“Asheville and Buncombe County is consistently one of the most active [Stand Against Racism] sites in the entire country,” says Gerry Leonard, volunteer and racial justice coordinator for the YWCA of Asheville, which has been gearing up for year’s series of events, focusing on the achievements and contributions of women of color. “Last year we had over 64 different organizations, businesses, faith groups and schools taking a stand against racism, with … thousands of community members participating.”
The first Stand Against Racism campaign was organized in 2007 in New Jersey by YWCA Trenton and YWCA Princeton. By 2010, the idea had taken hold nationally, when about 2,000 organizations in 39 states and 250,000 people participated in local Stand initiatives across the country. Over the years, the campaign has been featured on major networks and endorsed by state governors, according to the national Stand Against Racism website.
This year’s local Stand campaign, titled “Women of Color Leading Change,” is being staged in partnership with YWCA associations across the country. The local campaign aims to “build community among those who work for racial justice and to raise awareness about the negative impact of institutional and structural racism,” according to the local group’s website. Events run throughout April, culminating with the campaign’s multiday signature event, Stand Against Racism, running from April 27-30.
All of the campaign’s events are aimed at highlighting ways to combat and end racism. “At its core, Stand Against Racism is [a] campaign designed to bring awareness around racism, and we’re beginning to shift the conversation into a deeper analysis of systemic racism and intersectionality,” Leonard says. The campaign fits well with the national association’s mission, which says, “YWCA is dedicated to eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.”
Growing out of last year’s theme, “Stand Up for Women and Girls of Color,” this year’s theme of “Women of Color Leading Change” focuses on these minority leaders’ achievements and contributions, while calling attention to the barriers they face in all facets of life by.
“It’s significant that ‘Women of Color’ is this year’s theme,” Leonard says. “Despite outpacing other groups in college education, leading social progress since the very beginning and often being the primary breadwinner in their household, women of color are consistently underrepresented in positions of leadership in all sectors nationwide.”
Stand Against Racism’s signature series of events kicks off with a panel featuring four women of color who lead grassroots efforts in Asheville: Marta Alcala-Williams, parent/family engagement coordinator for Asheville City Schools; Dewana Little, community engagement coordinator with Asheville GreenWorks; Iindia Pearson, community advocate and Asheville Resident Council member; and Nicole Townsend, community organizer and spoken word artist.
The panel “focuses on the challenges faced and success stories of women-of-color leaders, along with their words of wisdom for young black and brown girls looking to make change and seeking role models to look up to,” Leonard says. He hopes their messages will bring more awareness to the lack of minority leadership locally and inspire community members to action.
The African-American community represents about 13.4 percent of Asheville’s population, Leonard notes. “Only through diverse voices speaking from a different lived experience and vision of what of supporting communities looks like will true equity emerge,” he says.
Some upcoming Stand Against Racism events are:
• Tuesday, April 18: “Combating Structural Racism in the Workforce,” led by the WNC Diversity Engagement Coalition, from 5:30-7:30 p.m. at Bhramari Brewhouse. Coalition members will describe their activities in the past four years combating racism in the workplace and discuss the most successful tactics to bring about change.
“Equity in the workforce is not diversity,” Leonard says. “Equity is truly creating a level playing field for people of color and other oppressed groups who, over centuries, have faced obstacles and barriers in order to thrive in workforce environments.”
• Thursday, April 20: “How Racism Has Changed Over 25 Years,” hosted by Building Bridges of Asheville, from 6-8 p.m. at Rainbow Community School. The event will highlight how the conversation and paradigm of racism has shifted over two-plus decades, according to Leonard, who serves on the board of Building Bridges, which was founded in 1993. The panel will focus on how over the years people have become more open and felt compelled to talk about racism, as well as look at the ways current news events have affected and influenced racism.
“It’s worth noting that, with Building Bridges of Asheville…since Ferguson [Mo.] and the shooting of Mike Brown, more white people have wanted to attend the program to gain a better understanding of racism and ways to show up and get involved,” Leonard adds.
• Monday, April 24, “Collective Conversations: Creating Equity in Our Schools,” hosted by Educators for Equity, from 6-8 p.m. at Rainbow Community School, will focus on the disparities that exist in education and talk about ways of creating equity in schools and motivating both educators and community members to support all children getting an equal education.
“In order to dismantle racism, we have to name it,” says Leonard. “If we’re calling it prejudice and discrimination, we’re not hitting the key part of this long historical equation that racism equals prejudice plus power. When you have the language and the understanding, you can begin to educate those in your sphere of influence, and collectively, we can chip away at a multifaceted, insidious system of racism.” Stand Against Racism’s ultimate goal, he says, is to eliminate racism by starting a conversation that will empower people to bring about change.