On May 1st, we celebrated the 98th anniversary of the YWCA in Tucson with a breakfast for 250 in our courtyard. Maria Chappelle-Nadal, new civil rights leader and state senator from Missouri, representing the district that includes parts of St. Louis and Ferguson, was our keynote speaker. These are remarks from our Executive Director, Kelly Fryer:
The other day one of my team mates (ok, it was Liane) stopped by the restaurant supply store to pick a few things up for our café, and one of the guys who runs the store said, “Boy o boy, it looks like the YWCA is getting a little radical.”
I think he probably saw an ad for this event and saw who the keynote speaker was. (All I have to say, Maria, is that, if I was getting tear gassed in the street by my governor, I’d probably use the F word, too. If you’ve Googled Maria, you know what I’m talking about.)
I’m not surprised that our friend at the restaurant supply store was surprised. There are a lot of misconceptions about the YWCA. There are all those people who think we’re the yMca, first of all. Then there are all the people out there who never heard of us before and when they DO find out about everything that’s going on here, say things to me like “So when did THAT place open?” (ummm, 1917) But my favorite people are the ones who HAVE heard about the YWCA before and have this idea that we’re a bunch of little old church ladies.
I want to put that one to bed right now.
First, we haven’t been church ladies since about 1932 (sic). And even before that the YW has always been a place where women of every religion, race and ethnicity have worked together to make the world a better place. Second, there is nothing little about us. There are 30,000 people that come in and out of this building every year, including 1000 in and out of Your Sister’s Closet alone. And we belong to a national movement that has 1300 sites and 2 million members across the United States. Third, we might be celebrating our 98th birthday in Tucson, but there is nothing OLD about us.
Does the work of justice ever get old? Does speaking up for those whose voices have been silenced and standing with those who have been trampled on ever get old? Here’s what I have to say to people who think the YWCA is “old”: 98 is the new 28.
We have so much work to do.
Three-four out of every ten children in Southern Arizona live in poverty, and most of them belong to single moms. But this State has made it nearly impossible for poor women to find affordable access to reproductive health care. And the Budget our new Governor just signed cuts aid to needy families, includes $0 dollars for child care subsidies and completely eliminates all funding for community colleges – three things research by the Women’s Foundation says are necessary for women to get themselves and their kids out of poverty.
Instead, we get prisons. And more prisons. Prisons that are privately owned. Prisons that someone, somewhere is making a lot of money on. Did you know that, in Arizona, three private prisons operate with a 100% occupancy guarantee? That means the state GUARANTEES they’ll have enough prisoners to fill every bed. And you know who’s filling those beds, right? Let me just put it this way: Those folks don’t look like me.[i]
A little radical, huh? You bet your granny pants we’re a little radical. That’s what the YWCA has always been. We marched for the Right to Vote in the early 1900’s. We lobbied Congress for an 8-hour work day and an end to child labor. We opened our hearts and doors to women of color, on both sides of the Mason Dixon line, before the muskets had even cooled off at the end of the Civil War. We marched with Dr. King and stood beside him on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial. We helped get the Violence Against Women Act passed last year and made sure it included protection for LGBT folks, immigrants and Native American women. More than 300,000 people all across the United States (including a lot of you) stood with the YWCA and took a Pledge Against Racism last week.
And last week I was in Washington, D.C. with other YW CEO’s lobbying Congress to finally get the End Racial Profiling Act passed into law – and demanding that it apply to ALL law enforcement agents and agencies, including the United States Border Patrol. (Maria, I know this sounds strange because you and I are both from the Midwest and we don’t have to go through a checkpoint to get from Illinois to Missouri – but we have to go through one to get from here to California. And, believe me when I say, I never get stopped – but you would. In fact, a lot of our Latina sisters, especially immigrants, are so afraid of getting in trouble they are afraid to leave their neighborhoods, go to their kids school, go to the doctor or report a crime.)
We are living in a time that demands a little radical. You know, like writing a letter to the Governor or calling your Senator. How many of you have ever made a call like that?
Let’s do it right now. (This is when we actually dialed Senator Flake’s DC office and all 250 of us left a cheering message, thanking him for his leadership on trying to get immigration reform passed and asking him to co-sponsor the #EndRacialProfilingAct.)
Now that’s what I’m talking about!
We do so much good for so many individual women and their families here at the YW. And many of you – through your foundations and government grants – help fund that work. But we haven’t found a grant that can help us do THIS (hold up phone). This is where you come in. Your personal giving does BOTH things: It helps individual women change their lives…and it helps us change the systems that make their lives so darn hard in the first place.
Happy birthday YWCA! You don’t look a day older than 28.