Immigration Justice is Racial Justice

Every year, YWCA USA organizes a nationwide campaign called “Stand Against Racism”. This campaign includes advocacy events, education PSAs, social media conversations, and so much more. This year, YWCA USA invited its local associations to host community activities designed to facilitate dialogue around the topic of immigration. YWCA chose this focus for its 2019 Stand Against Racism campaign because of the intimate relationship between immigrant justice and racial justice, a core mission of YWCA USA and its local associations. Throughout our nation’s history, and particularly in recent years, narratives around immigration have been shaped by an undercurrent of fear, hate, and ignorance. Negative stereotypes and scapegoating too often prevent us from imagining the immigrant–regardless of status–as a human being deserving of safety, health, respect, and dignity. Until the humanity of immigrants, refugees, and asylum seekers is recognized and honored, true justice remains elusive. As Emma Lazarus wrote long ago, “Until we are all free, we are none of us free.”

On April 27, 2019, YWCA Cambridge hosted “Refugee Resettlement in MA: Know the Facts” featuring speakers from outstanding organizations like the Refugee and Immigration Assistance Center (RIAC) Boston and the Massachusetts Immigrant and Refugee Advocacy (MIRA) Coalition. Organizations like these and many others in the Boston/Cambridge area are doing the critical on-the-ground work of welcoming and supporting individuals and families who have come to the United States as immigrants, refugees, or asylum seekers, many of whom have endured years in unsafe or volatile environments while they applied for resettlement (many wait five or more years in this process.) The challenges facing immigrants and refugees continue upon arrival in the United States, as they are faced with tight labor markets, expensive housing costs, tangled bureaucratic systems, and unfamiliar social and cultural norms and practices.

Elevating marginalized voices like those of immigrants and refugees is central to the mission of the YWCA Cambridge. At our Stand Against Racism event this year, the YWCA Cambridge had the privilege of learning from those who have themselves gone through the process of seeking refugee status in the United States and who now devote their lives to supporting other immigrants and refugees.

Organizations like the ones listed below advocate for issues affecting this population and provide assistance in navigating this complex environment. Check out the following ways you can get involved!

Enroot’s mission is to empower immigrant youth to achieve academic, career, and personal success through inspiring out-of-school experiences. As a volunteer with Enroot, you can be matched with a student to be a mentor or a tutor. As a mentor, you are a role model, adviser, friend, and guide helping your mentee to dream big, set goals, and pursue them. All mentees in the Enroot Program are immigrant high school students in Cambridge and Somerville. Some pairs meet each week at Enroot’s office for structured activities, while others meet once a week to work on college applications at a local coffee shop. As a tutor, you are a one-on-one academic resource for an immigrant high school student in our Enroot Program. Tutees are all immigrant high school students in Cambridge and Somerville. Tutors help with homework, language skills, and study skills. Lean more here.

MIRA is the largest coalition in New England promoting the rights and integration of immigrants and refugees. With offices in Massachusetts and New Hampshire, they advance this mission through education and training, leadership development, institutional organizing, strategic communications, policy analysis and advocacy. Volunteers are crucial to much of their work, particularly citizenship services, voter registration, communications and events. They’re also grateful for behind-the-scenes help with data entry and other much-needed tasks. Or if you might be willing to staff a MIRA table at a community festival or event, they are setting up a team to do that! If you’re interested in any of those options, or you’re an artist or photographer, please email Marion Davis at mdavis@miracoalition.org to volunteer! Want to help immigrants become U.S. citizens or register new citizens to vote? They host monthly naturalization clinics and register newly sworn-in U.S. citizens almost every week. Sign up to volunteer on our Facebook page or at miracoalition.eventbrite.com.  Click here to learn more.

RIAC’s mission is to promote cultural, educational, and socioeconomic development in the refugee and immigrant community. To realize our mission, RIAC offers the following range of services to support successful resettlement and to promote self-sufficiency: Refugee Resettlement, Post-Resettlement Support Service, Community Education & Outreach, Counseling Services. RIAC is always looking for front desk volunteers, help with community events, translation services, and so much more.
Learn more here.

De Novo’s mission is to provides free civil legal assistance and affordable psychological counseling to low-income people. Our services combat the effects of poverty and violence by helping clients and their children meet basic human needs for safety, income, health and housing. De Novo draws on the expertise of 130 dedicated volunteer professionals to serve our community’s most vulnerable members. De Novo is always looking for volunteers for administrative tasks, the counselling program, and legal services. Learn more here.

Written by: Whitney Mooney, Fund Development Manager & Emily Irving, Board Member

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Tanner Residence, a Safe, Affordable Home for Single Women

LeNay Harper
Director of Housing and Shelter Services

No matter how you think about it, the one thing no one ever wants to be is homeless.

Without a roof (permanent or temporary) over your head, without a bed to sleep in, and without a  place you can come to at the end of your day, lock your door, and feel safe, the world can be a scary place in which to live. Not all, but many of the residents at the YWCA Cambridge’s Tanner Residence have experienced long term homelessness. They have known that feeling of being invisible – where no one wants to acknowledge, speak to, or even provide you with any assistance. Tanner Residence is a respite from that sense of not belonging. A place of welcome for all.

YWCA Cambridge offers 103 units of Single Room Occupancy (SRO) housing at the Tanner Residence with a number of different payment options. Some of our rooms are private pay, market rate; others are set aside for specific service providers, and yet other rooms are available through Cambridge Housing Authority’s Mobile Resource Voucher Program (MRVP) or Section 8 vouchers. Regardless of how women arrive at Tanner Residence or what payment arrangement meets their individual needs, each has her own room with access to shared bathroom, kitchen and laundry facilities, and to a large ground floor community room as well as to smaller community rooms located throughout the building.

YWCA Cambridge’s Director of Housing & Shelter Services provides supportive services to our residents through assistance identifying and engaging community resources and referrals, advocacy, housing searches, crisis intervention and much more. She also coordinates educational and informational workshops and meetings, wellness activities and social events. Tanner Residence is a non-smoking, elevator accessible building with 24-hour staffing. A beautifully landscaped outdoor area is available for the residents to enjoy, weather permitting.

Agency and service provider representatives are invited to share information and resources with our residents and to offer assistance in areas such as job preparedness, life skills training, credit repair and other services in Cambridge and the surrounding area..

Whether our residents wish to continue living at YWCA Cambridge’s Tanner Residence or move into accommodations elsewhere, our goal is to help provide the necessary tools that will enable them to live long-term in safe, affordable housing, while using their voices to advocate successfully for themselves.

Reflections on Youth Empowerment

Theodora Skeadas
YWCA Cambridge Board of Trustees

YWCA Cambridge is dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women, and promoting peace, justice, freedom, and dignity. These have always been passions of mine. After college, my passion for combating discrimination, the promotion of youth and women’s empowerment, and conflict resolution led me to work and study in Morocco, Turkey, and Iraq. 

In Morocco, I worked for the Sidi Moumen Cultural Center, where I managed a community development project that provided programming on theater, music, and athletics to Moroccan Arabic-speaking women and youth.

While working with Search for Common Ground’s Morocco office, I helped lead a multimedia and intercultural relations program in Casablanca. The project consisted of training French and English-speaking Sub-Saharan migrant women and Arabic-speaking young Moroccan mothers to produce films, documentaries, and advertisements dealing with intercultural relations. We also held discussions on the various forms of discrimination the women encountered, to empower and build relationships amongst our participants, and to break down cultural stereotypes and prejudices.  

I then sought to undertake a Fulbright grant in Turkey, in part, because I desired to leverage my English teaching skills and knowledge of the region and culture in service of Turkish students eager to learn English. Further, as part of my fellowship, I researched the barriers to employment for Syrian refugee youth in southeastern Turkey and Iraqi Kurdistan through interviews in Turkish and Arabic, reading, and travel.

My experiences around anti-racism, women’s and youth empowerment, and conflict resolution in the Middle East and North Africa were tremendously meaningful to me.

Today, I am thrilled to be supporting these initiatives through the YWCA Cambridge! I serve as the Clerk on our Board of Trustees, and I have helped support our efforts around the annual Tribute to Outstanding Women, an event where we recognize resilient women who work to eliminate racism and empower other women, and we thank them for their commitment to our local community. Further, as a member of the Governance Committee, I help the Board increase its efficiency, and ultimately improve the effectiveness of the YWCA Cambridge in delivering meaningful services and programming to our constituents.

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Conducting research in Erbil, Iraq; November 1, 2013

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Theo and her students in Antalya, Turkey;  December 23, 2013

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Board Members, Theo, Jennifer, and Emily; June 25, 2018

Why I Vote: A Letter to My Sister

My younger sister asked me the other day, “Why are you so obsessed with voting and getting people registered to vote?”

To give you some backstory… I have been pretty adamant in the last two years about discussing politics, encouraging friends to register to vote, getting involved with organizations, and going to the polls no matter if its presidential, midterm, or local elections. I have become “the crazy voting lady”; but that is okay.

After getting off the phone with my sister, I mulled over the conversation. How do I explain my passion to her and her friends who really don’t care much about elections, let alone politics? How do I verbalize something that I consider to be so extremely vital?

Upon reflecting, I developed a list of reasons voting in elections is so essential to me.

  1. It took until June 26, 2015 for my LGBTQ+ friend’s marriages to be federally recognized. I remember being so elated but also so mad that it took this long for something as simple as love to be recognized in the eyes of the government.
  2. When I was in high school, my mom was unemployed and on food stamps but it wasn’t enough to feed her, my sister, and I. It was barely enough to pay for the rent and a few meals. The government has unrealistic ideas of living wages.
  3. Some of my friends who went to school for Associate degrees don’t make a living wage of $15/hour but have thousands of dollars in student loan debt.
  4. When I was in college, my dad was still unemployed from the recession. Since I was in college, I was no longer covered under state insurance and my college insurance rates were too expensive for me to cover since I only made $7.75/hour for 10-15 hours a week. I was uninsured and scared of every possible illness. Getting a cold was terrifying. “What if it escalated? I can’t go to urgent care. I don’t have $150 to cover this.” It was three months, but man those were three very stressful months.
  5. During the recession, my dad and mom’s medications cost so much without insurance that they had to pick and choose which ones were essential on a given month.
  6. It’s 2018 and my co-workers and friends of color are still scared to get pulled over by the police, because in the current climate, getting pulled over for a broken tail light has lead to death at the hands of those who serve.
  7. My monthly student loan payment is more than my monthly rent payment.
  8. Women are still afraid to speak up because even when a man does something that violates a woman he is welcomed with open arms by the highest law making entity in the United States or told his future is “too bright” for him to serve time in jail.
  9. Our criminal justice system is broken. It is broken beyond repair. Men and women of color in disproportionate numbers go to jail because they can’t pay traffic fines or for minor drug charges. This becomes an easy way for the government to fully discriminate against them for housing, government aid, jobs, and most importantly – takes away their voice and ability to make a difference, by not allowing them to vote.  
  10. If we aren’t voting for people who care about these dire issues, we will never see real change. Change happens on the floor of the House and the Senate. It happens when the right people are in office.

To my dear sister: I vote, because I want you to HAVE a future, a voice, a choice. I want you to matter. I want you to thrive in a country that believes everyone is equal. I believe that every vote is a step in that direction. Every vote counts. Your voice matters.

Written by: Whitney Mooney, Administrative Assistant 

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My sister and I on her high school graduation day.

Girls Only Leadership Development

This past May, thirteen (13) junior high school girls, their parents, mentors, YWCA Cambridge staff, and City of Cambridge officials gathered together in city hall to celebrate the conclusion of yet another successful semester of the Girls Only Leadership Development (GOLD) program.  

We spent seven (7) months exploring a variety of  topics, from self-defense to financial literacy to the making of a podcast. The young women of GOLD culminated their experiences with a graduation ceremony, broadcasting the podcast they’d created during their workshops with the American Repertory Theatre.

With their certificates of completion in hand, they were invited on stage to shake hands with  YWCA Cambridge Executive Director Eva Martin Blythe, Councilwoman Simmons, and GOLD Coordinator Amanda Okaka.  After all of the well wishes, were completed, one young woman made her way over to the microphone, took a deep breath, and exhaled a small “thank you” before running off stage; many of the girls in the program giggled to themselves, but all of them also nodded knowingly.

In speaking with the GOLD participants, it becomes apparent that the exchange during the closing ceremony was indicative of many of their experiences. Young women participating in GOLD are invited, encouraged and supported to step out of their comfort zones; whether it’s in the form of public speaking or learning about taxes, they learn to do something that challenges their vision of who they are and what they’re capable of doing or becoming.  One participant described her experience when remarking on her favorite workshop- self-defense, saying “it felt weird and new but I also felt a little more safe and experienced after.” GOLD teaches young girls not only to be OK with a healthy dose of discomfort, but to flourish in it and grow from it, turning their uncertainty into empowerment.

GOLD introduces its participants to new friends, informs them of sexism in the media, and helps them to start seeing themselves as strong independent young women, through their relationships with older mentors.  GOLD also teaches skills that will help young girls enter high school as strong, intelligent young women, ready to take on the world.

GOLD Registration is now open for volunteers and 8th grade girls! Sign up today.  

Written by: Mia Kania, Forest Foundation Intern at YWCA Cambridge 

YWCA Cambridge Launches GOTV Campaign

According to PBS News Hour, “Estimates show more than 58 percent of eligible voters went to the polls during the 2016 election, nearly breaking even with the turnout rate set during the last presidential election in 2012, even as the final tallies in states like California continue to be calculated, according to statistics collected by the U.S. Elections Project.” This means that nearly 42% of Americans stayed home that day and didn’t participate in the democratic process.

YWCA Cambridge is on a mission to increase this percentage. We believe that voting drives change. From July-November 2018, we will host a series of events to educate the public on the issues and facilitate voter registration. Stop by to get yourself registered at your most current address, learn more about getting involved in local elections, take the pledge to vote and so much more.  Help us reach our goal of 50 new registrations in the Cambridge area before the next election.

Upcoming Confirmed Events:

July 23, 2018, 12-2pm- MassVOTE will be providing voter registration in YWCA Cambridge’s lobby

August 7, 2018, 12-2pm- Cambridge Election Commission will be providing voter registration in YWCA Cambridge’s lobby

There is so much in store for this campaign and we hope to see you at one of our events!

“Every election is determined by the people who show up.”
– Larry J. Sabato, Pendulum Swing

Donate to this effort here: http://bit.ly/donatetoywcacam

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The Story Behind Trailblazing Women

In January of 2017, the Cambridge community lost a long-time member, activist, and unsung hero, Renae Gray.  While deciding how to honor her legacy, Denise Simmons, Dita Obler, and Eva Martin Blythe came together with an idea. The group was touched by Renee Gray’s commitment to teaching her daughter Michele Scott about women’s role in social change. This lead to the idea of honoring 6 sets of mothers and daughter team activists in the Cambridge community.

During that time, two Community Conversations fellows went to an event where they met Fran Smith, a staff member from Mass Humanities. Mass Humanities had developed an Open and Honest Dialogue program focused on race and white supremacy. Using this model alongside Community Conversations: Sister to Sister Dialogue Model, the idea of Trailblazing Women was born.

Having lost another important social change activist, Nancy Beckford, the team decided to continue the Trailblazing Women tradition. This event will be running for a second year with the theme of “Nevertheless She Persisted” in honor of our women’s champion, Elizabeth Warren, Senator of MA. The night will consist of an honoring of 6 sisterhood duos who are committed to social change within the Cambridge community.

From there, we will hold a communal reading of Maya Angelou’s “In Her Own Words”. Using the combined dialogue model, facilitators will break the audience up into small groups to discuss the piece and the role of gender, ethnic, and racial identity, resilience in the face of diversity, and building women’s networks.

Please join YWCA Cambridge, Community Conversations: Sister to Sister, Mass Humanities, City of Cambridge, Cambridge Women’s Commission, and E. Denise Simmon on March 28, 2018 from 5:45-8pm at Cambridge City Hall for the 2nd Annual Trailblazing Women: Communal Reading & Community Conversation.

Trailblazing Women is honoring the following sisterhood duos this year:

Nancy Beckford, Shelley Flaherty, & Roberta Green
Denise Maguire & Christine Elow
Rosalind O’Sullivan & Claudie Jean-Baptiste
Poppy Milner & Gail Willett
Dorothy Elizabeth Tucker & Andy Taylor-Blenis
MeiLin Pratt & Naomi Tsegaye

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