Armed with little more than a strong work ethic and a clunky Kaypro computer, Gwen McKinney seemed an unlikely candidate in 1990 to mix it up with the powerful lobbying and public relations firms on Washington’s legendary K Street – the nexus of money and influence.

McKinney & Associates’ 20-year journey from a church basement to the first African American and woman-owned in the nation’s power corridor, which expressly promotes social advocacy, is chronicled in Voice Matters: An Anthology of Public Relations with a Conscience, a collection of essays that kicks off a sustained multimedia campaign celebrating social justice communications.

“We needed more than a party,” founder Gwen McKinney said of plans two years ago to celebrate the firm’s 20th anniversary. “It seemed important to create a permanent record of our projects and partnerships. It’s literally writing the book on what we do.

Part essay. Part memoir. Part how to. Part why do. But the story needed to be told in the myriad voices that give us our reason for being by people who are crusaders for social justice.” ??The Voice Matters collection, which recounts social justice campaigns conceived and supported by McKinney, includes a foreword by former New York Times columnist Bob Herbert whose reporting and McKinney’s advocacy often found synergy. Contributors include a formerly incarcerated woman who created a Los Angeles safe house for hundreds of other women like her to the head of Washington’s transit union who recalls a harrowing crisis communications campaign in the wake of a deadly train wreck. The book also highlights so-called “cause public relations” on topics including health equity, the death penalty, criminal justice reform and advocacy for a child with autism by the firm’s co-founder Leila McDowell. ??Reflections range from an argument on why diversity matters from the head of the nation’s leading Pan-Asian civil rights organization to the secret of how success begins – with the menu – from a popular DC restaurateur and bibliophile.

The release party and signing for Voice Matters will be held from 7-8:30 p.m., Thursday, March 8 – International Women’s Day – at Busboys & Poets, 5th & K Street, NW, and will be followed by a release of ebooks, video commentaries, tips and reflections on campaigns and public advocacy supported by the firm.