Stand Against Racism: Our Power, Our Mission, Our Future

5 Apr

The YWCA believes everyone has a role to play in the fight for racial justice. Throughout the month of April, community members in Asheville and Buncombe County will have a multitude of opportunities to connect with others in anti-racism work to learn, understand and collaborate as part of YWCA Asheville’s annual Stand Against Racism.

“Every year, YWCA Asheville and our local Stand Against Racism partners coalesce on a national campaign to raise awareness around the negative impacts of institutional and structural racism, and our community continues to be one of the most active Stand sites in the country,” said Gerry Leonard, YWCA Asheville Racial Justice & Outreach Specialist.

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“YWCA Asheville has been participating in Stand Against Racism since 2011 and our goal is to build off of the momentum of previous years, rallying around a specific theme each year.” Said Leonard. “Last year, our theme was Women of Color Leading Change and we sought to elevate the voices and visibility of Black and Brown women in leadership roles. This year continues centering Women of Color in our movement work – with the focus around political representation and civic engagement.”

Voting rights and civic engagement are and have always been, core components of the YWCA’s racial justice work. During this pivotal time, as civil rights continue to be attacked and eroded for communities of color, YWCA is focusing this year’s Stand Against Racism campaign Our Power, Our Mission, Our Future on supporting full access and engagement for women and girls of color in the political process.

At the core of the YWCA’s work is the recognition that not all women or all people of different races are treated equally. Our mission and history are a direct embodiment of a movement that is intersectional, working from the inside out to abolish discrimination. In 1965, the national YWCA Office of Racial Justice, led by civil rights icon Dr. Dorothy I. Height, worked to ensure that integration was a requirement of all YWCA Associations nationwide. And, in 1970, the YWCA adopted the One Imperative, committing itself to “the elimination of racism wherever it exists and by any means necessary.”

“There is a saying amongst YWCAs across the country, ‘We’re not new to this, we’re true to this,’ and that notion certainly holds true for YWCA Asheville as our leadership and commitment to racial and social justice has been at the forefront of our work since 1907,” said Leonard. “In an ever-changing social and political climate, we understand that any paradigm shift requires our organization to be nimble in our approach to direct service, issue education and public policy when working to dismantle systemic racism and white supremacy.”

YWCA USA March for Black Women and March for Racial Justice

This common thread unites YWCA associations across the country in a commitment to racial justice and civil rights. Through the combination of programs and advocacy YWCAs work to dismantle discrimination and expose prejudice in policy and practices. YWCA Asheville is committed to this racial justice work at the local, state and national level.

During the 2017 YWCA National Conference, YWCA Asheville was recognized as one of three finalists for the YWCA Association of Excellence Award for Racial Justice. The nomination, out of more than 220 associations nationwide, drew from their work on the local level including the development of a monthly Racial Justice Workshop, a robust Stand Against Racism campaign, and leadership with the Racial Justice Coalition – fourteen organizations working together to become a national model for best practices and improved police-community relations.

North Carolina is one of three states to pilot the YWCA Statewide Advocacy Initiative. The YWCAs of North Carolina includes leaders from YWCA Asheville, YWCA Central Carolinas (Charlotte), YWCA Greensboro, YWCA High Point, YWCA Lower Cape Fear (Wilmington) and YWCA Winston-Salem. The aim of these sister associations is to use their unified voice to identify, address and advocate for the communities they serve across the state. The YWCAs of North Carolina 2018 Advocacy Agenda, focuses their collective efforts on the unjust treatment and criminalization of people of color with the belief that when community members come together, they can come up with solutions that benefit everyone and create safer communities for all.

As part of a larger racial justice strategy, YWCA Asheville joins associations across the country each year on the Stand Against Racism campaign; building community among those who work for racial justice and raising awareness about the negative impact of institutional and structural racism. Last year, more than 54 partners hosted a Stand Against Racism event in Asheville and Buncombe County. Together as a community, we hosted more than 86% of the total Stand events in North Carolina, which totaled over 10% of the events nationwide!

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“The construct of racism has been around for centuries, and we, unfortunately, do not undo that overnight,” said Leonard. “Our goal is to make racial justice an orientation and framework for everyone, because the ways in which structural racism has been held up and perpetuated over time influences our attitudes, values, beliefs and cultural representation – so we have to constantly reorient our minds to this work, and Stand Against Racism is one aspect of changing that narrative.”

Although Stand Against Racism events vary year to year, examples of what’s been available in the past give community members an idea of the types of opportunities they will have this April. Public events, most of which are free, include panel discussions, lunch-and-learns, nationally recognized speakers, and artist workshops. Last year, Francine Delany New School for Children held a film screening of the documentary “13th”, which focuses on the intersection of race, justice & mass incarceration in the US. The film was followed by a facilitated talk-back to encourage conversation among those who attended. And, the MLK, Jr. Association of Asheville & Buncombe County and Residents Council of Asheville Housing Authority honored local women of color leaders during “Standing on the Shoulders of African-American Women Pioneers.”

Some events are not open to the general public but are designed for internal discussion and learning within a specific business or organization. This past spring, Carolina Day School professional development days focused on Implicit Bias and Micro-Aggression training. Since then, the Carolina Day School community has continued to take a stand, educating and empowering staff, students, and parents to take a lead in dismantling racism in our community. Also in 2017, the Asheville Jewish Community Center invited their members, including students and families, to learn about Kavod (honor, dignity, respect) through music and to pledge their support to stand up for Kavod in our collective community.

The YWCA has been working for justice for 160 years, and 110 years right here in Asheville and Buncombe County. While not new to this work, the organization acknowledges that our country and communities are experiencing a watershed moment in the fight for racial justice. YWCA Asheville calls on each person to get involved now to promote racial equity in their schools, businesses, organizations and community as a whole.

Visit our website for a continuing list of upcoming Stand Against Racism events in the area. For more information on hosting a Stand Against Racism event, email Gerry Leonard, YWCA Racial Justice & Outreach Specialist.

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