At the 1970 YWCA national convention, Dorothy Height, the first National Director of the YWCA’s Center for Racial Justice, led the charge to adopt the YWCA’s One Imperative: The elimination of racism wherever it exists, and by any means necessary.
YWCA of Greater Cleveland has been on its own journey to operationalize anti-racism. On the surface, this is not a surprising journey because the YWCA’s mission is eliminating racism and empowering women. Despite that mission, a clear-eyed review of the YWCA’s own operations done in 2016 surfaced that we were not actively, or consistently, identifying or eliminating our own practices that resulted in race and gender injustice. The journey to address that shortfall has been challenging and powerful for our staff, board and leadership.
We believe our challenging journey is relevant to others who want to go beyond diversity and inclusion efforts to operationalize anti-racism within their organization and their community. We overcame persistent, powerful resistance from members of our leadership team and staff. And we had to deal with long-standing biased practices throughout our organization. Our learned resiliency has changed our policies, our practices, our humanity, and organizational culture.
These are the moments–when the One Imperative was embraced, and again today-that call for bold leadership. YWCA of Greater Cleveland answers that call and dares to lead. We honor our history, our 150-year movement for equity, inclusivity, and opportunity, through our continuing mission to eliminate racism and empower women, and with a renewed and deeper focus on the aspirations, challenges, and potential of girls and women, especially girls and women of color
Our Purposeful Approach
The YWCA of Greater Cleveland approach is an unvarnished, constructive view of our journey – the blow-ups and the breakthroughs – to demonstrate the power and path to operationalizing anti-racism. But why anti-racism? Why not diversity? Anti-racist organizations look within to uproot racial bias in operations. Diversity refers to demographic variation. While this is clearly an oversimplified definition, we believe that setting an intention to becoming anti-racist organizations has been a missed step. That is why our new strategic plan is focused on the health, safety, and economic empowerment of women and girls of color.
Margaret Mitchell, YWCA Greater Cleveland President & CEO leads the racial equity strategy, including the initial racial equity intervention and ongoing organizational change management to advance equity.
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YWCA Greater Cleveland began this journey in 2014 after the murder of Tamir Rice, an unarmed 12-year-old Black boy, at the hands of police. The leadership team resolved to advance racial equity within YWCA Greater Cleveland by operationalizing equity in every aspect of their organization. This includes written equity plans, raising the staff’s minimum wage to $15 per hour, expanded PTO, and a Pathways to Promotion Program that has increased the promotion rate of BIPOC women by 60%. Over the past 10 years, YWCA Greater Cleveland’s annual staff turnover rate averaged 29%, in 2020 it was 9%.
YWCA Greater Cleveland’s commitment to racial equity is also reflected in our five-year strategic plan, adopted in October of 2019. This new plan focuses on women and girls of color—not as the only community YWCA serves, but as the community whose liberation most ties YWCA’s past to its future and will catalyze other realizations of peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all.
In November of 2019, YWCA Greater Cleveland partnered with First Year Cleveland to host “400 Years of Inequity: A Call to Action” a national summit commemorating the start of chattel slavery in 1619 and its enduring impact on health, economic and educational inequities in America. The summit closed with a call to action – declare racism a public health crisis. With the support of YWCA and other community organizations, in summer 2020, the city of Cleveland and Cuyahoga County officials declared racism a public health crisis and committed to making real systemic change. These declarations represent an important governmental acknowledgment of racism and its continued impact.
Inspired by the work of Dr. Eddie Moore Jr., Debby Irving, and Dr. Marguerite Penick, in 2019 YWCA Greater Cleveland curated an independent and unique challenge as an internal training tool for staff. The team then made the decision to open the challenge to the community and 2,500 individuals took the 21-Day Racial Equity and Social Justice Challenge that first year. The Challenge has grown into a national movement engaging over 30,000 people from 2,600 ZIP codes and 48 states in racial equity work in just 3 years. In partnership with the Greater Cleveland Sports Commission and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, YWCA also created 2 mini-challenges around sports, race, and entertainment for the NFL Draft which took place in Cleveland in April 2021.