Anti-Racism Work

A Strong Y is a Diverse Y

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.   

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

Anti-Racism Work

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 also see 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 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.

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. 

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. 

Neil Phillips 

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 noted 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.  

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 announced1) 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. 

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.

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 enoughBlack Lives Matter.