I have been following the #Sayhername campaign, which acknowledges and memorializes Black women and girls who have been killed by the state. So many activists across the country are keeping their names alive, reminding all of us that these women were sisters, daughters, friends and nieces. As I reflect on the importance of this movement, I am reminded of the necessary work being done by the YWCA in New York City.
I first discovered the work of the YWCA at a panel discussion when I noticed the tagline of the organization. “Eliminating Racism, Empowering Women: YWCA New York City.” That was not what I expected to see. I still had antiquated notions of the YWCA. I knew it started in 1858 and its mission was to provide a haven and safety net for young women. I also viewed it as a social organization for wealthy women, and more specifically, wealthy white women. I was wrong. Under the leadership of Dr. Danielle Moss-Lee, the YWCA in NYC has programs as diverse as Early Learning Centers, Out-of-School-Time programs, High School and College Bound Initiatives and events linking professional women and girls, salon series on mentorship and many opportunities for women (and girls) of color to convene to discuss the ways in which we can be catalysts for change in eliminating racism. It’s a powerful concept.
The YWCA just completed a successful half-day symposium entitled, “The 21st Century Girl: The Potential to Power Symposium,” in which girls from all over NYC of all different racial, ethnic, religious and socioeconomic backgrounds joined together for a day to discuss the intersections of gender, race, class and much more. These conversations are the types that are needed, and this age group is more than skilled at recognizing problems and articulating creative solutions. Many of the extremely successful and accomplished women in attendance listened and helped strategize how women and girls can come together to eliminate some of the ills facing poor communities and communities of color.
I am extremely inspired by this work because it directly overlaps with many of the grassroots initiatives by activists in cities large and small. Many readers of the Amsterdam News know that the problems facing people of color in this country are not figments of our imagination. Various and diverse efforts are needed for us to emerge from what feels like a repressive and regressive moment in race relations. There is a place and necessity for protest politics. There is also a necessity for substantive training of young people. I think what impresses me most about the work of the YWCA is that they allow girls to discuss issues of importance to them, which ultimately leads to significant discussions pertaining to the ways they can become the change agents in their various communities. My genuine hope is that the young girls who are becoming leaders through the YWCA will one day be able memorialize women and girls who have become leaders of the state and not its victims.
Christina Greer, PhD is an Assistant Professor at Fordham University and the author of “Black Ethnics: Race, Immigration, and the Pursuit of the American Dream.”