At YWCA Evanston/North Shore, we take the words “eliminating racism” on our sign at the corner of Ridge and Church seriously and hold ourselves accountable on a daily basis to work towards racial equity.
To encourage others to join in those efforts, we offer programs and dialogues throughout the area; racial equity workshops or trainings for businesses, civic or faith-based groups, schools, and community organizations; long-term support for those institutions working internally to become more equitable; access to resources through our website or racial justice library; as well as public events such as our April 29 Stand Against Racism and June 19 Race Against Hate to bring our community together, united against racism in all its forms.
On May 5 and 6, YWCA Evanston/North Shore will host our first racial justice summit, “Mirrors and Methods: Tools for Creating Racial Equity,” featuring keynote speakers Brittney Cooper and Dr. Robin DiAngelo, as well as 20 breakout sessions, all designed to help participants learn, share, and develop new strategies to end racism.
We need a racial justice summit.
In the past few years, publicized events around the country have created, for many, a new or increased awareness of how often skin color determines outcomes in our society. We want to believe we are in a “post-racial society,” but the reality of what People of Color experience, both personally and institutionally, on a daily basis, tells us otherwise. For those who aren’t as aware of racial inequity, the growing attention can make people respond defensively and increase the tendency to engage in various forms of “blame the victim.”
In Chicagoland, as in the nation, we continue to grapple with institutional racism, in part because it is often invisible to the people who don’t experience it. Yet research conducted by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, the ACLU, and the Sentencing Project, among others, consistently identifies the racism that is woven into the fabric of our institutions – schools, businesses, government organizations, and courts of law.
More than half of our nation’s prison population is people of color and for black males the statistics are more unsettling. One in 10 black males in his 30s is in prison or jail on any given day, the Sentencing Project found.
Closer to home, the ACLU of Illinois reported earlier this year that “African Americans are far more likely than white residents to be subjected to traffic stops by the Chicago Police Department.” According to the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights, “Illinois has one of the widest disparities in the nation between suspended black students and their white classmates. During the 2012-13 school year, Chicago Public Schools issued suspensions for 32 of every 100 black students, compared to just five of every 100 white students.”
These statistics are a few of the many examples that highlight an urgent need for increasing awareness, deepening understanding, and taking action.
Why learn more about racial justice issues?
The goal of the summit is to bring people – of all ages and demographics – together to learn more about why racial disparities exist, deepen our understanding of racial identity, develop skills to work for change, and formulate action plans.
We see the work of racial justice as both internal and external. The “mirror” of “Mirrors and Methods” is the internal, reflective piece. “What do I need to understand better? What tools or skills do I need to feel more confident in addressing racial issues?” The external piece is looking outward and saying, “Who are the people with whom I can connect? What actions can I/we take to start changing inequities?”
You can’t do the external work without doing the internal work. And both are processes. It’s the journey on which we need to focus, and people are at different places in their journeys. If participants leave the summit with a deeper understanding of systemic racism, if they acquire new skills and take steps towards individual and collective action to create racial equity and justice, the summit will be successful.
Creating racial justice needs to be owned by all of us; it is everybody’s work to do. We hope the place will be packed!
Those interested can register to attend at YWCA.org/RJSummit or call 847-864-8445, ext. 159.
Donique McIntosh and Eileen Hogan Heineman are the Racial Justice Program Co-Directors at the YWCA Evanston/North Shore.