A voice for justice

The YWCA’s continuing quest is to empower women and families and eliminate racism — a monumental undertaking, no matter how you look at it.

But if any of the century-old organization’s national offshoots can localize this vision, it may very well be Asheville’s progressive branch (headquartered at 185 South French Broad Ave.), which has toiled toward its goal for 92 years and was the second YWCA in the country to hire an African-American executive director.

In support of their rigorous agenda to “foster positive change in the community,” the YWCA is extremely proud to present legendary folksinger Peggy Seeger as the featured performer in its fourth-annual Women In Music event.

Seeger’s musical pedigree is pure gold: Her father, Charles Louis Seeger, was a founder of UCLA’s ethnomusicology department, and her mother, Ruth Crawford Seeger, was the first woman to win a Guggenheim Fellowship Award for Music. Her half-brother, Pete, needs no introduction.

Others may know Seeger as the face behind her longtime partner Ewan McColl’s classic song “The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face” — but the singer/songwriter is also famous for her work outside that personal and professional partnership. Considered one of the world’s most-esteemed folksingers, Seeger has recorded 18 solo albums and contributed to 100 others. Her song “Gonna Be an Engineer” was appropriated by the women’s movement as one of its anthems, and the performer (a longtime British citizen who now resides in Asheville) continues to lend her songs to feminist causes.

“We wanted to use Seeger because of the political [leanings] of her songs,” explains YWCA Publicity Director Ami Worthen. “She’s been very involved in feminism for most of her life.”

Seeger’s latest recording, too, addresses women’s issues. But the title — Period Pieces: Women’s Songs for Men and Women — also hints at a mission in keeping with the YWCA’s expansive vision.

And Worthen notes that, often, the YWCA is the first place women think to turn to when they’re in trouble.

“We have a lot of women who call us for help when they’re not sure where to go,” she reveals. Recently, a woman who needed medicine but had no way to get it received a ride to the doctor’s.

Emergencies aside, the YWCA has “been at the forefront of racial-justice work for years,” continues.Worthen. The fruits of those efforts are most immediately evident at home: Only at the YWCA, Worthen maintains, will you find a truly integrated cross-section of local society.

“At the YWCA, you’ll find people of all races and backgrounds,” she enthuses. “Everyone feels welcome, which makes it a community center in the truest sense of the word.”

Among YWCA’s current programs are S.N.A.P.I. (Students Need a Positive Image), which helps high-risk teenage girls learn the benefits of delaying motherhood, and S.O.S. (Support Our Students), which provides safe but appealing after-school options for middle-school students.

But the charm of music has the power to fuse people’s differences faster than any social program in the world, Worthen knows.

“We want to get people excited about what we’re doing,” she enthuses. “[At Women in Music], people can hear our message and incorporate it into [a context] of history — and into their daily lives.”


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