The Y of Greater Seattle's CEO on the Events in Charlottesville

Last updated: March 22, 2023, at 5:02 a.m. PT

Originally published: August 18, 2017, at 4:15 p.m. PT

A letter from Bob Gilbertson, President & CEO of the Y Greater Seattle:

Following the disturbing racist activity in Charlottesville, Virginia and disruptive events in Seattle this past weekend I find myself compelled, once again, to comment on what is happening in our country.

Let me begin with the issue that sparked the violence. The City of Charlottesville decided to remove a statue of the Confederate General Robert E. Lee from one of its parks. To provide some historical context Lee was a slave owner who, by virtue of his choice to give up his commission as an officer in the United States Army to lead the Confederate Army, committed an act of treason against the United States. Some 70 years after the end of the Civil War, the KKK encouraged cities throughout the south to erect statues of their revered Confederate General Robert E. Lee along with other Confederate military leaders. In addition to the statues, public buildings were named in honor of these individuals, all of whom had committed treason in their defense of slavery. In this way biased revisionist history worked to advance the gallantry and honor of Confederate military leaders in order to support and preserve White Supremacy. It saddens me to think that it has taken our country almost 100 more years to finally begin deconstructing the idolism of the Confederacy. While there has been progress, hate groups have argued that monuments/statues/building names are an acknowledgement of our history. However, I cannot think of any other country that has continued to acknowledge leaders who have committed treason defending slavery. Based on the hate group’s anger demonstrated in Charlottesville, I believe that the underlying motivation opposing the removal of the statue is plain and simple: White supremacy, racism.

The YMCA of Greater Seattle encourages everyone to engage with people who have different political viewpoints. I hope you have had – and will continue to have – rich discussions with diverse individuals in a way that shows respect and demonstrates dignity. I continue to believe that on many political issues authentic discussions are valuable. But we cannot tolerate bigotry, hate, racism, Nazism, fascism and violence to intimidate and terrorize others. These contemptible people and their groups violate core American values of equality and justice for all. Groups that define themselves by who they hate or who they wish to oppress are not political parties or legitimate movements. They are traitors to the Constitution, Bill of Rights and the laws of the United States.

I encourage you to be confident in taking a stand for your values and beliefs. If you hope for a community that is free from bias and injustice then you cannot ignore, dismiss or allow hate groups such as neo-Nazis, the KKK or Alt-Right to be legitimatized or to become part of a “new normal.” Those that ignore or say nothing about what is happening are by omission validating the actions of these groups. During the rise of Hitler’s Nazi party there were many Germans who thought the Nazis were an inconsequential fringe movement and did not resist. Their lack of resistance helped set the stage for hate, the normalization of anti-Semitism and murder of 6 million Jews.

I suggest that we must be clear and visible in all of our actions and communications. Defending the rights and dignity of everyone is the only course that guarantees the continuation of these rights for anyone in our country and supports the Y’s mission: Building a community where all people, especially the young, are encouraged to develop their fullest potential in spirit, mind, and body.


Bob Gilbertson

President & CEO