About a year and a half ago, I started researching how I could become more involved in my community –where would I invest my precious volunteer resources. I was immediately attracted to the YWCA and even thought “wow, wouldn't it be great to work for an organization whose mission is to eliminate racism and empower women and girls.” ….Little did I know at the time that a year later they would offer me the job of executive director.
I would like to believe those thoughts were the still small voice whispering in my ear, calling me to this place and time.
In my first week as Executive Director, after saying hello to the amazing staff, I set out to see firsthand, what we do to fulfill that mission. Each YWCA across the country interprets that mission differently. In Pasadena and the Foothill Valley, we have a strong focus on young women in their formative years –ages 9 to 17 especially those whose opportunities and resources may be limited.
One of my visits took me to a middle school where we have our Just for Girls after-school program. In time, 20 pre-teen girls filled the classroom, and happily greeted the Y staff. You could tell most had a close relationship with our staff.
It was almost Christmas and today’s activity was a mission project. The girls were to color angels that would be used as ornaments on a tree at Huntington hospital. They grabbed markers and began their work as they snacked and talked.
I just watched quietly.
About the time most girls had finished their second or third angel, my heart sank into my stomach. Every angel I could see had peach skin and yellow hair while all 20 students were young women of color. Even though I know the statistics, and I have read the studies, I didn't want to believe these girls had internalized the racism that lingers in our society.
Way back in the 1940s, Kenneth and Mamie Clark first did the studies with black dolls and white dolls to expose internalized racism. And over the years their experiment has been repeated many times many in many places. Not too long ago 60 minutes did it and you can see the results are on You Tube.
But I was still horrified to witness it that day.
These are our girls -Pasadena’s future leaders. As middle-schoolers they are right in the midst of discovering who they are -learning to love themselves and others in all our diversity.
We still have some work to do!
So..I complimented their hard work and talked about the children in the hospital who would benefit from the angel tree. Then I asked if angels could have brown hair? It was as if they just hadn't thought about it. One girl up front proclaimed she was going to make angels in all different races. Bless her heart!
And, we still have some work to do.