Barbara Blair currently serves as Vice President Programs of the YWCA Board of Directors, she has been involved in the YWCA Board and Junior Board for many years. She is the former Executive Director of Youth Leadership Forum.
Last week was a big week in Birmingham. As we commemorated the 50 years since the start of the Civil Rights Movement and paid tribute to the four little girls killed in the bombing of the Sixteenth Street Baptist Church, there were lots of conversations. Many contemplated the progress that has been made. Still others lamented the current state of race relations and injustice in our communities. As we acknowledge this reality, it encourages all of us to continue to work towards racial justice and unity in our communities. It brings to mind a bumper sticker that I have: “Birmingham… It’s not perfect, but I’m working on it.”
Through my time as a board member of the YWCA, and my previous years as Executive Director of Youth Leadership Forum, a program of Leadership Birmingham, I have had the opportunity to meet hundreds of kids that are “working on it.” These are kids from urban environments, kids from rural areas, from outlying suburbs; kids that seem to have everything, kids that seem to have almost nothing. They come together with a common desire: to learn more about the communities that they live in and to figure how that they can make an impact. In programs like Anytown Alabama and Heritage Panel, both of which are programs of the YWCA, students develop the skills to help discourage bullying and intolerance in their schools. In all these programs, teens from diverse backgrounds get to know each other as individuals, beyond the stereotypes of their race, socio-economic levels and zip codes. It may seem like a simple thing, but just the process of bringing kids together that would not otherwise have the opportunity to interact can be a powerful thing.
I’m reminded of a favorite quote from Martin Luther King, Jr., “Men often hate each other because they fear each other; they fear each other because they don’t know each other; they don’t know each other because they cannot communicate; they cannot communicate because they are separated.” That separation is still somewhat present today, and the social justice programs of the YWCA provide a way to break down those barriers that keep us separated. The YWCA, through its actions and programs, help us all to keep “working on it.”
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