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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.

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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.

We Demand Accountability

1 Mar

The video of an Asheville Police Department officer harassing, beating and tasing Johnnie Jermaine Rush is sickening and disheartening. We stand with the victim and his family through this traumatic experience. This type of racial discrimination and abuse of power cannot be tolerated. We will not normalize racism.

YWCA Asheville has been and will continue to advocate for use of force policies and de-escalation training with Chief Hooper and the Asheville Police Department. However, the violence and racism displayed in this video, and complicity by all officers on the scene, make it painfully obvious that much more work needs to be done. Our community needs assurance that officers are accountable for upholding the dignity, rights, and safety of People of Color.

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Visit Asheville Citizen-Times to view the body-worn camera footage and read more.

Honoring the Legacy of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

18 Jan

By: Gerry Leonard, Racial Justice & Outreach Specialist

To honor and celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., YWCA Asheville hosted our annual MLK Day of Service on Monday, January 15, 2018. To emphasize MLK’s passion for service of others, we invite volunteers to spend the day with our Primary Enrichment Program (PEP) students. Together they work on activities that emphasize the importance of the civil rights movement, MLK’s lasting impact on our society, and YWCA’s continued work to eliminate racism.

For 12 members of our community, this MLK holiday was very much a “day on” where they chose to give their time and make a lasting impression in a child’s life. Volunteers worked with our PEP students to create posters that included images of MLK, inspirational quotes, and whatever creative desiIMG_3598gns and drawings the students were inspired by!

As they worked on these posters a wonderful dialogue between our PEP students and volunteers took place. As students wrote out quotes from MLK, the volunteers would ask, “What does that quote mean to you?” Rich conversations took place around why MLK, and black and brown people, were treated unfairly and PEP students shared that they are having conversations about race and racism in their schools. In our current social and political climate, it feels of the greatest importance to provide a space for our youth to build a greater understanding of the role MLK plays in our lives to this day, and how much work must still be done to achieve his dream of equity, justice and fairness.

IMG_3612Next our PEP students and volunteers carried their posters as they participated in the MLK Peace March & Rally in downtown Asheville. Thousands gathered to hear speakers galvanize the crowd with speeches of justice and peace and there was a strong sense of unity and symbolism to have young people marching proudly side-by-side, chanting “we shall overcome.”

In many ways, the MLK Day of Service encapsulates what the YWCA works to achieve every day through our mission-based advocacy and programs. With a major component of this work being the empowerment of our youth, we hope to foster love and resiliency, and empower students to be a part of the movement towards racial and restorative justice.IMG_3608

In the words of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., “Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals.”

 

To learn more about the YWCA’s Racial Justice work, contact Gerry Leonard, Racial Justice & Outreach Specialist, at gerry.leonard@ywcaofasheville.org

We Will Not Normalize Racism

14 Aug

We are outraged, saddened and disgusted by the display of bigotry and hatred from the white supremacist groups in Charlottesville, VA this weekend. This act of hate and terrorism was directly responsible for the death of a young woman, Heather Heyer, and injuries to numerous others who gathered to stand against racism in all of its forms.

YWCA Asheville stands in solidarity to grieve for the victims of this latest tragedy, including two law enforcement officers, and show our unrelenting dedication to the elimination of racism. While we hold this space, we keep in the forefront of our minds that this is not an isolated incident or an unprecedented one. Our country’s long history and ongoing legacy of racism continue to plague our country with violence, oppression and white supremacy.

We must listen, trust and empathize with people of color, LGBTQ people, faith communities and other groups who suffer under personal and systemic injustices of discrimination and inequities. We will not normalize racism. We will not normalize domestic terrorism. Every day we must work towards an ideal that all people are created equal and have the right to live a life without fear.

Our nation’s strength and resilience stems from our diversity and contributions made by people of different races, genders, faiths, sexual orientations and political beliefs. We call on our white allies to recognize white privilege and racial bias, and to commit to rejecting all forms of hatred, bigotry, and intolerance.

As stated in Heather Heyer’s last message to us all, “If you’re not outraged, you’re not paying attention.”

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Read more in YWCA USA’s statement including words from association leadership at YWCA Central Virginia and YWCA Richmond.

Bold Mission, Bright Future

21 Jun

YWCANationalConference2017Delegates from our YW in Asheville recently attended the YWCA National Conference in Washington D.C. where we convened with fellow leaders from associations across the country to share, discuss, advocate, and collaborate together. The energy was high and the intention clear. From workshops to powerhouse keynote speakers the YWCA held up the significance of embracing the intersectionality of our work throughout social justice movements and the imperative to uplift the leadership of young women and women of color.

CapitalHillDay2017_BethMaczka_LaurenWeldishoferWe turned Capitol Hill persimmon as hundreds of YWCA delegates met with their respective representatives in Washington to advocate for our mission, programs, and communities.Thank you to everyone who signed our petition and wrote postcards about potential Federal Budget cuts. YWCA of Asheville proudly delivered over 560 signatures to the offices of Congressman McHenry and Meadows and Senators Burr and Tillis. Our message was to highlight the importance of federal funds in programs that serve women, children and families and what a great job we do in leveraging additional funding to provide high-quality services to our community. The petition and postcards were well received. The general response from legislative staff is that the budget will be significantly re-written before it is finalized and that we should continue to stay in touch during the process – so stay tuned for more advocacy opportunities.

20170616_201132Also during the conference, YWCA of Asheville was recognized as one of three finalists for the YWCA Association of Excellence Award for Racial Justice. We were nominated – out of more than 220 associations nationwide – for the development of our racial justice workshops, our robust Stand Against Racism campaign, and our leadership with our local Racial Justice Coalition. Although we did not win, we congratulate our friends at YWCA of Rochester for their exceptional achievement and are inspired to work even harder for racial justice. Congratulations also to YWCA Greater Atlanta for excellence in advocacy and YWCA Brooklyn for excellence in women’s empowerment. 

Throughout the conference, YWCA of Asheville was posting quotes, insights, and photos in real-time to the YWCA audience nationwide. Read our Social Media Ambassador’s reflections on the YWCA USA Blog.