Greater Burlington YMCA
In the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder, we could no longer ignore the question, “Are we doing enough to oppose racism?” When we looked carefully at our organization, we found solid values, aspirational language, and qualities that position us well for anti-racism work. But the stark reality is we found that we have a long way to go.
Yes, our Y is a place where you can find diversity—of skin color, age, gender identity, religion, and socio-economic standing—but our reckoning tells us that we need to be more diverse and especially to serve the special needs of diverse populations.
In June 2020, CEO Kyle Dodson shared a statement with the community that committed our organization to doing better. This can only be achieved if we ensure that diversity, equity, and anti-racism are not add-ons to our core work but instead are fully a part of the core.
On this page, you will find information about steps we’ve already taken, work that is underway, and challenges that remain. We are only beginning. It will require all of us on the Y staff and in the Y community working together—and holding one another accountable—to make true progress.
We talk about being Y STRONG. What our path forward will look like may not be clear, but one thing we do know is that we are not truly strong if we are not actively working to promote anti-racism, equity, and diversity.
Our pledge is to recognize and act knowing that a strong Y is a diverse Y that leads in anti-racism efforts. A strong Y is an inclusive Y, where all truly means all.
— The Greater Burlington YMCA
A call to action
The Y core values of Caring, Honesty, Respect, and Responsibility set forth essential principles that guide our behavior, interactions with each other, and decision-making. Placards with our core values appear throughout our building as guideposts for ourselves and all who visit our Y.
You will now see a new set of signs entitled “A Call to Action Against Racism” around our facilities. The message makes clear that our core values leave no room for racism. Each core value can, and must, move us beyond words.
This message intends to spur a move from the passive to the active. Just as we challenge our Y community to embrace and exemplify our core values, we now challenge our community to reflect upon, embody, and put into action these values against racism.
The Y is on its own journey to define our role in the fight against systemic racism. We are immersed in learning and self-reflection as to how we can do better–how we can truly be an anti-racist organization. These signs represent just one manifestation of this ongoing work.
Teen + early education programs
We are developing programming specifically designed to nurture and support children of color. And, more broadly, identifying opportunities to incorporate anti-racism themes and materials into existing Y programs.
An internal review of services offered at the Y highlighted that we had work to do to serve teens of color. To address this shortcoming, we fast-tracked a “Youth in Action” program for black teens that our staff launched with a focus on wellness, mentoring, and leadership. This program, led by Jervaughn Scales, is seeing strong interest and growth, with 15+ regular participants.
On the early childhood front, our team of educators has re-evaluated the anti-bias components to their curriculum, including the in-class reading resources used, as well as the structure and content of conversations with children on issues related to race. The renewed self-reflection on these issues has included vital outreach and engagement with parents. We are also working with the superintendent of Winooski’s schools and other partners on increasing diversity in early education.
Staff training in Diversity, Equity, Inclusion, and Belonging
The Greater Burlington YMCA provides opportunities for staff to learn about and understand the history of racism and its many continued impacts, with the goal of creating a culture of professionals who have the skills to support anti-racism work in the community.
In May of 2021, we engaged Neil Phillips to be the featured speaker at our annual all-staff meeting. He is the founder of the Visible Men Academy, a thought leader on issues of race and equity, and note for his talk, Race to the Truth: Having the Hard, Yet Necessary, Conversations on Race in America. Through his work, Philips engages in provocative conversation that challenges preconceived notions and opens minds.
His time with Y staff, and our volunteer board leaders, drove home that we must address race and equality with candor, grace, and authentic conviction. It is our responsibility to champion fair, diverse, equitable, and unbiased work environments. We must do this through words and action. The path starts with rooting these convictions in the spirit of opportunity versus obligation or burden. That shift in mental position is a crucial one.
Phillips impressed upon us that the perfect starting point is through deep, truthful, and effective conversation. Only through this type of conversation will we position our organization for transformational action – and facilitate the transition from ignoring, to talking, to lasting change.
Inclusion in the Workplace with Shift SLC
We engaged Shift SLC, a diversity and inclusion coaching and consulting firm, to work with our Y throughout 2021. Shift implemented a three-phase approach to facilitate the understanding of where the Y is at in its DEI journey, areas of possible improvement, training, and leadership, as well as offering a strategic roadmap to ensure our work in DEI remains sustainable. We pursued and received grant funding to deliver this support to the organization.
Shift SLC conducted a series of trainings, including Understanding Biases & Stereotypes, Inclusive Language, Microaggressions, and Allyship, Advocacy, and Action. Recognizing the diverse work schedules of Y staff, we ensured these training opportunities were conducted at different times of the day.
Talking About Race with Rajnii Eddins
Our Y’s leadership team worked with Rajnii Eddins, a Burlington poet, facilitator, activist, and teaching artist, to confront their own unconscious biases and delve into our country’s history of systemic racism.
Having found that work deeply rewarding, all Operations Team staff (department heads and managers) were invited to participate in five 90-minute sessions with Rajnii. This work, while hard to quantify, impacts and informs everyone from our early child care educators to member engagement staff. It helps us be mindful of the obligations we have to help develop youth, members, and programs participants of all ages – to advance an anti-racist agenda and be a community where everyone truly belongs.
Rajnii Eddins uses “performance art as a way to inspire, empower and encourage community.” His latest work, Their Names Are Mine, aims to confront white supremacy while emphasizing the need to affirm our mutual humanity.
Racism as a public health emergency
On July 16, 2020, the Greater Burlington YMCA joined more than 30 organizations across Chittenden County in front of Burlington City Hall to stand with Mayor Miro Weinberger and declare racism a public health emergency.
The City and its partners also announced: 1) a commitment to the sustained and deep work of eradicating racism within their organizations; 2) immediate and specific actions that they are taking to address the emergency in the work that they do; and 3) a commitment to participate in ongoing joint action, grounded in science and data, to eliminate race-based health disparities and eradicate systemic racism in Chittenden County.
Representing the Y was CEO Kyle Dodson, who shared that day, “It is almost trite to say at this point, but this ‘George Floyd moment’ does seem to have a different energy; somehow broader and deeper, and more resolute than earlier efforts. All of us who are committing to this initiative, are stewards of our children’s futures. Let’s not squander this opportunity.”
To read the “Community Declaration of Racism as a Public Health Emergency,” click here.
To read the media release prepared by the City of Burlington, click here.
Raising the Black Lives Matter flag
During the summer of 2020, we raised the Black Lives Matter flag in front of our facility at 298 College Street. It flies proudly and as statement that enough is enough.
The Black Lives Matter flag flies because Black Americans are under assault. Black Americans fear for their children’s safety and their own. Black Americans continue to be subjected to cruel and institutionalized racism. So, for a place that is about acceptance and inclusion, it was time for the Y to make a clear statement. The devaluing, dehumanizing, and murder of black lives is an insidious stain on this country that is still pervasive, and it can stand no longer. It is time that the Y, with one voice, make a clear statement that Black Lives Matter.
As outrageous and devastating as the murder of George Floyd is, his name joins a long list of blacks killed because of the color of their skin. This list is centuries old and too long to comprehend. So why this moment in time to fly the flag? Because as a nation, we can no longer allow the names of murdered blacks to become just a footnote in our country’s history. We can no longer allow “our moment” to slip by.
The Greater Burlington YMCA says enough is enough. Black Lives Matter.
George Floyd statement
A Message from President & CEO Kyle Dodson, first shared on June 5, 2020
I am writing to the Greater Burlington Community to talk about wounds and trauma. When Minneapolis Police Officer Derek Chauvin pressed his knee into the neck of George Floyd for nearly nine minutes, it was a heinous crime and it turned out that officer Chauvin inflicted a mortal wound upon Mr. Floyd. But that wasn’t the only injury. That callous and racist deed delivered a grievous wound to the psyche of the Black community, and to all of its allies. Our nation is grieving. This is a period of mourning and as such it calls for unity and collective sympathy for George Floyd, the long list of other Black victims of police terror and predation, and their families and loved ones. In that sense, this message is a little overdue. As CEO of the Y, I take responsibility for that. But this is also a political moment. And political situations call for deliberation, deep thought, and strategy. This scourge did not begin with George Floyd. It is a centuries old pox that has always impeded this country from reaching the great potential that our democratic principles make possible. And as such, the “solution” will not come quickly, or be provided in one CEO’s public statement.
As an African American man, and as CEO of the Greater Burlington YMCA, I want to express the disgust and dismay that our organization feels about the terrorism that is being carried out in Black communities across America by our nation’s appointed public servants, especially police officers. This is a time for “real talk.” By pointing out that dozens of Black men and women have been effectively murdered by public officials who carry the imprimatur of the state, I am not condemning all police officers; I am just speaking a truth. One only needs to wince one’s way through the videos of how police treated Eric Garner or George Floyd to see the veracity of my claim. If we are going to keep it real, we need to explicitly name what is happening. Police departments are complicit in our racist history. Almost all of our major institutions are. And the Y is not exempt. Many people don’t realize that the Y had segregated facilities in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, and that the end of segregation of Ys as a national policy, didn’t occur until 1946.
But history is not fate. We can all do better. We must do better. And as the leader of the Greater Burlington YMCA, I commit that our organization will do better. Burlington is a wonderful place, but we also have our dark side. It is time that we finally live up to our beliefs about ourselves. Yes, we are progressive. Yes, we have one of the highest per-capita rates of non-profit service organizations of any community in America. Yes, we are where Bernie cut his political teeth. But we are no different fundamentally from our peers across this nation. We are all the heirs of a depraved, cruel—even barbaric—history of one group of humans (Whites), systematically and systemically abusing, debasing, dehumanizing, and depriving another group of humans (Blacks). If this statement and other similarly blunt statements in this letter make you uncomfortable and/or defensive, I humbly suggest that this might be the place where you begin your anti-racist journey. We need to own the horror of our past. Innocence is a facile and illegitimate defense. If you don’t know the brutal and savage history of Black persecution at the hands of Whites, it is because you don’t want to know.
My intent here is not to embarrass, or shame, or indict White folks. I am just speaking truth. Shame and embarrassment won’t change Black infant and maternal mortality, disproportionate police profiling of Black men, the achievement gap between White and Black children, or the wealth gap between White and Black families. Shame is an internal response. What we need is external action.
I am going to hold the city and this community accountable. And I expect the community to hold the Y, our staff, and me accountable. The Y has four core values that guide our work: Caring, Honesty, Respect, and Responsibility. Like so many of the most important things in life, these principles are simple, but their execution and manifestation can be very challenging. Talk is cheap. The Y has to do a better job creating focused efforts to address the achievement gap, beginning with the infants and toddlers in our early childhood program. We need to improve our school partnerships and do a better job supporting literacy and numeracy amongst our Black school-aged children. We need to deepen our partnerships with the health community to improve health outcomes and overall wellness in our Black population. The community should expect to hear more from the Y regarding anti-racist work, and we are committed to collaborating with community partners in the near future. As difficult as this work will be, it pales in comparison to the sacrifices made by our forebears such as John Lewis, MLK Jr. and Malcom X or Chaney, Goodman, and Schwerner. We stand on the shoulders of Giants, and we have a debt to repay them for their legacy of courage and love.
I close leaving you with two trenchant, poignant, and I believe ultimately hopeful quotes from one of the most insightful Americans to ever opine on the issue of race:
“There appears to be a vast amount of confusion on this point, but I do not know many Negroes who are eager to be ‘accepted’ by white people, still less to be loved by them; they, the blacks, simply don’t wish to be beaten over the head by the whites every instant of our brief passage on this planet. White people in this country will have quite enough to do in learning how to accept and love themselves and each other, and when they have achieved this — which will not be tomorrow and will not be today and may very well be never — the Negro problem will no longer exist, for it will no longer be needed.”
“If we—and now I mean the relatively conscious whites and the relatively conscious blacks, who must, like lovers, insist on, or create, the consciousness of the others—do not falter in our duty now, we may be able, handful that we are, to end the racial nightmare, and achieve our country, and change the history of the world.”
― James Baldwin, The Fire Next Time