YWCA Princeton Leads by Example to Dismantle White Supremacy

Categories: Blog

Recently, staff at YWCA Princeton who hold white privilege undertook work outlined by activist  Layla F. Saad to better understand the ways in which white supremacy is perpetuated and our roll in it. Julie Sullivan-Crowley, Director of Operations reflects on her experience in the following letter:

“Organizations in and around Princeton do a good job providing opportunities for residents to come together around issues of race. In the last few years, I have attended Civil Rights Commission meetings, Princeton Public School District-led community forums, and Not In Our Town conversations. YWCA Princeton (where I work) founded the now-national annual STAND AGAINST RACISM signature campaign to build community among those who work for racial justice and to raise awareness about the brutal impact of institutional and structural racism in our communities. We also hold Thought-Provoking Talks throughout the year. The Princeton Public Library regularly hosts race-related lectures and McCarter’s recent run of The Niceties could not have put a finer point on race and representation. Princeton University recognizes and rewards high school students making a difference in their communities with the Princeton Price in Race Relations. When there was a hint that a white nationalist group might march in Princeton this January, police, government officials, organizations, and individuals were so swift in responding that the white nationalist group did not show up.

But something is missing. If you have attended any of these events – and maybe even if you haven’t – the need for more is palpable. Talk of reparative justice abounds, but so far I haven’t seen a road map on how to get there. I have heard on more than one occasion, “I am an ally. I am not contributing to racism. I attend these events, but what more can I do?” but I haven’t heard an answer (at least not when I have been in the audience).

I found a map.

In response to the 2017 white supremacy rally in Charlottesville, Virginia, Layla F. Saad was inspired to create a 28-day on-line, real time challenge for those who hold white privilege, to answer questions about ourselves and our participation in the oppressive system of white supremacy. Ms. Saad’s challenge turned into a workbook on how white, and white-passing individuals, can take responsibility for dismantling the way that white supremacy manifests both within us and within our communities.

Last month, Judy Hutton, CEO of Princeton YWCA, invited director-level staff members who hold white privilege to undertake the work in Layla F. Saad’s workbook Me and White Supremacy. Before we could endorse this work for others, we wanted to be sure it was as powerful and effective as we hoped. The mission of YWCA Princeton is eliminating racism and empowering women. All of our programming passionately supports that mission. Over the years, staff have participated in numerous anti-racism trainings, exercises, and readings. But there was work missing at the core. At our core. And so several white women who had spent varying lengths of our careers working to eliminate racism and empower women undertook the personal work outlined in Ms. Saad’s workbook.

We met weekly as a group (using The Circle Way, the only approved method of doing this work in a group setting) and checked in with one another as we continued our emotional labor. We talked about fighting the impulse to not dive as deep when the work got more challenging; we watched videos about the commonality of the pain we were feeling; we reminded each other that our discomfort was nothing compared to what Black people, Indigenous people, and People of Color feel all the time; we acknowledged the need in us all to continually return to this work, that it wasn’t done and likely won’t ever be.

The work is painful, challenging, necessary, and we endorse it. You can download this free (invaluable) workbook here. You can do it on your own or among friends and family. If you would like to check in with an organized group of people also undertaking this work, YWCA Princeton would like to hear from you so we can host a public group. Use our social media handle @ywcaprinceton and tell us on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram; complete a contact form on our website ywcaprinceton.org; stop by our booth at Communiversity; or email me directly at jscrowley@ywcaprinceton.org.”

#OnAMission

Julie Sullivan-Crowley

YWCA Director of Operations