Editor's Note: In alignment with the theme of the 2017 Racial Justice Summit, the YWCA will be starting a regular series including blogs, articles and videos that help us identify and live our racial justice values. Each piece will include at least one tangible next step you can take to help create a community where everyone belongs. If you are interested in submitting a blog post on how you are living out your racial justice values following the Summit, please submit to firstname.lastname@example.org.
A Call to Action to Confront Racial Injustice: Reflections on the 2017 YWCA Racial Justice Summit
On October 3, the 16th Annual Racial Justice Summit, organized by the Madison YWCA, began with a moment of silence for the victims of the recent shooting in Las Vegas. The moment of silence was followed by a condemnation of acts of violence that have become all too common in today’s society, a society presently “filled with hate speech and actions”, according to opening speaker and YWCA CEO Vanessa McDowell.
As she continued her opening of the annual event, McDowell went on to speak briefly about her experiences as the first woman of color to lead the YWCA. She made it clear that it was her charge “to make sure that the next generation is not experiencing firsts… that it will be a norm to see people of color leading change in all facets of the Madison community,” directly pointing to the injustice woven deeply in the very fabric of our community and our country. After a round of applause for McDowell’s message, she said something that stuck with me for the rest of the Summit, something that I’ll delve a bit deeper into in this article. She said, “This is a time where we are to live out our racial justice values together.”
So, there it was; all within the first 5 minutes of the event, we were treated to a heartfelt condemnation of violence, a two-for-one reminder about race-based and gender-based injustice, and a subtle challenge to do something about it all.
It was at this early stage that I began to adjust the lens through which I would see and experience the next two days. Although much more soft-spoken than the rest of the speakers would be over the course of the Summit, I sensed McDowell’s frustrations not only with the people who make the conscious decisions on a daily basis to perpetuate these hate-filled times, but also with those of us who sit idly by and allow them to happen.
I distinctly remember thinking how great it was that nearly 1,000 people, some of whom had to travel across the country, had gathered here in Madison, Wis. to learn about and advocate for racial justice. Then I just couldn’t help myself, and thought, “So what?” I thought to myself, “I’ve seen this movie before. We get together with a large group of like-minded peers, we all get real charged up about some truly noble and important cause, and we talk about what we can do to affect change in our communities.” But that’s just it. We just talk.
It’s the “just talking” that we need to get past. That revelation became clearer and clearer to me from the moment McDowell challenged us all in that banquet hall to actually “live out our racial justice values.” It became clearer and clearer to me as day one plenary speaker Sonali Balajee helped me be truly comfortable with the idea that I didn’t have to “be neutral” in all this racial justice stuff. It became clearer and clearer to me when day two keynote speaker Gyasi Ross challenged me to leverage my privilege as an educated white male to affect change in my community, and when closing speaker Heather Hackman pointed out to me that racial justice is something we have to authentically live, not just perform every few weeks, or every year at a conference.
To put it all in perspective, I think about what for me was the most impactful experience I had, which was listening to community organizer Malachi Garza talk about taking “bold and audacious love” and transforming it into bold and audacious action. To echo YWCA CEO Vanessa McDowell, we need to start living out our racial justice values, especially those of us who have privilege or a platform. I don’t have to tell you all how much we need it right now.
How will you confront racial injustice when you see it? What would it look like if our community moved from "just talking" about racial injustice to action? Stay tuned for upcoming blogs from people talking about how they plan to live out their racial justice values following the Summit.
Are you interested in sharing your story? Please submit to Jay Young, Marketing & Development Manager at
Brandon Amato is an Opinions Editor for The Clarion. The Clarion is the student voice of Madison Area Technical College. We believe in the inherent First Amendment right of freedom of expression and in the benefits of dialogue and debate within the college. We believe in the rights of the students to directly participate in college governance. The Clarion will teach students, inform the college community and advocate for students’ rights.
One way that we can live our racial justice values is to talk about race at the dinner table over the holidays. We encourage everyone to go home for the holidays and have courageous and loving conversations about race and what’s at stake. Click here for tools that can help with these conversations from SURJ (Showing Up for Racial Justice). Need help? Text SOS to 82623 and the SURJ Holiday Hotline will support you in having touch conversations to break white silence about racism in this country.