As we begin to collectively reflect upon the upcoming Juneteenth, it’s important that we remember the history behind the meaning of the holiday and what it represents for us. For me, this year has been a year of reflection, knowledge sharing, and community growth. With enhanced awareness of anti-blackness amongst marginalized and majority groups, it is important that we recognize one of the many triumphs the black community has experienced despite years of systemic oppression and racism.
Juneteenth represents the day that those enslaved in the Southern U.S. were informed of their new freedom. While the emancipation proclamation was signed on January 1, 1863, and congress passed the 13th amendment on January 31, 1865, abolishing slavery, it was not until June 19, 1865, that Gorgon Granger arrived in Galveston, TX and shared that the war and slavery had officially ended.
I look forward to seeing how the Cambridge community celebrates this year safely. I love that the Cambridge and Boston communities take pride in celebrating the freedoms that were informed on that day and to pay respects to the generations that fought to make that freedom a reality. This year, to commemorate the event, the YWCA Cambridge will be joining the Margaret Fuller House’s Juneteenth celebration which will feature Black local businesses. In addition, YWCA Cambridge will engage with local teens through an activity table at the gathering. I am excited to see Juneteenth be celebrated by more ethnic, religious, organizational, and racial groups this year due to increased awareness of the holiday’s significance.
Carmyn Polk, Chair of the Social Justice & Advocacy Committee, YWCA Cambridge
At the age of 17, I was a teenage mom experiencing “coach-surfing,” a term used quite often to describe those moving from place to place because they lacked housing. Being a young mom and due to my family situation, I needed to find affordable housing quickly. Luckily, I received Emergency Assistance and was able to find an apartment. Later, I received a Section 8 voucher and moved to an apartment that was better suited for a small family.
Housing First is a housing approach that understands that for people experiencing homelessness, housing is needed first, and supportive services are often needed to increase housing stability. As a participant receiving Section 8, I utilized these supportive services and enrolled in the Family Self-Sufficiency Program (FSS).
The FSS Program provided case management, financial coaching, and workforce development opportunities. These services provided the skills and education I needed to become more self-sufficient. In addition, the program worked with me to establish an Emergency Savings account. As my earners grew, a portion of the rent increases under the program went into the Emergency Savings Account. Having this account helped move my family from poverty to become economically sufficient today.
Today, thanks to all the teachers and direct care staff who believed in my potential, I can give back to those in a similar position as part of the Team at Renae’s Place, the YWCA Cambridge’s Family Shelter. Renae’s Place has been providing Emergency Assistance Housing and supportive services to families since 1987. Staff work independently as well as with other nonprofit agencies so that residents have access to a whole wide range of supporting services areas such as:
I am not proud of this story, but I share it in hopes that fewer among us will make this mistake. For Women’s History Month, I want to talk about the importance of acknowledgement. Women go without it too often. We must change that because human beings need others to value them. Even when there isn’t an immediate answer to the struggle people are going through, an acknowledgement can be the first step towards healing. Let’s make an effort to really see women this month and make it an ongoing practice.
As a sixteen year old, I was beginning to feel the weight of patriarchy but was not yet awake to the concept. I could already tell that the world assigned value to women based on looks though, and I resented it. I wanted people to understand me in all my complexity. I tried to disassociate from womanhood to escape the trap. I shaved my head and adopted a black sweatshirt as my self-imposed uniform. But in my quest to feel seen, I made a big blunder.
My “solution” was only meant to help me (spoiler alert: it didn’t). I wish I had seen that I was not the only girl or woman feeling misunderstood. In fact, I was guilty of writing off women who I should have appreciated in all their complexity.
One day, my father asked me if I had noticed that my mother had not spoken to me in a month. I hadn’t. He shared that she was hurting from one of my past transgressions and was waiting for me to reflect on my actions. She waited for a month and I had been none the wiser. I look back at this moment and feel shame. This was the woman that woke me up every morning, made sure I ate right, drove me everywhere, and stayed up if I was out. She was the licensed psychologist that put her career aside to care for me and my sisters. But I was so concerned with my own struggle that her work had become invisible to me!
In the same way I became blind to my mother’s role in my life, our communities routinely fail to recognize women’s work, especially work inside the home. The patriarchal system interacts with a white supremacist framework. It is no coincidence that Black and Latinx women are the most likely groups to be employed in low-wage jobs associated with the home sphere, like cooking, cleaning, and caregiving. This is the result from a long history of white America shutting them out of other types of work.
More broadly, out of the 25 lowest paying occupations in the country, 18 are primarily held by women. Women make up 83% of middle-skill workers earning $30,000 or less, while only 36% making more than $35,000 are women. Nearly a third of Black women work in service jobs compared with just one-fifth of white women. And these jobs are crucial to our survival. Agriculture workers, home health aides, childcare workers, housekeeping services, and hairdressers are essential. Yet, their compensation does not reflect the value they provide. We need to talk about that! We need to change that!
My mother raised four strong Latinx women. It took work, effort, and love. She was not compensated for it and her contribution is not included in GDP. But it is as important for her daughters to tell her that we see her, as it is for Cambridge to acknowledge all the women that tie our community together. Whether you are a childcare worker, a cleaner, a home health aide, or a waitress, YWCA Cambridge thanks you. We will be acknowledging many of you throughout this month.
Thanksgiving 2020 comes at a moment of reckoning. We have spent the last nine months in the midst of a pandemic. During this time the United States has experienced some of its largest civil rights and social justice protests in our history following the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmad Arbery. The NY Times Nonfiction Best Seller section had been filled with books on anti-racism topics. The need for education on racial justice, how to be an ally, and understanding the movement has grown exponentially around the country. This work means there is a tremendous need to continue one’s own education about anti-racism, a need to unlearn the whitewashed history learned in school, and a need to have conversations with our loved ones about these important topics.
The US education system has spent centuries glamorizing Thanksgiving. Children are taught that the settlers invited Native Americans to a peaceful and friendly meal that in return created a partnership between the two. This narrative is far from the truth. The European settler colonialists brought with them diseases and a desire for power. They stole and settled the land from the indigenous people, created laws to control them, and murdered them indiscriminately.
Today many Native American tribes use Thanksgiving Day as a National Day of Mourning, to honor the many lives lost during that period in this country’s history. This year we mourn the disproportionate loss of native lives to COVID 19. While every year during the same time many of us are sitting down to enjoy turkey, stuffing and cranberries with our loved ones, in Plymouth, MA not two hours from Boston, Indigenous leaders gather to mourn the violence their ancestors experienced, the land stolen from them, and the continued injustices and efforts to make them invisible that they endure today.
As you sit down for Thanksgiving dinner this week, virtually or face-to-face with family members, YWCA Cambridge asks you to engage in a conversation about the real history of this holiday and the importance of recognizing the many Indigenous people who died at the hands of European settler colonialists. Then we ask you to commit to learning about and honoring the innumerable positive contributions Indigenous people made to these United States throughout the year.
Voting is an essential civic duty, so here are a few reasons why YWCA Cambridge votes.
“My vote impacts how I live, ensures representation, allows me to support what’s important to me and those I care about, and has been (heavily)fought (and died) for. Out of respect for my past, present and future, I vote.” -LeNay Harper, Director of Housing and Shelter Services
“I vote because I have an opportunity to put words into action. I can help elect leaders who will fight for just and effective policies at both the national and local level. My vote isn’t just for me, it’s for people I know and people I don’t know. Not voting has consequences. Even though leaders and policies are never perfect, I can help move my community forward by exercising my right to vote.” -Hallie Tosher, Board Member
“I vote, because it’s important in a participatory democracy that everyone’s voices be heard. It is only by collectively raising our individual voices can meaningful and transformative systemic change be permanently undertaken.” -Theodora Skeadas, Board Chair
“I vote because my voice matters. Every person matters and they deserve to be heard at the ballot box. I vote because people like the late great John Lewis and others shed blood and died so all of us can vote. We carry that legacy of voting rights every time we exercise our right to vote.” – Elizabeth Baldwin, Board Member
‘I vote because my foremothers and forefathers were denied the right to do so. I want to be heard not just for me, but for us.” -Cleola Payne, Board Member
“I vote because our ancestors fought for the right to vote and put their lives on the line for me and all women and people of color to have the privilege and the duty to voice our choices and be heard. I am able to vote because they made it possible and I honor the sacrifices that they made for all of us” -Eva Martin Blythe, Executive Director
“I vote because I believe in democracy, I am aware that black people have not had the right to vote in the past, and I want to be a part of change.” – Carmyn Polk, Board Member
“I vote because we need better representations for people of color. It is the easiest form of activism and the best way to have your voice heard. I vote for John Lewis, Fannie Lou Hamer, Ella Baker, & Martin Luther King Jr. I vote to protect women’s rights to their bodies, prison reform, quality affordable housing, and so much more. “ -Whitney Mooney, Fund Development Manager
“My high school government teacher always said “if you don’t vote, you don’t count” – so I like to exercise my right to vote to ensure that I will always have a voice.” -Miyako Takashima, Board Member
“I vote in order to hold my local and national lawmakers accountable for their actions. And to ensure officials and lawmakers put the needs of families, frontline workers, and community organizations before big corporations and the upper class.” – Puja Kranz-Howe, GOLD Program Coordinator
“I vote because my people fought and died for their right to vote. I take pride in voting, and being engaged and active in my community. Black lives matter now and always.” -Ayesha Wilson, Board Member, Cambridge School Committee Member
“I vote because it makes me feel like I have a voice. Voting is deceptively simple, and the decision of who you vote for also forces you to re-examine what and who you care about and how you can protect those interests in your city, state, and country.” -Marina Zhavoronkova, Board Member
By now it should be very clear. COVID-19 is not the great equalizer. The COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the systemic inequity that has defined American society since it stole the very land under itself. This is no less true at the local level than at the national. Since its founding in 1891, the YWCA Cambridge has been committed to serving the needs of the Cambridge community. We understand that powerful change starts at the local level, and here in Cambridge, the virus has shown a harsh light on the deep inequality that has always festered beneath the city’s veneer of progressive politics. We must do better.
Let’s start with the numbers. The case rate among black residents (168 per 10,000) in Cambridge is nearly triple that of white residents (60 per 10,000). While black residents make up only 11% of the total population in Cambridge, they account for 20% of the city’s COVID mortalities. The neighborhoods with the three highest rates of infection are the Port, Wellington-Harrington, and East Cambridge, followed closely by North Cambridge and Cambridge Highlands, areas which represent a disproportionate amount of the city’s black and brown residents. The higher rates of COVID-19 in these areas are only the latest chapter in a long history of underinvestment and oppression. These same neighborhoods were once classified as “Hazardous” under the Home Owners’ Loan Corporation redlining policies, a label given to neighborhoods “characterized by detrimental influences in a pronounced degree, undesirable population or an infiltration of it.” Without public support for and investment in the expansion of affordable housing and equitable housing policy in Cambridge, housing inequity will continue to harm the city’s black and brown communities.
Existing inequalities in Cambridge Public Schools (CPS) have also been intensified during the COVID-19 pandemic. Remote learning requires that students have, at minimum, strong internet and a computer available for their personal use during the day. Students also need space to learn and do homework within their home, preferably one free of noise and distractions. Many students in Cambridge do not have these basic resources to support remote learning until Cambridge Public Schools did the inevitable and expanded educational resources beyond the physical school building, through the distribution of hotspots and laptops. Without an investment in city-wide broadband, access to public education will remain contingent on the uneven resources of individual households. And because the systematic exclusion of black families from wealth creation in the United States means that economic inequality maps onto racial lines, black students in Cambridge will suffer disproportionately from unequal access to distance learning.
Let’s say it one more time. Racial inequality existed in Cambridge long before COVID and will not be solved with a vaccine. At the same time, COVID-19 represents an opportunity to acknowledge this inequity and to commit to meaningful action and policy change at the local level. This approach is in line with the YWCA’s mission of eliminating racism and empowering women. We end this article with a call to take local action:
My name is Amelia Joselow and I have been a volunteer mentor with the Girlx Only Leadership Development Program (GOLD) at YWCA Cambridge for nearly three years.
In my outside life I am a researcher and don’t spend any time with youth, so I was thrilled when I went into the YWCA Cambridge after having learned about their mission of empowering women and eliminating racism, and they told me I could help out by being a mentor with the GOLD program. Each week the girls meet and go over a variety of topics to enrich their lives and their understanding of the world, everything from financial literacy, to performance art, to healthy boundaries, to difficult race/racism conversations. I am always amazed at how excited and insightful they are, seemingly much more so than I was at their age. I find fulfillment in my volunteer work with the program as a supplement to my professional work, but really what is most impactful for me is showing up every week and trying to be a positive influence in these girls’ lives, in a way that was lacking for me when I was their age.
When I was in middle school I was painfully shy and lonely and didn’t know what interests I had beyond what I thought would get me accepted by others. The girls in the GOLD program are so much more self-aware and aware of the society they live in in a way that is truly miraculous. GOLD gives them the space to explore who they are and want to be, as well as empowering them to believe in what they could be when they are older. For the girls it is a growth experience, and for me as well. Over the years I have found healing in seeing these girls grow confidence and grow strong bonds together and it gives me hope for the future of young women everywhere. I am incredibly grateful for the GOLD program and all the amazing work that YWCA Cambridge does. I thank them all for letting me be a part of their work.
Dear Blogger readers and YWCA Supporters,
My name is Puja and I am the Coordinator of the GOLD program. I also have the wonderful opportunity to work with GOLD mentors like Amelia. I want to give a shout out to all of our GOLD mentors for their dedication and the effort they have put into the GOLD program. Our mentors welcome everyone each week, assist with weekly sessions, and provide support to the GOLD participants. Our mentors always come to GOLD with a smile, ready to learn, and have fun, too! From making everyone laugh during dinner to being there to listen during hard times, our mentors are a central part of the GOLD program. The GOLD program would not be the same without them! Personally, I want to thank all the mentors for their support and guidance during my transition as I joined the YWCA Cambridge staff earlier this year. Mentors,we thank you for all you give to our program.
Interested in becoming a GOLD Mentor? Email Puja at firstname.lastname@example.org to learn more!
Disclaimer: This is my personal opinion/experience and does not represent the MA Asian American Commission in any way, shape or form.
“They eat dogs, bats, and all of those other weird things and they died? GOOD. They deserve to die for eating that.” Those were the words that I heard come out of a Caucasian woman’s mouth at my friend’s nail salon on February 5th. This is the perception of many people who are unfamiliar with Asian, particularly, Chinese history and culture, who choose fear and blame over compassion and empathy.
Statements like these immediately remind me of the privilege of first world countries. In the 1970’s, China’s Communist Party began the Cultural Revolution where 1.2 million people were tortured and killed, 30 million starved to death due to famine, the economy was destabilized, and the people lost trust with their government. During that time, China controlled all of the food supply and was failing to feed 900 million people. When the regime began to collapse, they relinquished control and allowed private farming. While major corporations dominated large farming of what is normalized to us such as chicken, pigs, cows, etc, small farmers turned to wildlife as a means of survival, such as bats, turtles, snakes. The Chinese government allowed these types of activities in order for people to survive and as a way for people to lift themselves out of poverty.
Growing up, I remember being bullied in middle school for being Chinese and my classmates asking if I ate cats. But as I grew up, I became more educated and aware of the truths behind how we sustain societies. Time and time again, I’ve heard many people criticize what people in Asia eat and how animals are treated. But have you ever looked into the mass production of the US’ meat and dairy industry? While some of China’s laws are absolutely devastating, when you understand the extremity of third-world poverty and starvation, you may have more compassion for the way another person is forced to live. But it can also be easily said how devastating US laws are regarding the cruel treatment of factory farming for profit. The difference between the two is that one is for survival and one is for profit. Neither are okay. But again, it goes back to privilege.
When I see how my fellow Asian Americans are being attacked verbally, assaulted, or spat on, it shows me how little progress our society has made toward dismantling racism and white supremacy. In the 19th century, Americans popularized the belief that the Chinese were disease-ridden and dirty, which eventually led to the justification for the Chinese Exclusion Act. Two centuries later and we are allowing history to repeat itself. I’m infuriated with how our elected officials fail to see their blatant racism behind their efforts to create bills to blame China and call it the “Chinese Virus or Kung-Flu” and no one was speaking up for us.
As the Program Director for the Massachusetts Asian American Commission, our Commission strongly felt that we should speak up for ourselves and condemn the racism happening towards our community. On March 12th, we gathered Asian American leaders from all sectors (legislative, health, business, community, law) to speak out against the discrimination and xenophobia surrounding COVID-19 within the Asian American community. It was important to have representation in the media to speak out against those who were continuously spreading misinformation and using a hateful narrative that only perpetuates anger and fear. There is nothing medically or scientifically “Chinese” about this virus. A virus knows no borders.
On a more personal note, I have been extremely frustrated with the way society has failed to productively respond to this pandemic. In my opinion, everyone has failed. The Chinese government has failed to effectively take care of their people and create new laws: even after they experienced a similar situation with the 2003 SARS outbreak and the United States government has failed to effectively take precautions when we first got warnings about the COVID-19 outbreak. When you look at this on a larger scale, it is a systemic and structural problem. The last thing that should happen is a “me versus you” mentality, where blame, fear, anger, and hate consume society and everyone goes down. But rather, “us versus the problem”. This happened during 9/11 with Muslims, this is an everyday experience for African Americans, and now it’s happening to Asian Americans. The need to selfishly fight and hoard toilet paper and spew racism towards the Asian community easily shows how humanity is failing. The COVID-19 pandemic has opened up a lot of ugly truths from top to bottom. But I also feel that it is necessary that people are seeing this because it allows us to really see how we cannot allow ourselves to get too comfortable and that there is still much work that needs to be done. The only way for us to overcome these obstacles is to unify and work together. It is important for everyone to care about others outside of their own communities because at the end of the day, we are all human, who all struggle and we are never alone.
Since June 2019, YWCA Cambridge has offered free summer yoga classes to members of our community. This opportunity is funded by a Cambridge in Motion mini grant awarded to projects that engage their community in healthy lifestyles.
This project actually started last year at Tanner Residence, our affordable housing for women. Funding allowed us to provide our residents with monthly yoga and healthy eating classes. Residents enjoyed the experience so much that we thought it made sense to open up this opportunity to the community at large.
One of the goals of this project is to break down the financial barriers that often exist around programs focused on health and active living. For many people, paying for a gym membership or yoga classes simply is not in the budget. YWCA Cambridge believes in breaking down these financial barriers to give everyone an equal opportunity to thrive. The free yoga classes are an example of how we carry out that belief. It is important that in every community there are opportunities like this one that give people the chance to get active and try new things, at no cost.
The class is held every other Wednesday at noon and taught by the wonderful Malika Ms. Bonafide. Participants enjoy a one hour class that is geared towards beginners and those looking for a middle of the day respite. One participant said, “Summer yoga at the YW is the perfect escape and release for the middle of the day. The instructor is inspirational and invites us into our best practice. I always leave feeling refreshed and renewed. Thanks for offering this wonderful experience!”. Getting to participate in and observe the class myself has been a wonderful experience, and it has been a joy seeing women in our community partaking in the class together.
By: Kate Fulton-John YWCA Administrative Intern, Forest Foundation
The first weekend in May, GOLD (Girls Only Leadership Development), a partnership program between Councilor E. Denise Simmons and the YWCA Cambridge, hosted a day long summit, Beyond All Limits, for 7th, 8th, and 9th grade girls in the Somerville and Cambridge area. The summit focused on leadership skills, self identity and expression, and meaningful career paths. I had the privilege of moderating the panel with local women who built their own careers and are paving the way for future women leaders in their field.
Maybe you are thinking – these girls are only in 7th, 8th, or 9th grade why do they need to think about careers now?
The women on the Beyond All Limits panel were diverse: a health and wellness entrepreneur, a software engineer, a poet-rapper-educator, and a photographer. Each of these women spoke about how they held onto their self expression and creativity, followed their passion, and practiced self awareness throughout their career journey. These are all values that GOLD holds and strives to uphold with the girls. As described by the panelists, it can be incredibly challenging to take on a nontraditional career path and especially difficult to feel empowered to begin this journey, whether it’s starting a business doing healing yoga or being one of the few women majoring in computer science.
Why invest in girls?
Empowering women and eliminating racism is the mission of YWCA Cambridge and it must start at a young age. Investing time and energy in these middle school girls is crucial for self empowerment, self expression and self esteem. GOLD aims to create a safe space for girls to talk about their self identity, practice leadership skills, and learn in an inter-generational space. Creating these kinds of spaces for girls builds up their self worth and helps them develop community support. Through the GOLD program, this support is cultivated not only with their peers but also with women in the Cambridge community. These spaces and this community of support empowers the girls to create their own career path and follow their authentic self.
Investing in girls breaks down barriers of inequality.
You can’t be what you don’t see – having women role models for these girls inspires them to engage in activities and to explore paths that they may not have thought of before. Strong women inspire strong GOLD girls.
Written by: Elizabeth Baldwin, YWCA Board Member and Chair of the Racial Justice Committee