Last week marked the annual Stand Against Racism, our signature campaign to build community among those who work for racial justice and to raise awareness about institutional and structural racism in our communities and in our country. This campaign was founded by YWCA Trenton and YWCA Princeton in 2007, and has since grown into a national presence, involving numerous YWCAs and other organizations across the country. To get some insight into Stand Against Racism’s origins and growth, we spoke with Judy Hutton, CEO of YWCA Princeton, who has been a key part of the campaign from the very beginning:
Stand Against Racism was founded by Trenton and Princeton in 2007. How did the idea originally come about?
After agreeing that the concept for a Stand Against Racism was an important part of our mission work, we sought funding from The Princeton Area Community Foundation in 2007 because we knew it was important to our thought leaders to bridge the diverse communities of Mercer County, New Jersey. Bringing Princeton and Trenton together to respond to racial issues—which had almost become suppressed—immediately gave everyone an equal seat at the table. Both the Trenton and Princeton YWCAs had relatively new CEOs (Jose Hernandez and myself). We both believed no one wanted to talk about it, despite it being such a prominent part of our mission. We realized we were in a position to take the first steps and we had the attention of people of influence.
What changes have you seen with Stand Against Racism since it first began?
People are ready to get deeper into the discussion. People are more willing to look at their own behavior. People want to take a STAND, this day and every day. It led people to discuss issues of race and how different parts of our own nation did not always agree as to how those thoughts were expressed.
Why do you believe Stand Against Racism is so important?
We witnessed two diverse communities suffer from racial injustice in two very different ways. Trenton, as an economic hub and capital city, never fully recovered from the riots that broke out following the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. Meanwhile, during that same time period, Princeton was slow to desegregate. By 2007, while everyone assumed this hurt was past history, what was beginning to emerge were suppressed feelings throughout Mercer County because race was never adequately discussed.
Stand Against Racism has grown into a national campaign, with YWCAs across the country (as well as other organizations and sites) taking a Stand together. How has that impacted Stand Against Racism as a movement, as well as Trenton and Princeton’s relationship with other YWCAs and the larger YWCA community?
With YWCA USA helping bring the power of numbers to the Stand Against Racism, we have succeeded in our quest to become bold and iconic in this mission work. YWCA USA took Stand Against Racism from an “event” and evolved it into a “movement.”
What was your favorite part about this year’s Stand Against Racism?
This year’s theme: On A Mission for Girls of Color was uncomfortable for many. However, we came together to concentrate on this important issue, and we had Dr. Dara Richardson-Heron’s leadership and clear messaging to guide us. We became laser-focused. I am impressed with YWCA USA’s ability to give us strong advocacy goals and to educate us on the objectives we need to achieve to bring those goals to reality. One of our girls who joined in our demonstration said, “When Nepal had an earthquake, we didn’t say ‘all countries matter,’ but rather we sent help to Nepal.” It was clear that even our youngest YWCA supporters got it!
What do you envision for the future of Stand Against Racism? What do you want to see Stand Against Racism accomplish?
Some of our supporters tell us the goal of eliminating racism is too lofty. Others tell us all communities need to do is “stop teaching it.” We know the answer sits somewhere in the middle, and we count on mindful and coordinated messaging to keep us true to our purpose. YWCA USA now gives us messaging and related research that unifies us so YWCAs are saying what needs to be said as clearly as possible. Focusing on a major issue, in unison, and nationwide, helps us bring the Stand Against Racism to our elected officials and community leaders with clear directives. We give our communities the information they need to make educated decisions that represent us all.