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YWCA Lancaster launches center to promote racial and gender equity

Stacie Blake

Stacie Blake, CEO of YWCA Lancaster

A volatile year in American race relations has spurred YWCA Lancaster to play a bigger role in working to end systemic racism here.

The 131-year-old organization, known for its annual 5K Race Against Racism fundraiser, has launched a $100,000-a year initiative called the Center for Racial and Gender Equity.

The program’s three-fold purpose is community engagement, education and advocacy.

“What we see around the country is an overdue and renewed focus on racism and establishing racial equity,” said Stacie Blake, YWCA Lancaster’s CEO. “There really is no better time for us to … listen to what’s needed, to learn together with community partners and business leaders, and to lead on these issues.”

YWCA is looking to train more community members through its long-standing Racial Equity Institute. The trainings are now monthly, and fees have been dropped. Participants are asked to donate what they can for 12 hours of group training over three days.

In addition, YWCA will offer shorter anti-racism trainings and will customize trainings for businesses and organizations.

“What we want is for folks to come away with a foundational understanding of systemic racism, a common language and (the ability) to communicate with others about racism within their different spheres of influence,” Blake said.

Research-based advocacy is another aim of the new center. YWCA will be reaching out to colleges and other research partners.

“We all hear broad statements around the impact of racism: disparate health outcomes, educational outcomes, wealth accumulation. But we want to understand literally what does that mean in Lancaster County,” Blake said. “We see these impacts, but we want to have good data to help drive smart decision-making.”

In addition, Willow Valley Communities is a founding sponsor of the community engagement piece of the new center. Those activities include Community Now panel discussions led by community leaders and the monthly Dorothy Height social justice book club.

Jasmyne King is director of the Center for Racial and Gender Equity.

“Lancaster is unique, and Lancaster is not untouched by racism,” Blake said. “The attention on the issue right now is an opportunity for everyone to learn more and understand what they can do to eliminate racism. It’s not one person’s job. It’s everyone’s job.”