind the Bench luncheon, Reid is involved with other projects both in D.C. and New York, where the couple split their time. Mogul Russell Simmons approached her to serve on the board of Diamond Empowerment Fund, which works to alleviate African poverty. Reid sits on the boards for Free Arts NYC, which brings artists together with children in difficult family environments, and Love Heals, which educates young people about HIV/AIDS. She works with Fashion Fights Poverty to promote ethical design and labor practices in the fashion industry, and she has formerly chaired or sat on the boards for the Dance Theatre of Harlem and Second Genesis, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation program.
I ask if she ever finds herself, as many women do, spreading herself too thin. “It is hard because we are caregivers by nature, and we do want to give as much as we can,” Reid admits. “I find that what helps me identify the charities I should be working on or events I should be hosting is the amount of time I’m willing to dedicate to it. I do not wish to have my name affiliated or associated with an organization if I’m not going to be able to have a real impact. I don’t want to just fill a chair.”
Reid says she doesn’t feel bad about turning opportunities down if she doesn’t feel she can give a full commitment. “It’s like Oprah says: ‘No’ is a full sentence,” she laughs.
Next up, Reid is adding writer to her résumé. She’s highlighting the work of other do-gooders, like Victoria Rowell, an actress and ballerina who was born a ward of the state of Maine and has gone on to dedicate her life to giving back, particularly to foster children.
For Reid, the measure of success isn’t the length of her list of credentials or the amount of money she’s helped raise. “If I am able to help those around me by putting a smile on their faces or recognizing the charitable efforts of another within my day, then I feel accomplished,” she says. “Ultimately, I strive to leave a positive mark on the world as an individual-one who has attempted to involve others and help them identify communities they can support.” [Sb]