A Newfound Sense of Purpose: Racial Justice and GenYWCA
I moved to the United States from Cuba ten years ago. I struggled with being in a new country, learning a new language and making new friends. I experienced discrimination at a young age and, to this day, it is one of the hardest things I have ever had to deal with. It made me feel ashamed and embarrassed of my background and culture. It made me want to desperately fit within American culture and be part of the majority group. As I became older (and hopefully wiser), I became more comfortable in my own skin and with the fact that I will probably never fully fit in anywhere. And that is OK! In fact, that is great! I am different -- the way I speak, think and express myself is different and that is what makes me, me.
"Have you ever been discriminated against for your race, gender or background?" This is the question posed to me by the Racial Justice Facilitator at the YWCA of Minneapolis' It's Time to Talk: Forums on Race event this past October. The facilitator then passed me a stick that had different color fabrics tied around it. The stick symbolized my turn to speak and express myself. I looked around the table with hesitation; I was surrounded by peers, supervisors and officers of my organization. They all looked at me eagerly and wide-eyed. My heart started racing, my palms were sweating, and a million thoughts ran through my mind. I knew I had a tough decision to make. I could either choose to be honest and share my experiences, or simply say "no," and pass the stick to the person next to me. After all, I work with these people and this is a very sensitive topic!
As I looked around the table a second time, I realized I was the only Hispanic female, and in some ways that made me a representative of Hispanic females everywhere! (I took the liberty of giving myself the title!) I instantly felt courage replace my fear, and I decided to share a story I have only shared with a few select individuals. Everyone listened attentively and thanked me for sharing. After passing the talking stick to the next person, I felt a sense of relief and joy. I was very impressed with how our Racial Justice facilitator created a safety bubble around our table, a bubble that kept out judgment and negativity. I knew my story was safe, but most of all, I knew it was appreciated.
I walked away from this event with a newfound sense of purpose! I absolutely had to know more about the YWCA and its mission. Looking through the website, I came across the GenYWCA group. I was so excited to find a group of young professionals who are passionate about eliminating racism and empowering women. I immediately emailed and scheduled a meeting with Sarah Raser. She didn't need to persuade me to join. Together, we decided that joining the membership outreach committee would be the best choice for me, and doing so has been very rewarding.
People fear the unknown and unfamiliar; this is perfectly natural. The only way to extinguish that fear is to create awareness and educate people about different backgrounds and cultures. Our generation will run this country one day. It is essential that, as future leaders, we take the time to educate ourselves on diversity and inclusion. As we remember Martin Luther King, let us remember what we are truly celebrating. We are celebrating one man's dream to end racism. It is every young professional's personal responsibility to contribute to making this dream a reality. I feel honored to have the opportunity to be a part of GenYWCA, and look forward to contributing to its mission.