Becoming an Anti-Racist Organization
Loria B. Yeadon, President & CEO, YMCA of Greater Seattle
Anyone engaging with the YMCA of Greater Seattle (YGS), an organization steeped in 144 years of Puget Sound history, tradition, and community, can feel the organization’s deep commitment to its mission of “building a community where all people, especially the young, are encouraged to achieve their fullest potential in spirit, mind, and body.” As I reflect on the all-male CEO lineages that mirrored the Young Men’s Christian Association’s origins and leadership, I continue to be humbled to serve the Y’s mission and community in this moment as the first woman and first person of color.
Over the past year, I have quickly learned the most important responsibility of the lineage of leadership I have inherited – to learn from our history, answer the call for profound systemic social change, and adapt to fully live our mission for a better us. I am honored to lead an organization that is more committed than ever to stand with community to build a more equitable and just society for all, starting with ourselves and standing boldly in community with others. In keeping with the Y commitment to community, I am pleased to announce the establishment of the YGS Equity and Justice Center of Excellence (CoE) and our pledge to take the journey towards becoming an anti-racist organization.
The Y’s history parallels our nation’s history. Aspects of our past are painful to acknowledge and accept, from segregated facilities to well-intended, yet culturally mis-appropriative programming, and everything in between, but the Y has also been there on the front lines of change as well, often ahead its times, challenging social norms and boundaries for a more equitable and just society for all.
We stand humbly in our successes, failures, learnings, and opportunities to do even more in the future. Our legacy as a champion of change for community is calling us forward to stand even taller with Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) and other marginalized communities and to address the social and racial inequities, injustices, and biases that are barriers to achieving our fullest potential as individuals and a community.
The Pandemic Disproportionately Affects BIPOC
The twin pandemics of COVID-19 and racism have laid bare oppression and disparate impacts in BIPOC and other marginalized communities. Our learning continues, and these pandemics have led us to examine more closely the tenets of whole person and community health (including the social determinants of health) to better understand the systemic issues that create disparate outcomes. From the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, we learned that BIPOC communities are dying at disproportionately higher rates that other ethnicities. The CDC reports that about 70% of cases of Multisystem Inflammatory Syndrome in Children associated with COVID-19 have been Latinx and non-Hispanic Black children.
The early economic impact from COVID-19 shows that 40% of Black-owned businesses will not survive and are twice as likely to shutter as businesses overall during the pandemic. The compounding factors of employment instability, access to healthcare, food insecurity, disrupted education, and high youth unemployment all undermine family resiliency, drive lower life expectancy, and perpetuate the cycle of generational trauma and oppression. These are some of the racial disparities of the social determinants of health, and unless we bring change, these disparities will continue to grow unabated generation after generation. Our work in the CoE will focus on addressing these disparities for healthier, more secure, and happier tomorrows for all.
Change Must Start with Us
Today, YGS proudly proclaims that Black lives matter. We cannot empower all people, especially the young, to achieve their fullest potential in spirit, mind, and body until we disrupt racism, achieve equity and justice for all, and press forward to become an anti-racist organization. Change must start with us. Led by our Center of Excellence, we will learn to strengthen equity in our employment practices and address implicit biases in training, research, design and evaluation as well as delivery of services and impact for community. We must be bold in our self-awareness of our organizations’ impact on cultivating oppressive and racist structures and policies.
Our collective progress as a community is also critical to disrupting oppressive systems and barriers that impede equity and justice. Through our work in the CoE, we will join others in this work. We are committed to taking this journey together with others to transform the Y to be a producer of the next generation of equity and justice leaders. These leaders will be equipped and practiced in building inclusive and just communities centered on whole person health, resilient youth, families, and communities, and a healthy planet. We commit to working with cross-disciplinary coalitions and learning and accomplishing more together for the sake of the youth, families, and communities we serve.
Through our work in the CoE, we will hold ourselves accountable to live our mission and to weave the threads of equity and justice into everything we do. We recognize that as we learn, we will stumble and make mistakes. Our quest is for progress, not perfection, as we strive for a better us. Our CoE will foster and advance equity innovation and proliferation of learning. Our goal is to enhance youth development and health curricula and advance community healing and adaption. This new center will be the research and activation zone for inclusive system-building that will produce the society we want for future generations.
The CoE will welcome community members with lived experiences, businesses, schools, community groups, governments, tribes, and nonprofits. Together we will generate new knowledge, business and community equitable practices, mutually benefiting activities, and shared resources. We will produce a thriving community that is welcoming and a place of belonging and inclusivity. Our goal is to anchor a learning community that embraces everyone wherever they are on their equity journey and fosters progress without judgment.
Stopping History From Repeating Itself
Leading YGS in the formation of the CoE and in becoming an anti-racist organization in this moment is of personal significance to me and my family. The resounding cry for an equitable and just society has persisted for generations in my family and others. In my parents’ generation, a mother’s lament for justice was heard across the nation when 14-year-old Emmett Till in 1955 was murdered for the lies of a housewife, and, in 1963, when four young girls, Addie Mae Collins, Carol McNair, Carole Robertson, and Cynthia Wesley, were killed in the 16th St. Baptist Church bombing as they prepared to sing for their church’s Youth Day. In my generation, the plea for justice reverberated far and wide for the brutal beating of Rodney King for traffic violations in 1992. For my children’s generation, the calls for equity and justice remain unanswered and never-ending with the deaths of Tamir Rice, a 12-year-old playing with a toy gun, Trayvon Martin, a 17-year-old, stalked and killed while walking home from a store, and many, many others.
Now, another generation inherits the senseless shootings and/or killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, Tony McDade, Che Taylor, Manuel Ellis, Jacob Blakes, Jr. and so many others locally and nationally, due to systemic racism, biases, and inequities in our communities. Will these generations of senseless deaths be enough to inspire a community to stand for change, heal, and adapt for a better, inclusive future for all? That is our question today. Standing on our history and commitment to community, YGS is resolved that the time to adapt and answer the calls for equity and justice is now. The time to transform and disrupt generations of suffering and oppression is now. Our time is now. Standing on our history and lineage of adaption and commitment to community, we commit to taking the journey towards a more equitable and just future for us all. We pledge this to our children, families, and communities. We pledge this to you. We pledge this to our future.
Building upon the learnings from our past, we will continue to make strides on building programs and services that support our commitment to our mission, by removing barriers and working to eliminate systemic racism and oppression in all that we do. We will work in earnest to build a community where all people, especially the young, can reach their fullest potential in spirit, mind and body.
Loria B. Yeadon
President & CEO
YMCA of Greater Seattle