EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR'S STATEMENT

June 5, 2020

Insulated. Protected. Unafraid.

 

My income, my education, my house…my skin.

I’d love nothing more than to say “recent events have made me…” but the sentence should say, “this is the last straw.” These events aren’t recent, and the injustice is not new. Unchecked assumptions, racism, hate, and rage are not born of recent events. They are born from years of experienced history.

But here is what recent events have made me think: justice delayed is justice denied. And justice has been denied a long time. My privileged life, and the things I was born into, have made me comfortable. And comfortable isn’t my responsibility as a white, cis, straight woman. Especially not for a white, cis, straight woman who leads an organization dedicated to eliminating racism, dedicated to empowering women.

Montana is 89% white. We often don’t see decades and centuries of the unheard protesting in streets.  Many of us have not had the Black, Indigenous, and people of color experience. As a good friend shared days ago regarding a book club reading “How to be an Antiracist” by Ibram X. Kendi, “…the timing is right, but the timing has been right for way too long now and we’re just late.” This sentiment could not ring truer for me in this moment. And I hope her words ring true for you, too. 

At YWCA Helena, we join with our sisters across the nation in dedication to eliminate racism, empower women, and promote peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all. Locally, we provide safe and supportive housing for women and their children, support parents involved with the justice system, and ensure a safe place for children to reestablish their relationship with their parents. Nearly 30% of those we serve are Indigenous. Which means we have a responsibility as an agency and community leader to be better. I’d like to share what that responsibility might look like for 89% of us.

1. Understand race. Deeply understand it. And do your own learning about it. Allow your Black, Indigenous, and friends of color a break from explaining their daily lived experience. Here’s a GREAT list of books to read. Read books written by BIPOC authors, about the BIPOC experience. Our Board President personally recommends "So You Want to Talk About Race". You can hop on down to Montana Book Company who shares in this solidarity and will have a few suggestions for good reads, too. 

 

2. Teach children about race and racism. The Children’s Community School in Philadelphia has done all the research and work to create this resource. And recently, a few of our staff members participated in a class presented by Montana Racial Equity Project about how to talk to our kids about racism. MTREP frequently offers classes and resources to not only teach our children, but teach ourselves. Sign up for a class. Here’s a list of children’s books that speak to race and racism. You can order most of these through Montana Book Company or your chosen local bookstore, too. Conversations with friends and children can be complex – but as a white woman, it is my responsibility to be anti-racist and create a safe space for my friends, and that includes children. Join me in this.


3. Understand the system that is, not what you think it is. Literature, podcasts, factual journalism. Dig in. Women and people of color who are incarcerated often stay in the system for years – long after they’ve left incarceration. I recently finished “The New Jim Crow” and can’t wait to dig into “Becoming Ms. Burton.” Have you listened to this recent Code Switch episode from NPR? Listen and read things that challenge your understanding, and choose trustworthy sources.

4. Give. In #2, I mentioned Montana Racial Equity Project. Giving financial resources to BIPOC organizations and those actively working to end racism is a way to use our privilege. A dear friend of mine runs Indian People’s Action, a Montana-based Indigenous rights organization. Support organizations that are ACTIVELY working to end racism and educate our community. There are some who are giving bail money for those arrested during protests. There was a community push for supplies going to Standing Rock last year. There are lots of ways to give. Find your way.

5. And for more, look here.

What we know, and can know, is complex. It will take time. It will take effort. And simply learning is not going to reform systemic racism. Thousands of people are in the streets demonstrating and protesting to be heard. As YWCA Helena, we stand in solidarity and commit to leading from a place of listening and learning. We commit to leading by representation in our programs, staff, and board leadership. We commit to leading by using privilege. We commit to leading by helping and supporting our BIPOC sisters, staff, program participants, and neighbors.

Will you join me in shedding comfort? Join me in acknowledging that “the timing is right, but the timing has been right for way too long now and we’re just late?”

In peace, in freedom, in justice, and in dignity,

Jenifer Gursky

Executive Director, YWCA Helena

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YWCA HELENA

YWCA Helena is a non-profit organization providing transitional housing and supportive services for homeless women and their children.

Address:

501 North Park Ave.

Helena, Montana 59601

(406) 442-8774

Hours:

Monday – Friday

8:00 am – 4:00 pm

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