A Think Tank Discovers the Soul of Fund-Raising

"I heard y'all have a lot of money," said jazz saxophonist Najee as he weaved through the well-heeled crowd inside the Car Barn in Georgetown. "So, does that mean y'all are too cool and too rich to have a good time?"

The answer was a refined but emphatic no. In an effort to jazz up the image of the 29-year-old think tank, the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies threw a fund-raiser Wednesday night that was short on speeches and long on style. "Hey, we can get down and get funky," said the center's president, Eddie N. Williams.

Williams may call his institution "the poor man's Brookings," but the Joint Center is the country's most influential black think tank. "Quite often they are the heart and soul of the black community, the progressive community and the thoughtful community," said Rep. Mel Watt (D-N.C.).

Soul is always a good thing, so the center threw the "Moonlight Cabaret," its second, to inject a little pizazz into the fund-raising. "It already has the feel of a tradition," said Andrew Brimmer, chairman of the center's board. More than 250 guests attended the party, including Sony's LeBaron Taylor, White House associate director of presidential personnel Charles Duncan, Democratic National Committee vice chair Lottie Shackelford and former Illinois representative Cardiss Collins.

The evening raised more than $150,000 for the center, a testament that the crowd was rich and cool. Never a bad combination, as these things go.

Eating Well By Doing Good

The eternal Washington cocktail party dilemma: How do you eat (juggling a drink, a plate and a fork) while standing up? One solution: a nifty drink holder that clips onto the side of a plate, which was a godsend for serious food lovers like Beth Gibbs, below, at Wednesday night's "Star Chefs of D.C." benefit at the Metro Center Marriott. More than 300 people sipped wine and sampled dishes from 20 top restaurants, including Citronelle, Galileo, B. Smith's, Red Sage, Vidalia, Georgia Brown's, BET on Jazz and Taberna del Alabardero; Equinox restaurant's executive chef Todd Gray, above right with Joe Raffa, doled out breast of quail with mashed potatoes and truffle sauce.

All the good food was for a good cause--the local chapter of March of Dimes, which funds research against birth defects. "We get asked to so many events, you've got to pick and choose and go where your heart is," said Equinox General Manager Ellen Gray, who was attending the party with her 7-week-old son, Harrison Henry Gray.

A Return From Darkness

Depression: not the cheeriest theme for a party. But it's hard to turn down an invitation when it includes a lecture by Pulitzer-winning author William Styron. The writer, at right with wife Rose, gave a gripping account of his descent into depression at Tuesday's benefit for the William Wendt Center for Loss and Healing. "I'm a goner, darling," Styron remembers saying--but then recovered from the disease he calls the "shipwreck of the soul."

The lecture and dinner at the Mayflower Hotel attracted more than 600 devoted supporters of the counseling center, which helps people through the process of illness, death and grief. Originally called the St. Francis Center, it was founded 24 years ago by the Rev. William Wendt (at left with daughter Betsy Wendt and granddaughter Lily Cortez) and was renamed last month in his honor.

CAPTION: Left, Najee plays to a fine and funky crowd Wednesday night. Above, Eddie N. Williams, president of the Joint Center for Political and Economic Studies, with Evelyn Boyd, assistant director of international trade relations for Motorola.