The Gateway YWCA took a stand against bigotry Friday, joining YW branches across the country.
This was the first year the local branch has taken part in the national “Stand Against Racism” campaign, which was created by two New Jersey YW branches in 2007 and has grown to include a quarter million participants.
Gateway YW members and guests signed their names to a banner last week, pledging to be anti-racism advocates. T-shirts, buttons and wrist bands adorned with the “Stand Against Racism” logo were also given away.
Mayor Allen Joines was on hand to present a formal proclamation recognizing the effort.
“Unfortunately, we know there’s so much overt racism that occurs, not just in our community, but across the U.S.,” he said. “We want to try to do everything we can to bring attention to it.”
The Rev. Willard Bass, founder of the Institute for Dismantling Racism, spoke about the meaning and causes of racism.
“This initiative, “Standing Against Racism,” it’s such a mighty challenge, such a mighty goal,” said Bass, who is also president of the Ministers Conference of Winston-Salem and Vicinity and assistant pastor at Green Street United Methodist Church.
Bass said race is is not biological, but instead a sociological and cultural phenomenon and defined racism as race prejudice combined with the misuse of power.
Bass pointed to Southern Poverty Law Center numbers that show the number of hate groups in the United States has grown 52 percent in the last eight years.
It’s not the first time there has been a surge in hate groups, Bass said, noting the rise of the Ku Klux Klan during Reconstruction. The Klan rose up then to thwart the progress of African Americans, some of whom had traded the chains of slavery for seats in the Congress and state houses. Bass said he believes there’s a similar backlash to progress and change going on now.
“We stand at a crossroads in our history,” said Bass.
The YWCA has long been progressive on the issue of race. It passed a voluntary pledge for integration in the 1940s and in the 1950s stopped recognizing chapters that refused to integrate. The organization would go on to speak out against lynchings, racial injustice and became a part of the Civil Rights Movement. Today, “eliminating racism, empowering women” is its year-round mission and slogan.
“Nationally, we are one of the oldest organizations that’s been fighting for eliminating racism and empowering women before people were even comfortable talking about it,” said Gateway YWCA President Christy Respess.
Gateway YW Board President Sandy Miller Jones, who remembers when YWCAs were segregated, said the agency’s mission is still very much relevant today.
“I feel great about the continuing involvement and the YWCA’s forward-looking mission,” she said.
The Gateway YWCA has about 5,000 members and provides a variety of programs for women and children. It runs the Best Choice Center to provide academic programing for local children from income families and Hawley House, a woman’s substance abuse recovery facility. The YW also offers fitness and nutrition services to families at Diggs Latham Elementary School.