Message from YWCA Executive Director Beth Maczka:
As many of you know, the YWCA of Asheville mission is Eliminating Racism, Empowering Women and Promoting Peace, Freedom, Justice and Dignity for all. While we think that EVERY month should be Black History month, it is February, so I thought I’d take a moment to tell you a little about the YW’s rich history in Asheville as well as what we are currently doing to live into our mission through our programs and the Stand Against Racism.
The YW began in 1906, offering housing to young white women coming into the city to work. This YW became known as the Central YWCA. On a parallel track, in that same decade, a group of African American women gathered to form an employment club to help young Black women find jobs. They established an organization called the Phyllis Wheatley YWCA.
In 1938, the two separate branches were forced to integrate by the National YW and the local Community Chest (now the United Way). For many years they functioned as separate organizations but they had an eye toward the future. Long before most other organizations thought about integration, the two branches of the YWCA began that process.
In 1954, Lucille Burton was elected the first African American member of the board of directors. Also in the 50’s, the branches began integrating their children’s and teen programs.
In 1956, the United Nations Club invited Eleanor Roosevelt to speak in Asheville, but she would only speak to non-segregated audiences. The YWCA was the only place in Asheville willing to host an integrated audience. She spoke to a sold out crowd of over 800 at the Central YWCA.
In 1963, the YW Board of Directors passed a motion “to accept all women and girls regardless of race or creed in all facilities, programs and services of the YWCA.” The most controversial aspect was that of the boarding facility – Moorehead House, was to accept African-American residents. This alienated one of the YWCA’s largest funders.
In 1965, Thelma Caldwell became the Executive Director of the Central YW, making her the second African-American Executive Director of a YWCA in the United States and the first in the South. In 1970, the two branches merged permanently when the white branch closed and all programming moved into our current facility. The women who led the YW both nationally and here in Asheville have always been on the cutting edge of social justice in their time. After building housing for women workers in the industrial cities across the US, the YW supported an eight hour work day, child labor laws and the minimum wage. Locally, our YW led efforts for integration, organizing to encourage downtown businesses to hire their first African American employees. The YWCA PAC successfully lobbied the Winn-Dixie supermarket to integrate its workforce in 1962. Following this achievement, the YWCA continued its efforts to work with other local companies such as A&P, Sears, J.C. Penny’s, Belk’s Department Store, and Bon Marche toward the goal of an integrated workforce.
Today, the YWCA’s seven programs address disparities in child care, education, health care and earning power. Our services include a 5-Star Child Care Center and 5 -Star After-School and Summer Camp program, MotherLove which helps pregnant and parenting teens graduate from high school, and New Choices which offers case management and free child care to women who are pursuing education or looking for employment. On the wellness side, we offer Diabetes Wellness and Prevention which provides support groups, coaching and access to Club W – our state of the art Fitness Center. Finally and not least of all, the YW has a solar-heated pool which is used to teach the children in our programs to swim as well as a full schedule of water aerobics, lap swimming and something I still need to try, water basketball.
Lives are truly transformed at the YW as we help move our community towards greater equity and inclusion. Besides offering a variety of programs every day, the YW annually hosts the Stand Against Racism. The Stand Against Racism is a nationwide YWCA effort that occurs on the fourth Friday in April. YW’s across the country host events and encourage their communities to engage in acts both large and small. The goal is to raise awareness that racism still exists and that it will no longer be tolerated or accepted. Asheville’s Stand Against Racism is proud to be one of the largest in the county.
Schools, faith communities, nonprofits and businesses choose how they want to be involved. When I worked at the Community Foundation of WNC, during the Stand’s first year, we simply read an article, “White Privilege: Unpacking the Invisible Backpack,” and then had a facilitated discussion over lunch. Last year the foundation co-hosted a forum and Latino student panel on immigration. The Asheville Community Theater held a community dialogue around their production of To Kill a Mockingbird. The Chamber of Commerce hosted a workshop offered by the Center for Diversity Education on making public spaces more welcoming to all. Group’s individual stands can be as simple or involved as they choose.
This year the Stand Against Racism Planning Coalition has chosen the focus of recruitment, retention and promotion of people of color in the workplace. We are working on a toolkit of best practices to share with organizations who wish to explore how to increase the number of minorities in the workplace. We hope you will consider participating in the Stand and we hope you will join us at the YW’s Stand event which will be the most exciting of all – our Black and White Gala on May 2. This is the most fun, diverse dance party in Asheville and not to be missed!
Thanks for taking the time to read this. If you want to find out more about our history and programs, please visit our website.
Note: The historical facts shared here were taken from a series of historical panels we created for our Centennial in 2007. See the panels here.