OUR COLLECTIVE POWER

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1 Share this paper: fil OUR COLLECTIVE POWER A PERSIMMON PAPER ON THE YWCA USA MISSION TO ELIMINATE RACISM EXECUTIVE SUMMARY PREPARED BY YWCA USA FOR LOCAL ASSOCIATIONS THE YWCA USA MISSION TO ELIMINATE RACISM 1

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3 EXECUTIVE SUMMARY INTRODUCTION The Persimmon Paper on the YWCA USA Mission to Eliminate Racism addresses the YWCA s historical and current position in relation to racial justice. The paper was drafted by staff and leadership of YWCA USA, reviewed internally by a committee of local association leaders and reviewed externally by four experts in the area of racial and social justice. The paper was published at the 2015 YWCA annual conference and business meeting. In 2012, the YWCA network made the decision to restructure the organization so that YWCA local associations would have a direct relationship with the national office, rather than through a regional entity and that the national office would provide leadership and serve as a hub for the entire YWCA network. The restructuring initiative, called Strong Foundation.Fearless Future (SFFF), prescribed that YWCA USA create a system to track, evaluate, and report on YWCA s mission impact. YWCA restructured after several years of research, data collection, and input from internal and external stakeholders, which found that while YWCA s mission explicitly is to eliminate racism, there was no common baseline of racial justice knowledge. YWCA lacked a shared vernacular regarding racial justice, an understanding of the YWCA s history of intra-organizational and public racial justice work, and a clear vision of how the YWCA network may work to substantively eliminate racism. Also, there was no consistency among local associations in racial justice-focuse direct services, issue education, and public policy advocacy. PURPOSE The Persimmon Paper on Racial Justice was written to serve as a resource for YWCA local associations, and to align and set a baseline of racial justice knowledge for local association employees and volunteers regarding our racial justice work. More specifically, the paper addresses the development of the YWCA mission to eliminate racism; explores assets and liabilities for the YWCA organization in doing racial justice work; reviews needs and opportunities for the YWCA related to racial justice work; and, defines terms and concepts to create an organizational shared language for racial justice. The appendix offers supplemental resources. OUR MISSION TO ELIMINATE RACISM YWCA is a social justice organization and movement with over 150 years of experience providing direct service to, collaborating with, and advocating on behalf of the most vulnerable members of society. The organization has a deep and abiding commitment to working on issues of economic, gender, and racial justice. Despite YWCA s history as an antiracist, multiracial women s social justice organization, we must evaluate THE YWCA USA MISSION TO ELIMINATE RACISM 3

4 how we are fulfilling our mission and how we might appropriately respond in order to have a greater impact in eliminating racism. YWCA must do more than tout the legacy of our organization s work. We must define it in contemporary contexts and identify the best ways to effect change as a collective movement. YWCA has been a multi-issue organization because the lives of women and girls are complex, and exist across many categories of personal, social, and cultural identity. As we pursue our mission in the 21st century, we will continue to address multiple issues. Our commitment to the elimination of racism must be a consistent element of our internal and external organizational narrative, so that YWCA racial justice work is not obscured by a general emphasis on women s empowerment. Throughout our history, women of the YWCA have worked to build an inclusive organization. Experiencing many of the same challenges as the rest of the country, YWCA had to overcome tensions and failures in attempts to achieve equity within the organization. We must acknowledge these past and current realities in order increase our effectiveness in the area of racial justice. YWCA s organizational progress toward a cohesive racial justice strategy can be roughly divided into three stages: separation, when communities of color worked independently from one another ( ), interracial education or interracialism efforts intended to undermine the racial status quo ( ), and racial justice (1970-present). Prior to the passage of the One Imperative in 1970, which stated that YWCA would eliminate racism wherever it exists and by any means necessary, most YWCA efforts toward racial and ethnic inclusion were decentralized and regional. With the passage of the One Imperative, YWCA shifted toward a centralized and national racial justice orientation. Milestone moments in our development as a racial justice organization also include: the creation of the YWCA National Day of Commitment to Eliminate Racism; institution of a compliance requirement that member associations must complete outcome-based racial justice programming; launch of a new logo that included the phrase eliminating racism ; adoption of a new mission statement that included elimination of racism as a focal point and launch of Stand Against Racism as a national YWCA signature awareness campaign. Much of YWCA s progress in racial justice can be credited to the involvement of young women and women of color and their contribution to shaping the consciousness of the organization. For example, it was the participation and leadership of women of color that expanded the organization s racial justice lens when approaching issues like poverty, labor, and women s rights. YWCA has a rich history as a women s social change movement, seeking to transform itself as it sought to transform the world and that work continues today. For more than 150 years, women have acted on their shared core values about sisterhood, democracy, and participation. YWCA s story is of women working together intentionally across lines of economic, 4 PERSIMMON PAPER: OUR COLLECTIVE POWER

5 generational, ethnic, and racial difference to combat the problems facing women and girls. Over time, YWCA came to recognize that it is impossible to empower all women without also addressing institutional and structural racism. YWCA s mission commitment to eliminate racism is the direct result of our historical struggle to become an anti-racist and inclusive organization, at all levels of leadership and service. Today, our commitment to eliminating racism continues to address racism in all its manifestations. RACE (STILL) MATTERS YWCA is committed to creating a better society for women and girls of color, unfettered by systems of oppression. Documented inequality for women of color in the United States demonstrates that race still matters, and racial justice work is still necessary. After the election of President Barack Obama, various declarations were made that the United States was entering a post-racial period. However, the experiences of people of color in this nation, highlighted by social media and validated by recent research data, demonstrate that race continues to be a significant barrier for women of color in many areas of their lives. Despite any indication of racial progress, economic disparity alone confirms that race still matters. YWCA knows that race still matters and we must continue to do work in this area. In order to pursue a strategy to eliminate racism, we must acknowledge and explore relevant assets and liabilities of the organization. ASSETS The primary asset of YWCA is our lasting commitment to social change. YWCA s theory of change is grounded in the following beliefs: 1. Religious faith or principles require us to actively engage with the social issues and concerns of our present world 2. Democratic practice and plurality are key to social transformation 3. An association of women working together across lines of difference can transform and improve life for all women 4. Social problems must be addressed on multiple levels - direct service, issue education, and public policy advocacy - to end social inequities 5. All women cannot be empowered if we do not address issues of race and racism These beliefs - identified by analyzing YWCA s approach to social change - combine direct service delivery, issue education and public policy advocacy. This continuum of response is what makes local responsiveness of our associations to community specific needs possible. THE YWCA USA MISSION TO ELIMINATE RACISM 5

6 LIABILITIES Three of YWCA s greatest assets have also been liabilities to our mission. As YWCA worked to become inclusive across lines of social difference, there were many missteps in pursuing such an organizational and cultural practice. For example, individuals that were historically marginalized were sometimes tokenized in an effort to achieve inclusion and representation. As YWCA engages in racial justice work in the 21st century, we must approach our intergenerational, multiracial, and cross-class movement with great intention to avoid such missteps. Historically, YWCA identity was largely defined by a shared Christian sisterhood. Over time, the religious identity of YWCA transformed to an identity centered on social justice. However, we must now explicitly claim our social justice identity so that we can galvanize our collective power. One strength of the YWCA local association model is that it allows local associations the autonomy and flexibility to respond to the specific needs of their community. Because of this emphasis on local responsiveness, there are no two YWCA s that have the same programming or services, including racial justice initiatives. As the organization develops a new infrastructure of racial justice work, we must develop metrics and standards for both local associations and YWCA USA. YWCA was founded on the high ideals of freedom and democracy. However, like the rest of the United States, a chasm between our stated ideal and everyday reality has existed and still exists. We must reconcile our organizational practices with our high ideals. When we do so, YWCA demonstrates our ability to leverage our internal experience in dealing with issues of race, and lends credibility to our leadership in the area of racial justice. NEEDS YWCA must pursue four goals in order to enhance our mission impact in the area of racial justice: 1. Explicitly identify our core shared identity 2. Re-engage young people in the movement at all levels 3. Build partnerships with credible organizations and institutions around racial justice 4. Develop a national strategy for racial justice work YWCA s new shared identity, demonstrated but not explicitly stated over the last few decades, is social justice. Social justice best describes our shared identity because: YWCA, at its core is a multi-issue, multiracial, social-change organization and movement that intentionally seeks to improve the lives of women and girls by working at the intersection of race, class, and gender. 6 PERSIMMON PAPER: OUR COLLECTIVE POWER

7 YWCA USA has a vision where all groups of people can live and be perceived as fully human on all levels - personal, social, institutional, and structural. YWCA USA has developed and strives to maintain an anti-oppression orientation to mission work, internally and externally. It is a YWCA tradition to transform our organization as we transform the world around us. As revealed through our historical efforts to expand our capacity to be an inclusive organization, YWCA USA is dedicated to addressing both the symptoms and root causes of institutional and structural isms. By articulating a core shared identity as a social justice organization, YWCA creates a foundation of understanding, credibility, and accountability. This gives YWCA a standard to measure practices, policies, programs, and services. YWCA is clear in our mission to eliminate racism, but we have not built long-term national partnerships with institutions and organizations to support and aid the YWCA. We must work in partnership with other individuals and organizations doing credible work in racial justice and/or that can share resources to enhance YWCA organizational capacity. YWCA has historically been a movement that young women could lead. In order to deepen our mission impact, YWCA must create pathways to substantive involvement and leadership for young people and women of color, including employment, promotion, and board positions within the movement Finally, YWCA must adopt a national racial justice strategy that maximizes organizational assets, minimizes liabilities, and can involve all YWCA local associations, regardless of the size of their budget or geographic location. ORGANIZATIONAL OPPORTUNITIES Developing a national racial justice strategy and infrastructure, for any organization, requires a clear vision, coordination, and a mission impact system. YWCA s structure of autonomous local associations creates unique challenges and opportunities to developing this work. In 2015, YWCA USA will formally launch the Mission Impact Framework. This strategic framework focuses the YWCA s collective mission impact work, and allows each local association to respond to the unique needs of its community. The framework highlights signature platforms that support the YWCA mission. The signature platforms are focus areas of YWCA s collective mission impact work, and are achieved by way of program and services, issue education, and public policy advocacy. For each signature platform, YWCA USA will identify at least one signature outcome (metric) that both the national office and local associations work to accomplish over a period of years. The focused nature of signature outcomes in each platform area will guide YWCA work and provide greater focus and traction. YWCA public policy advocacy efforts will be aligned and integrated into the framework. Special events, campaigns, and initiatives will support the THE YWCA USA MISSION TO ELIMINATE RACISM 7

8 signature platforms. Internal Mission Impact Affinity Groups will engage YWCA leaders to increase operational capacity related to our mission. YWCA USA will identify best practice programs that offer activities and programs in alignment with signature outcomes. YWCA has historically prioritized leadership development, young women s empowerment, and advocating for women s rights on the global stage. These three commitments will continue to influence all aspects of the YWCA s fulfillment of its mission. In addition to the Mission Impact Framework, cultivating strategic partnerships with other national entities and leaders will galvanize YWCA s collective efforts to effect change. Considering YWCA s history, the continuing need for racial justice, and the organization s assets and liabilities and its needs and opportunities related to mission impact, it is clear that the YWCA also needs shared language. SHARED LANGUAGE FOR RACIAL JUSTICE YWCA must begin employing shared language to exemplify our organizational commitment to eliminating racism. Shared language and consistent messaging represent the unified racial justice movement that YWCA aspires to be. CONCLUSION The Persimmon Paper creates a baseline position for the YWCA s collective movement to strategically engage in racial justice work in the 21st century. In 2015, YWCA formally reclaims our history in social justice work, and clarifies our organizational commitment to eliminating racism. A digital copy of this document and the full Persimmon Paper can be found here: 8 PERSIMMON PAPER: OUR COLLECTIVE POWER

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