To Heal Our Communities, We Must Treat Each Other As Family

22 Aug

By Amy Hunter
Director of Racial Justice, YWCA Metro St. Louis

Amy Hunter, YWCA Metro St. Louis

What’s going on in Ferguson?

We have failed as a community to treat each other as kin. This is apparent in the way this incident was handled. If Mike Brown had been Ferguson Police Officer Darren Wilson’s son, he would still be alive. This is not about breaking the law, or being under the suspicion of breaking a law. Every adult, at some point of their lives, likely has broken the law, but it doesn’t have to cost a life. We have a judicial system to assess crime and punishment. The situation in Ferguson, where there is mistrust of that authority, exposes the issues that are deeper and more systemic, like failing educational systems, profiling, and the lack of trust between people that are different from one another. Today Missouri Governor Jay Nixon said there may be “bumps in the road” ahead. No doubt. How we navigate those “bumps” will be key.

Some of the media who covered my public remarks in Ferguson identified me as a “mother.” I am a mother; I am also the Director of Racial Justice for the YWCA Metro St. Louis. Racism is a social construct, and its defeat can be as well. I am encouraging everyone to reach for each other with love, as if we are connected and related. If we are going to learn from this incident, grow, and elevate our current disconnection, we are going to have to embrace, support, and handle each other as if we were related. In scholarship, this is called “fictive kinship,” meaning that, although we are not related, we are claiming each other as if we were in the same bloodline. As women, we do this with each other all the time: our best friends are often referred to as our sisters and our children even call them aunt. It happens with men, too.

If we are going to get through and beyond this, we are going to need to adopt this belief. It will dramatically change our actions and work toward healing. The world is watching, and it will take all of us to move forward in healing communities.

I don’t know Darren Wilson, so I am going to take some license that he is a good person who misjudged his response to the situation. If Mike Brown had been his biological son, he would have handled the situation much differently. Maybe he would have taken him to the police station and booked him, or talked sternly about the positive responsibilities of manhood.

If I apply this rule to myself and other mothers, Mike Brown could have been our son; in some ways, fictively he is my son. As a professional and as a mother, I never want to see a young person die from violence. Nor do I want tear gas, police dogs or swat teams used on U.S. citizens who are protesting.

The tragic events this week in Ferguson highlight the importance of the YWCA historically and today. We have much work to do in this community and others around the world to prevent these moments. We need the support of our community leaders, major corporations, supporters and families to fulfill the YWCA’s mission of eliminating racism and empowering women. A mother’s movement is a powerful force.

This incident has provided an opportunity for the YWCA to make a difference. We can take a stand against violence in any form, support grieving families, assist in peaceful demonstrations, and teach our youth to accomplish change through non-violent means. It has opened the dialogue about the need for more racial justice programming, like our Witnessing Whiteness groups to educate, inform, train and equip our white allies for social justice advocacy. Or our Mosaic Group, for people of color, to understand the impact of racism and to heal and work towards liberation from its harm and hurt. I have seen the good that honest communication in a safe space can accomplish. Together, we can change the world for the better.

As director of racial justice for YWCA Metro St. Louis, Amy Hunter is responsible for ensuring that eliminating racism, part of the YWCA’s two-prong mission of eliminating racism and empowering women, is incorporated in all of the organization’s internal and external programming. She serves as a representative of the YWCA in matters that address institutionalized and systemic oppression. She joined the YWCA in 2008; she has more than 15 years of experience in the corporate sector. She previously worked at Edward Jones in the area of diversity and served on the faculty for the Dismantling Racism Institute, a program of The National Conference for Community and Justice. Hunter has provided strategic direction for organizational development for universities, school districts and the corporate community. She has published works and is a presenter on issues of race and social justice throughout the United States and Canada.

Hunter is a native St. Louisian and is currently pursuing her PhD in Social Justice from the University of Missouri St. Louis. She has served on several boards and committees in St. Louis.

Hunter’s zeal and passion for creating an equitable society is unmatched. She is extremely busy being engrossed in her quest for equality while loving and being loved by her family.

Cross-posted from YWCA USA. See more at:

Uncomfortably Predictable: Race, Community and the Cycle of Violence

22 Aug

By Donte Hilliard,
Director of Mission Impact, YWCA USA

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.
- U. S. Declaration of Independence 1776

YWCA is dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.
- Adopted by the General Assembly, 2009

If you are silent about your pain, they’ll kill you and say you enjoyed it.
- Zora Neal Hurston

Donte Hilliard

Donte Hilliard, YWCA USA

Once again, an unarmed Black person is dead at the hands of local law enforcement agents. How many spectacles of bullet-riddled, broken Black bodies must we endure? How many cablecast reports and tweeted acts of grief and rage must we consume before we declare it is too much? How much evidence do we need before we admit that the United States of America has a problem?

Unfortunately, we at the YWCA USA know all too well that racialized community violence is neither novel nor rare for people of color in the U.S. Even as we join the hundreds of thousands of people who demonstrate their solidarity with the Brown Family (on the ground and online) as they grieve the loss of Michael Brown and seek justice, we know there are innumerable victims and survivors of this type of systemic violence who will never be acknowledged on a national platform.

We also know, that despite what continues to be revealed about the specifics of this incident in Ferguson, Mo., the script is uncomfortably predictable:

  • A person of color is racially profiled, surveilled and killed;
  • Despite being unarmed, he/she is accused of being a threat or threatening;
  • Peaceful, organized community action is ignored — framed as a riot rather than a protest or civic engagement, or rendered moot because of other acts (such as looting);
  • The local community is admonished for “rushing to judgment” and not waiting on the facts;
  • Images of the dead person of color surface that portray him or her as a scary, menacing, or gang-affiliated;
  • Local and national law enforcement agents and agencies will seek to frame the death in a race-neutral context, denying the reality of institutional and systemic racism; we will be asked to see victims, survivors and perpetrators only as individuals and not as members of social groups of varying institutional and structural power, while simultaneously being bombarded with racially-coded words and images;
  • Taxpayers will be treated as “enemy combatants,” rather than citizens who are guaranteed the right to gather, speak, and protest per our founding and governing documents.

What do we say and do in the face of this gut-wrenching, all-too-familiar cycle of violence against the psyche and soma of people of color?

We at the YWCA USA dare not desecrate the lives and memories of the victims and survivors of racialized community violence with hollow platitudes. Rather, we seek to transform our anger, confusion, and despair into action.

Here’s what we can do:

  • Locally, those near Ferguson can contact the YWCA of Metro St. Louis. This YWCA has a long history of working on racial justice and to end discrimination in St. Louis, through workplace seminars, hosting speakers, guided dialogues, and more. Amy Hunter, Director of Racial Justice, leads these groups to “increase understanding of the institutionalized and systemic impact of racism, work towards peace and healing and positively impact the community we all live in.” Earlier this week, she joined other community leaders at Christ the King United Church of Christ in Florissant for a forum with Ferguson Police Chief Tom Jackson.
  • No matter where you live, please take action today and tell Congress the time is now to end racial profiling—a United States problem that destroys American values of fairness and justice. Congress must take action and pass the End Racial Profiling Act this year. This bill requires that local law enforcement agencies receiving federal funds maintain adequate cultural competency policies and procedures for eliminating racial profiling. In addition, this bill allows victims to obtain declaratory or injunctive relief.
  • If you are or aspire to be a White racial justice ally, you MUST show up. Racism is a problem for all of us. People of color cannot be the only ones putting their bodies on the line.

Do not let this movement end here. Racialized community violence must not be allowed to remain a normal part of our daily lives. We must come together and continue to fight for the fair and equitable treatment of all.

The YWCA is a social justice organization and movement with over 150 years of experience providing direct service to, building with, and advocating on behalf of the most vulnerable people in our society: low wage workers, the unemployed, women and girls, people of color, non-native English speakers, members of the military, abuse survivors, etc. As a social justice organization, we have a deep and abiding commitment to working on issues of economic, gender, and racial justice — particularly in the places where these systems of oppression overlap each other.

As an organization dedicated to eliminating racism and empowering women, we will not allow issues of racial profiling, hate crimes and/or community violence be placed on the back burner.

Donte brings more than 10 years of administrative leadership in the areas of: Diversity, Inclusion & Social Justice; education/training in African American, Gender, and Religious Studies; knowledge and application of various social change models; history of advocacy for historically underrepresented groups; and coalition building within and across various communities. Donte has notable experience as faculty, trainer, community volunteer and activist, researcher and author, and has received many awards and honors. He is the co-founder and Chair of the Institute for Justice Education & Transformation (IJET), an initiative of the UW Madison Multicultural Student Center, that provides and supports opportunities for deep reflection and action around issues of Social Justice for underrepresented communities and their allies. Donte has a B.A. in Psychology from The University of Arkansas, a M.A. in African American studies from Ohio State University, and a M.A. in Religious Studies from Chicago Theological Seminary.

Cross-posted from YWCA USA. See more at:

Summer Camp Success

19 Aug

047We’ve wrapped up another awesome Summer Camp here at the YWCA! We averaged 125 campers, and their days were packed with field trips to local parks, Splashville, Waynesville Water Park, Erwin Pool, and the Carl Sandburg house. They also took a Gray Line Trolley tour of Asheville, and provided advice to the Asheville DesignBuild Studio on our new outdoor classroom and covered walkway.Trolley Summer Camp 7.31.14 022

Thanks to the Asheville Buncombe Youth Soccer Association, Girl Scouts, Asheville Design Center, Art Studio Miami, and the Asheville Tourists for providing in-kind enrichment activities to our campers.

A huge thank you to the United Way for donating 40 backpacks to help some of our students prepare for the new school year.

At the end of Summer Camp party in the YW parking lot we asked some campers (and some parents!) to tell us their favorite part of the summer:

“We loved going to the pool and to the water park. We also loved playing outside in parks.”
Kalen, Kasiyah, Tamiyah – 9


“It was my first year. I made a lot of friends and the counselors were nice.”
Aiyana, 7
“The party! Getting my face painted.”
Rodolfo, 10
“The Carl Sandburg house was my favorite. We got to show people our play.”
Trayson, 8
“Hands-down this is their favorite camp. They were outside a lot, there were a lot of field trips. The counselors were friendly and a lot more hands-on than we’ve experienced at other camps.”
Javier, Parent
“My daughters both learned to swim this summer. They just moved here, but were helped to fit right in. They made lots of friends.”
Chasidy, Parent

Fiesta Time!

14 Aug

Our Salsa, Sabor y Salud program had its end-of-the-summer Fiesta, where the participating families came together for a potluck meal and celebration of all that they learned during the past 8 weeks.

Esther Garcia, the mother of two girls (a 9 year-old and a 6 month-old), said: “The program was interesting and special. We learned a lot about eating healthfully, and how to be active. Now that the program’s over I’ll remember to dance with all of our family to traditional songs as one way to get exercise.”


Salsa participant Esther Garcia and her daughters

In total 15 families enjoyed the program, with 17 adults and 27 children served.  Each week we focused on a different nutrition and physical activity focus, and often had a guest speaker from a local agency offering bilingual services. For example, Natalie Teague, an immigration lawyer and bilingual yoga teacher, came to talk about the benefits and practice of yoga and lead us in a 30 minute session.  For many of the mothers in Salsa, Sabor y Salud, this was their first experience on a yoga mat and they reported enjoying the physical and mental benefits right away.


Norma Brown with Children First/ Communities In Schools (left), with Beth Maczka, Executive Director of the YWCA

Salsa is a program developed by the National Latino Children’s Institute(NCIL) and facilitated by two certified leaders on-site at the YWCA of Asheville.  The program centers around culturally-relevant activities and discussions that highlight ways that families can make small steps each week towards their wellness goals.


Susan Kettren, Director of Health & Wellness with the YWCA, plays with a Salsa participant

The YWCA offers Salsa completely in Spanish, provides all families with a complete gym and pool membership during the 8 week sessions, and follows up with families with any relevant wellness opportunities.


Katie Souris, Preventive Health Coordinator, hands out certificates to Salsa participants

Here are some more photos of families enjoying the Salsa Fiesta!


Get Inspired! Kera Ouimette’s Story by Pamela White Wolsey

5 Aug

Choosing the second Club W member to highlight for the “Get Inspired” series was not a difficult task. I had the idea of featuring Kera Ouimette for quite some time simply because she is a rock star.Kera Ouimetta (1)

Without knowing Kera’s personal story, I unknowingly assumed she was born an athlete. She exudes so much confidence in her work-outs and is always doing something innovative in her routine.  When I approached Kera about highlighting her story for this series, I quickly found out that that there was much more to this woman than the rock-solid work-out queen we all witness in Club W. I am so fortunate that Kera has shared her story with us, and I hope that each of you are just as inspired and moved by her journey as I have been.

Kera, an Asheville native, is the mother of three boys:  Kelsey, Thadeus, and Julien and has been married to her husband Matthew for 17 ½ years. The importance of family is evident in any conversation with Kera. Yet as we all know, stay-at-home moms rarely get a break, and when they do, they are often doing something for someone else.  In order to maintain her sanity, Kera’s idea of unwinding is a trip to the YWCA, where she utilizes our drop-in day care. (Members of Club W receive up to 2 hours of supervised childcare while they utilize our facility.) Knowing that her children are in great hands gives Kera the opportunity to focus on her workout.

I was surprised to learn that Kera is not a natural born athlete like I had assumed. Growing up, she admits she had no athletic skills with the exception of lifeguarding in high school. After her middle son was born she realized that she was 60 pounds heavier.  Mentally, Kera took the weight gain incredibly hard, and over time became increasingly obsessive about what she ate. Kera developed a very unhealthy body image and relationship with food because she was convinced that everything she ate added fat or extra pounds – she lost weight dramatically.

After her third son was born Kera knew she needed to pursue healthier options for controlling her weight.  At 35 she decided that she wanted to run, so she joined forces with her sister and completed a 5K and was in love. Running made her feel empowered and gave her the validation that she craved. Unfortunately, she suffered a set-back and injured her knee. Running was no longer an option. It was at that time that her husband (who she credits as her biggest supporter) bought her a Fitness RX for Women® magazine where she found a 12-week training plan. Kera admits she stared at this magazine for quite some time before acting, but eventually made the decision to join Club W and give it a try. She has been a member for over a year now and loves it because of the awesome drop-in childcare, the laid back atmosphere, friendly vibes and diversity.

Once Kera developed an exercise routine she was hooked, but her issues revolving around food still existed. Coming to the realization that weight training goes hand in hand with eating healthily and consistently was difficult at first. Yet, once Kera started to see results, she also began to relax more – making food less of an issue. Since she started weight training at Club W, she has gained 12 pounds, and would like to gain 10 more.

Kera’s must-haves are chicken, almonds, and avocado and she says she cannot live without the survival snack of Greek yogurt, protein powder and peanut butter.  For those interested in beginning an exercise routine, Kera offers these 5 tips:

1). Keep going- it takes time to see results.

2). Eat healthy – that’s the key!

3). Setbacks can be overcome.

4). Push yourself; do something that is out of your comfort zone.

5). Educate yourself – get new exercises or tips and try them!

As you all now know, Kera is a rock star – but one with a journey that serves to continually inspire us all. Congratulations to one inspirational woman for being the best she can be – not only for herself, but her children and husband as well!

Feliz y Fuerte en la Piscina de la YWCA

30 Jul

Maria tiene 8 años de edad, y vino por primera vez a la YWCA para tomar clases de natación para principiantes hace unos meses atrás.???????????????????????????????

Fabiola, la madre de Maria- quien es originaria de México – nos dice: “Me di cuenta en la piscina pública que las familias hispanas tienden a permanecer en el borde y no nadar en lo absoluto. En nuestra cultura no es tan común aprender a nadar, pero quiero que mis hijos aprendan a nadar por su seguridad, y para que puedan tener las mismas oportunidades y ser parte de la cultura de aquí. “

Fabiola eligió la YWCA  porque había oído que tiene un ambiente seguro y que cuenta con buenos instructores. “A Maria le encanta venir aquí – ella se divierte muchísimo”, dice Fabiola. “Ella tiene más confianza en el agua – La veo mejorar cada semana.”

Cuando se le preguntó lo que piensa acerca de sus clases de natación en el YWCA, Maria me dice simplemente: “Me gusta aprender.”

¿Cómo se siente ella en el agua? “Se siente feliz y fuerte.”

Fabiola, quien no sabe nadar, dice que la mejoría y la alegría de María en el agua la ha inspirado a querer inscribirse para las clases de natación para ella misma.

La Sra. Shawn, profesora de natación de Maria, dice de ella:

“El espíritu de esta jovencita es increíblemente enorme. Durante sus primeras lecciones podía sentir su miedo. Ella tenía miedo pero estaba dispuesta a probar!”???????????????????????????????

“He enseñado a nadar durante aproximadamente 13 años. Nunca antes había tenido un estudiante que ha trabajado tan duro, y avanzado tan rápidamente. Esta jovencita tiene la fuerza y la tenacidad de alguien mucho mayor. Ella me sorprende cada semana. Ella pasó de tener miedo a poner la cara en el agua… a bucear en la sección de 12 pies de la piscina y nadar a lo largo de la piscina completa por su cuenta. Esta jovencita tiene una valentía como nunca habia visto antes.

“Me siento tan alegre de observar a esta jovencita no sólo crecer como un nadadora… pero también como una chica joven y confidente. No hay nada mejor en el mundo como que tu estudiante de mire a los ojos y te regale una gran sonrisa.

“Esun hecho comprobado queconlas clases de natacióncontinuas losniñosdisminuyen la probabilidad deun accidente en elagua.Comoinstructora de nataciónmi objetivo es, no sólo enseñar los niñoslos fundamentos principales de la natación, sino tambiénenseñarles aestar segurosen el agua.

“Maria es una joven nadadora increíble que ha tocado mi corazón de muchas maneras.”

Para mas información sobre las clases de natación, por favor visite:


Meet Our Facilities Staff!

29 Jul

???????????????????????????????Name/ Title: Melvin Allen, Housekeeping

How long at the YW: 1 year

Years in Asheville: 66

Favorite thing(s) about the YWCA: I am with my kids all day.

What you like to do in your spare time: Fishing

People would be surprised if they knew I… have the nickname Pep.



Name/ Title: Robert Grant, Maintenance

How long at the YW: 8 years

Years in Asheville: My whole life.

Favorite thing(s) about the YWCA: The people and activities, the gym.

What you like to do in your spare time: Sleep!

People would be surprised if they knew I… had a kidney transplant. I went through the first diabetes class at the YWCA when I was on dialysis.



Name/ Title: Julian Grant, Maintenance

How long at the YW: 3 years

Years in Asheville: 64

Favorite thing(s) about the YWCA: The people.

What you like to do in your spare time: Work out

People would be surprised if they knew I… have a brother who works at the YW [Robert Grant].



Name/ Title: Pearl Kyles, Housekeeping

How long at the YW: 2 years

Years in Asheville: All my life!

Favorite thing(s) about the YWCA: The fitness – because it’s helped me a lot. I’ve lost 20 pounds since I’ve worked here! I also enjoy my job – knowing that people enjoy a clean environment.

What you like to do in your spare time: When I’m not at work I’m usually on my iPad playing a game.

People would be surprised if they knew I… that I can deal with anybody!



Name/ Title: Charlton Owens/ Security Chief

How long at the YW: 10 years

Years in Asheville: Life

Favorite thing(s) about the YWCA: Serving the YW’s staff and members, making everyone feel safe.

What you like to do in your spare time: Chilling

People would be surprised if they knew I… used to work for the Sheriff’s department, and worked security in Ingles.


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