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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.


“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!


“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.

Celebrating Our 110th Anniversary

12 May



Beth Maczka, YWCA CEO and the 2016/2017 YWCA Board of Directors


Since 1907 the YWCA of Asheville has been at the forefront of social and racial justice movements in our community. The first location of the YWCA in Asheville was founded to support and house single white women moving into the city to work. A few years later in 1913, a group of black women started to meet and created the Employment Club. And, in 1921, the African American Phyllis Wheatley Branch of the YWCA was opened.  Officially integrating in 1967 and merging under one roof on South French Broad Avenue in 1971, the YWCA of Asheville continues to serve women and families in our community, proudly living into our mission of eliminating racism and empowering women every day.

To honor our rich history, highlight those currently making a difference, and share a vision for our future, the YWCA held an event in May 2017 to celebrate our 110 Year Anniversary. Thank you to all who came and made the evening so special. Held at UNC Asheville, guests enjoyed a reception to gather, share memories and view many of the newly archived YWCA photos on display. During the program, we showcased our partnership with UNC Asheville, which helped us preserve and identify historical images and collect new oral histories from YW members. Presenters from both the YWCA and UNC Asheville shared historical timelines, themes, and stories captured during oral history interviews conducted by university students and from our community picture viewing days for over 400 newly acquired YW photos. Our past board presidents and executive directors wrapped up the evening by sharing their hopes and dreams for the YWCA to send us off looking ahead into our bright future.

Visit our website at for links to explore the Asheville YWCA Oral History Project from the UNC Asheville History Department, view the YWCA of Asheville Archive at Ramsey Library at UNC Asheville Special Collections and access the new Asheville YWCA Digital Photo Collection through the North Carolina Digital Heritage Center, NC Collection at UNC Chapel Hill.

YWCA History at the aSHEville Museum

24 Feb

Have you been to the aSHEville Museum yet????????????????????????????????

Opened just this past July, aSHEville Museum is a women’s cultural museum with a mission to contribute to the creation of more just and equitable world through its collection of intimate exhibits, which range from historic to contemporary in scope, and local to global.

Core exhibits include: Appalachian Women, 100 Years of Sexism in Advertising, and A History of Hysteria. aSHEville Museum also houses a variety of rotating exhibits.

???????????????????????????????The YWCA is proud that one of the current exhibits is a display of several historical panels created for our centennial celebration in 2007.

The panels address the YWCA of Asheville’s historical role in:Where It All Began (about the origins of the YWCA in Asheville and its founding in 1907), Health & Wellness, Guiding Teens, Empowering Women, E. Thelma Caldwell and the Boosters Club, Eliminating Racism in Asheville, and the Phyllis Wheatley Branch.

Heidi Swann, co-founder of the museum, says: “Having the YWCA Centennial Exhibit has afforded our museum visitors insights into the many significant accomplishments that have been achieved by decades of committed people in our local community, who have worked together for the common goals of providing greater opportunities for women and girls, and in addressing racism. It gives hope and perspective to see how many positive changes occurred over this span of time.”

The aSHEville Museum is located at 35 Wall Street downtown, with a sliding scale admission fee. More information here.

Special offer now through March, 2015: Mention this blog and receive a complimentary cup of hot tea when you visit the museum.

Our History: Nurturing Children

22 Aug

The YWCA of Asheville’s History of Nurturing Children*

The YWCA of Asheville, with a mission of eliminating racism and empowering women, has supported women and families in many ways over the past 106 years. An ongoing focus of the organization has been to nurture children.

The YWCA has offered various types of child care throughout its history. In 1924, CampKenjocketee, a summer camp for girls, was run by the Central YWCA. In 1954, the YWCA Young Wives Club offered child care during its meetings. A supervised playroom was made available to YWCA members in 1966.
Camp Kenjocketee

The YWCA Nursery began serving children in its “Drop-In Child Care Center” in 1973. Soon after, the YWCA received $60,000 in grants to form five family day care homes with 5 children in each, the first in this community. In 1981 YWCA started its teacher workday/snowday care and “Mothers Morning Out” program.
children's music

Today, the YWCA’s 5-star rated Child Care Center provides a safe, caring environment for babies, toddlers, and preschoolers. The curriculum includes academic readiness, an appreciation for diversity, and age-graded activities. Individual portfolios for each child show that the youngest are reaching the early developmental benchmarks, and the oldest are ready for Kindergarten. Parental involvement in the Center is highly encouraged. Foster Grandparents are also very active in the Center.
child care center

The multi-cultural center has space for 75 children ages 6 weeks to 5 years old. It is open Monday through Friday from 7:30 am – 6:00 pm. Two meals and a snack are provided daily. Swimming lessons and field trips are also offered. Buncombe County vouchers are accepted.

We currently have openings in the 4 & 5 year old room of our Center. For more information, call Director of Child Care Wanda Harris at 254-7206 x 109.

* One in a series of blog posts about YWCA of Asheville history.

Our History: Aquatics

30 Jul

A History of Swim Instruction and Water Fitness*

The YWCA was officially incorporated in Asheville in 1907. The organization historically has put strong value on health and fitness and, in 1927, the swimming pool opened at the Central YWCA. Soon afterwards the YWCA held a “Swim the English Channel” contest in which participants crossed the swimming pool 1,760 times. Also in 1927 the YWCA began its long-standing relationship with the American Red Cross by offering certified swimming and lifeguarding classes.
Central YW pool 1959

The YWCA’s water exercise program featured “Water Ball” classes in 1937, not unlike the water exercise classes that are held at the YWCA today. In 1952 the Central YWCA began offering mother-child swimming classes.

YWCA Executive Director Thelma Caldwell integrated the swimming classes at the Central YWCA in 1963. This was a step towards integrating the YWCA, which at that time had two branches – an African American branch on South French Broad Avenue, and a white branch, the Central YWCA, on Grove Street. The two branches merged in the South French Broad facility in 1970. The pool at the French Broad Avenue facility opened in 1974.
handicap accessible lift

In 2009, the YWCA installed 30 solar panels to heat the water in the pool. The pool also features a handicap-accessible lift and stairs.

Today, the YWCA Aquatics Department continues to offer lessons taught by Red Cross certified instructors in seven different levels for children under 6, six levels for ages 6 and up, as well as beginning through advanced lessons for adults. As part of Club W: The YWCA Health & Fitness Center, there are several levels water exercise and water aerobics classes. The Aquatics Department also offers open swim and lap swim. A new session of YWCA Red Cross Swim Lessons begins the first Monday of every month. For more information, go to
YW swimmers 2013

* Part of a series of posts about YWCA Asheville History

Julia Ray: Living Treasure

7 May

Report by Director of Development Tami Ruckman:

This past Sunday, at the Osher Lifelong Learning Institute on the campus of UNC Asheville, a very special ceremony was held to honor four of Asheville’s “Living Treasures.” Spring 2013 Designees included Thelma Porter, Julia Ray, and John and Hazel Robinson. These four individuals join only 13 other individuals who have been named as Living Treasures.

Julia Ray was nominated by the YWCA because of her involvement with the YWCA of Asheville as the Black and White branches integrated. Julia remembers attending events at the Phyllis Wheatley YWCA from the time she came to Asheville.

Julia Ray 1955In 1954, the election of Lucille Burton—the first Black member of the Central YWCA board of directors—put the YWCA on what proved to be a long path towards integration. Black and White branches of the Asheville YWCA finally merged, moving into the formerly Black facility in 1970. With this merge, the YWCA of Asheville became the first integrated YWCA in the South. Thelma Caldwell, then acting Director, became the first Black YWCA Executive Director in the South, and the second in the nation.

In 1976, determined to carry on the work of Thelma Caldwell, twenty-two Black former YWCA board members including Julia formed the YWCA Booster Club to supplement the current Board’s efforts and in particular to be a support to the first Black board president, Ollie Reynolds. This group supported the work of the YW in myriad ways up until only a few years ago.

Julia Pauline Greenlee Ray was born in Marion, NC in 1914. She graduated from Barber-Scotia College in Concord and later attended the University of Pittsburgh. After graduation and before going to Pittsburgh she came back to Marion. While there she would visit her aunt in Asheville because Marion had “little social opportunity.” Because the South was still segregated at that time blacks “made their own social events”. They able to meet in restaurants or bars so they met at each other’s homes and churches.

Both of Julia’s parents were masters of their crafts. Julia’s father was a well-known ornamental plasterer and her mother was a seamstress and needle worker.  Julia learned her intricate sewing skills from her mother. Julia won numerous awards for her cross-stitch.

Julia met her husband Jesse Ray when his mother showed him a picture of a beautiful young woman in the Pittsburgh Courier, a nationally circulated newspaper for Blacks. Her picture was on the front page. Julia had been Julia and Jesse Rayaccepted to the University of Pittsburgh and was attending college there. He decided to write to her When Julia visited Asheville, she had the chance to meet Jesse at the home of a cousin. Julia decided not to return to Pittsburg, but married Jesse instead. They were married for 59 years until his passing in 1994.

After WWII, the Rays purchased the Asheville Colored Hospital at the corner of Biltmore Avenue and Charlotte Street, and began Jesse Ray Funeral Home. They ran this business successfully for many years. Early on, the lower level served as the funeral home and the upper floor as the family residence.

Julia was the first African-American on the Board of Trustees of Mission Hospital, and served for 8 years as a trustee of UNC Asheville, appointed by the Governor. She served on the first board of the NC Center for Creative Retirement at UNC Asheville. She also served on the Friends of the YMI and helped to establish the Goombay Festival.

Beth Maczka

YWCA Executive Director Beth Maczka speaking at the Living Treasures event.

In 2003, the YMI rededicated their auditorium to honor Julia and Jesse. In 2007, Julia received the annual Mission/MAHEC Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Lifetime Achievement Award in recognition of her pioneering service to the Asheville medical community. In 2012, Julia traveled to Las Vegas to receive than award from the National Funeral Directors Association proclaiming her a Living Legend of Funeral Service for her 74 years of service.

julia ray and holly jones

Julia Ray and Holly Jones at the Living Treasures event.

Julia will celebrate her 99th birthday this October. We are immeasurably grateful to her for years of service to the YWCA of Asheville.