On April 6, YWCA Lancaster had the privilege of partnering with the UPMC Pinnacle Foundation on an evening of conversation and community building through their Diversity Dialogue Dinner series. The series, made up of a slate of events with regional YWCA’s, featured a catered meal with facilitated conversation at each table centering on issues of race, representation, and how to better advocate in our own networks to create a more welcoming and equitable Lancaster County.
The Diversity Dinner Dialog aimed to create a safe and brave space to engage in meaningful conversations on the sensitive issues of race, bias, identity and belonging. diversity, equity and inclusion. The conversation followed general question prompts and allowed participants to learn about others’ experiences and share thoughts, feelings, and ideas while maintaining respectful, solution-oriented facilitated dialogue.
Discussion questions focused on a range of topics designed to create empathy and personal connection as we all grapple with how to best fight against bias, oppression, and white supremacy. Groups discussed questions such as:
What does your circle of influence look like?
Have you explored your racial identity or family history?
What are the positive qualities or characteristics of your community? How can you leverage those attributes to strengthen your community?
What does your community need and what can you do individually and together to address those needs?
The need for more ways to connect was a recurring theme in the evening’s conversations. YWCA Lancaster is committed to providing more ways than ever before for community members to get involved, take action, and be part of the movement to eliminate racism and empower women.
Thank you to the UPMC Pinnacle Foundation for partnering with us on an engaging and inspiring night of connection with our community!
YWCA Lancaster’s Center for Racial and Gender Equity partnered this month with Franklin & Marshall College’s new Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation center to train college house advisers on how to facilitate racial healing circles.
It was an incredible experience to facilitate alongside the folks at the core of the Truth, Racial Healing & Transformation Center: Dr. Gretchel Hathaway, F&M’s vice president for diversity, equity and inclusion and YWCA Lancaster board member; Courtnee Jordan-Cox, assistant dean of student affairs and Roschel College House dean; Jorge Mena-Ali, visiting assistant professor of biology, director of faculty diversity initiatives, and Roschel College House don; and Christian Perry, director of diversity, equity and inclusion.
What is a racial healing?
We have been using resources from the W. K. Kellogg Foundation, which defines racial healing as “a process that restores individuals and communities to wholeness, repairs the damage caused by racism and transforms societal structures into ones that affirm the inherent value of all people.”
Why is it important?
Racial healing does a few important things. It helps affirm the inherent value of all people, cultivates a culture of belonging, deepens our understanding of one another’s differences; and supports relationship building, trust, authenticity, constructive dialogue, and repairs the damage caused by systemic racism. It builds community.
How can I host a racial healing circle?
If you have a group of folks ready to have a racial healing conversation and you would like to have trained individuals come to facilitate that conversation, you can contact email@example.com.
What part of theEquity Profile of Lancaster Countyspeaks to you? What do you want to see change in Lancaster County to make sure we have a just future for us, our children, and future generations?
There is no one right answer, but YWCA Lancaster is committed to supporting our community as we work together towards solutions.
Whether you’ve seen the report in our communications, from partner organizations, or on the front page and editorial section of LNP, there is no shortage of energy, curiosity, and enthusiasm about helping our community meet the inequities highlighted in the Profile.
The Profile is not the end of the work: it’s a foundation to help us build a just future together. And because of that, what we do now is up to all of us.
On February 16, 2023, we met with other community members who want to get started on taking action about the Profile. Together, we discussed the big takeaways from the report, amplify work already being done in these areas, and began to plan the next steps we can take as a community.
We plan to continue to hold space for anyone in the community who would like to join this meet-up happening every third Thursday at YWCA Lancaster from 6-7:30. We will be doing a mix of discussion, as well as meeting with local leaders who are working on different indicators highlighted in the profile to connect community members with people in the grassroots movement(s) to create change in Lancaster County.
All are welcome! We hope you will join and be in community with us.
“If the time is not ripe, we have to ripen the time.”
— Dorothy Height
On February 23, YWCA Lancaster had the honor of hosting “Ripening the Times”, a panel discussion featuring local Black leaders across generation, experience, and perspective to share some of talk about the past, present, and future of Black history in Lancaster County and beyond.
Here are 5 quotes that stuck out to us from the more than hour long conversation. We hope you watch the entire recording below!
Click the play button next to the quote to hear audio
1) “We need to let [kids] know now that their voices are important and deserve to be heard.”
“The biggest thing for me is the voice of children we need to allow them space in these conversations, we need to allow them spaces and voices in the conversations that we’re having within our family dynamics. Because that child will one day be one of the leaders of that family, be one of the leaders of that community, be one of the leaders of whatever they decide to be a leader of. And we need to provide them with the affirmation and the validation that their voice is important now, at five years old, at ten years old, at fifteen years old, we need to let them know now that their voices are important and deserve to be heard.”
2) “Disrupt the narrative that we are just trauma.”
“I don’t get the funding because we have African American in our nameBut look at what it’s doing for the community and bringing people together and disrupting the narrative that we are just trauma, like that Black excellence and that Black joy is liberating all of us. So where are the dollars that we’re putting into people in this community who are doing that renaissance? I see it, it’s beautiful, but I’m finding that you’re not getting the money.”
-Dr. Amber Sessoms
3) “Being active in the community was something that was passed down in my blood.”
“That showed methe impact that they were providing to a community that people were living in. And what triggered me the most is, they were providing outlets in the community that they lived in…and as I grow older, we see that drugs is a trait that can pass down through generations, diabetes is a trait that can go down [through generations]. As I grew older I was like, being active in my community was something that was passed down in my blood. It might not have been what I wanted to do, but as I grew I looked back at the people and my family that have been involved in the community, being Black leaders, being role models for other Black kids and Black and brown people, now I see why I’m so passionate about it: because it affects me now.”
-Vincent Derek Smith
4) “What is the narrative that you are telling yourself that makes it okay with me to accept [racism]?”
“And stop and thinkwhen you look at that data, stop and give yourself a pause and think: what is the narrative that you are telling yourself that makes it okay with me to accept that and to move on with my life? That should keep you up at night, but you are telling yourself something that allows you to be like ‘that’s their issue’, because it’s ‘they’ vs. ‘me’. We’re all in this together so how are you looking at it, what are you telling yourself; change that narrative in your head that stops making you think ‘that is not my issue that is a Black and brown issue, it’s their fault’, uh uh. These are babies that we are harming. That destructing of our life taking off because of racism. Literally years off my life, simply because of something made up.”
-Dr. Amber Sessoms
5) “Not against you. For us.”
“It’s a new day.And people aren’t standing back. They’re coming out with what they believe, what they feel, and what they find is true. And not against anybody. It’s just for us. Not against you, but for us.”
Thank you to Brian, Dr. Sessoms, Vincent, and Barbara for being in community with us, and for sharing your brilliance with us. We’re proud to be with you on Lancaster’s journey towards a just future.
View the full recording:
Remember to register for the 2023 Race Against Racism!
Known as the refugee capital of the United States, Lancaster has long been a new home to resettled families from all over the world. But a new report on the state of equity in the county indicates that its residents of color face compounding barriers to reaching their full potential.
An Equity Profile of Lancaster County — released today by a coalition of the county’s civic organizations in partnership with the National Equity Atlas — is the first county-wide racial equity profile in Pennsylvania. It illustrates how ongoing inequities in Lancaster have fueled racial disparities in economic opportunity, housing, educational attainment, health outcomes, and civic power.
“There is a tremendous opportunity for all of us if we center the lived experience of marginalized members of our community,” said Deborah Wilson Gadsden, the board president of YWCA Lancaster. “We hope this profile helps illuminate the stories we already know, brings new questions to the table, and enables everyone to see themselves as part of a new opportunity to create systemic change in a county that is trying to live up to its branding: a wonderful place to live, work, and raise a family for all.”
The report’s findings underscore how a combination of inequities in Lancaster has carried mounting costs for the entire community: The county misses out on an estimated $1.9 billion in economic activity per year because of racial economic exclusion.
Other key findings about Lancaster County, based on the most current data available, include the following:
The majority of the county’s residents are white, but the area is growing more diverse as people of color increasingly move into the area for school and work. People of color, particularly Latinx residents (both immigrants and US-born) and Black immigrants, accounted for 88 percent of the net population growth in Lancaster between 2010 and 2019.
Lancaster’s youth are much more diverse than its older generations. In 2019, more than 25 percent of young people (those under 18 years of age) were people of color, compared to seven percent of the county’s seniors (those 65 years and older).
Forty percent of workers in Lancaster are employed in three industries: health care, manufacturing, and retail. These industries are experiencing high growth in jobs. Despite this growth, wages have largely stagnated or declined for workers with the lowest incomes.
Nearly 50 percent of renters in the county spend more than a third of their income on rent. As a result, these families also face the constant threat of being priced out or otherwise displaced from their communities, while new housing developments in the county are largely geared toward higher-income earners.
“Making an honest assessment of where a community stands in terms of racial equity is a critical first step in planning for equitable growth,” said Abbie Langston, the director of equitable economy at PolicyLink. “This research reinforces that advancing racial equity in Lancaster is essential to fostering long-term economic vitality and shared prosperity.”
Local organizations are doing necessary work on the ground, but many continue to face barriers to accessing the funds and other resources they need to maximize their impact. Over the past year, YWCA Lancaster and the National Equity Atlas have partnered with a broad range of community residents, advocates, elected officials, and civic leaders to delve into the county’s challenges, document its assets, identify opportunities for meaningful change, and outline strategies to build a stronger Lancaster for generations to come.
“This is a vital coalition working to bring baseline data to light and inspire action,” said Samuel Bressi, CEO of the Lancaster County Community Foundation. “Our community can only be extraordinary if everyone has full access and the ability to pursue their dreams.”
“True community is based upon equality, mutuality, and reciprocity. It affirms the richness of individual diversity as well as the common human ties that bind us together.”
In order to create true change, you need to take lessons out of the workshop and into the community. Last month, in partnership with Franklin & Marshall College, we reimagined our traditional Racial Equity Institute to create a new, multi-disciplinary look at racial justice, equity, and how those principles can be–and are–applied to Lancaster County and beyond.
This new, multi-day approach was part workshop, part community immersion. The morning featured content from our Racial Equity Institute curricula, where participants worked on developing a common language and understanding needed to dismantle racism and to communicate with others about its manifestations, while also developing working tools to identify and address racism within themselves and their everyday lives.
In the afternoon, participants partnered with local grassroots organizations that were embedded in this work to do service projects and to learn from leaders who were translating ideas into action on the ground in Lancaster. Thank you to Lititz Chooses Love, F&M Blackbirds, and Nelson Polite Jr. for their partnership!
As our community continues to grapple with challenges from the pandemic, restriction of women’s rights, and the ongoing pursuit of racial justice, we need each other more than ever. Building understanding, shared language, and deeper knowledge around the importance of eliminating racism and empowering women in Lancaster County and beyond will help our entire community to thrive. Through partnership with community organizations and leaders, we can better learn from each other, and build solidarity around our shared future.
YWCA Lancaster, along with other community partners, is preparing to launch our County’s first Racial Equity Profile in fall of 2022, an interactive resource that can help us to better understand not just the obstacles we face as a community, but the rich opportunity available to us when we invest in ways to support all of our residents.
We’re proud to continue to partner with you, community organizations, and local leaders to learn together, and to build a just future.
At YWCA Lancaster, our mission of eliminating racism and empowering women is more vital than ever. We’re thankful to have an incredible community behind us–from organizations to corporations, individuals to elected officials from all parties– who want to join together to meet our mission!
We are proud to update our community on some important recent investments in our programming: these grants, donations, and contract renewals help us to continue to meet the needs Lancaster County, in all parts of the county, and in so many areas of residents’ lives. Whether it’s childcare, counseling, career development, parent empowerment, or community building, YWCA Lancaster is proud to join with you in promoting peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all.
Black Artist Waystation was conceived to increase the visibility and support of Black Artists in the Lancaster community. Through the program, our aim is to be a catalyst for artists who create works that define the movement toward freedom and recognize the many efforts that brought us to this moment. Details about the 2022-3 program will be available soon!
We’re also partnering with the Touchstone Foundation to implement the Healthy Relationship Project: a researched-based, trauma-informed, and age-appropriate child sexual abuse prevention curriculum created by Prevent Child Abuse Vermont!
The mission of YWCA Lancaster has not changed since the 70’s and remains, to eliminate racism, empower women and promote peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all. We’re proud to partner with community members, elected officials, leaders, organizations, and businesses to help make that mission a reality.
Since 1889, since before women had the right to vote, since before the equal rights for Black Americans were codified, and through two global pandemics we have remained steadfast in our service to community. We have been in this community for more than 130 years, and continually adapt to meet community needs until our mission is met.
The following is a Local Voices piece originally published in LNP on July 15, 2022.Read on LNP
We are practicing clinicians at YWCA Lancaster: Our work in preventing sexual assault, abuse and harassment is built on choice and consent. It’s a value we center, and a value that is in jeopardy in our community, and country.
The recent Dobbs v. Jackson Women’s Health Organization decision, issued by the U.S. Supreme Court, has had a significant impact for the Lancaster County victims and survivors we serve. Community members are reaching out to express feelings of unease, anger, fear and frustration with the loss of rights due to the recent decision. Traumas are being resurfaced and painful memories revived. For those in this situation, we are here for you.
The YWCA Lancaster’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Counseling Center has been serving this community as our county’s only rape crisis center for more than 35 years. We have a presence at colleges and universities across the county, offer a 24-hour hotline, provide support at hospitals for sexual assault exams, and offer prevention programs at schools and no-cost group and individual counseling in multiple locations. Adults and children across our county are impacted by sexual violence, harassment and abuse every day, and calls to our hotline are increasing.
It’s a misconception that sexual violence is about lust. It’s about power. When sexual assault occurs, bodily autonomy and control are taken from an individual by the perpetrator. Working with our community, we help survivors determine who to tell and when, what to share and what to hold, whether to report and how best to seek protection. We seek consent, centering the power of choice in how one’s own body is used.
It’s also a misconception that this latest Supreme Court ruling is about “life.” It’s about power. Each state now can decide if an individual should carry any pregnancy, no matter the source, the age, the impact. The right to choose is gone. The power to control and manage one’s own body is gone. Just as it was during the assault.
Pregnancy resulting from sexual violence is not uncommon and being forced to carry a pregnancy under these circumstances feels like punishment for being assaulted, one that manifests repeatedly over time in multiple ways. We know this because we hear it from our clients; it is sometimes a minute-by-minute reminder of your assault.
Following are some of our other concerns.
— This ruling will force survivors to disclose their assault before they are ready or to lie about how the pregnancy occurred. What if you are not prepared to tell your parents or partner of an assault?
— This ruling may force survivors to maintain ties to the perpetrator and in some states, perpetrators can maintain custodial rights. Why are we forcing people who are pregnant to remain in unsafe situations, for them and the baby they’re being mandated to carry?
— This ruling leaves the door open for trauma as a prerequisite for care. Some supporters of abortion bans claim that allowing exceptions in cases of incest or rape protects survivors. Why must individuals have to endure trauma to be allowed control over their own bodies?
— This ruling will disproportionately harm the Black community. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the risk of dying from pregnancy is three times more likely for Black women. Why are we forcing this risk on members of our community?
— Survivors who are nonbinary, transgender or gender-expansive may feel left out by exclusive language about who is impacted by the Supreme Court decision. We know that all people of all gender identities can — and do — get pregnant and need abortions. We serve these individuals every day, and we work to advocate for their needs and place in this movement.
While we work with law enforcement and prosecution professionals, the fact remains that we have a criminal justice system, not a victim justice system. Assault survivors already face barriers to being believed and to navigating systems of support and response. Adding a lifetime of impact to survivors through forced birth is unthinkable.
Abortion is still legal in Pennsylvania, but some members of the state Legislature are actively working to end this choice. It is up to us as a community to make our voice heard, protect our rights and ensure our community does not suffer the consequences of these harmful, anti-choice policies. We invite you to visitYWCALancaster.orgto learn more and take action. Believing survivors means centering their best interests, their choices.
YWCA Lancaster has always been at the forefront of making sure our community members are able to decide when, and if, to grow their families. Abortion is a personal decision. Abortion is health care. Abortion is a fundamental right. And we will never back down.
The column was authored by the staff of YWCA Lancaster’s Sexual Assault Prevention and Counseling Center: Susan Hall, Mandy Billman, Danielle Perez, Yoangelys Cedeno, Danielle Harvey and Aleah Tyson.
YWCA Lancaster runs a 24-hour, locally operated sexual assault hotline, 717-392-7273, that connects callers to free, confidential counseling and therapy services for community members impacted by sexual abuse, harassment or assault.
The following is a Local Voices piece originally published in LNP on May 15, 2022. Read on LNP
It might sound like a cliche, but it bears repeating: Abortion is a personal decision. Abortion is health care. Abortion is a fundamental right.
It bears repeating because there are people, organizations and institutions that are actively working to undermine our community’s ability to access safe health care.
It bears repeating because there are people whose livelihoods — and lives — are being placed in jeopardy by the threat of Roe v. Wade being overturned.
It bears repeating because, while the decision to access an abortion is a personal choice, access to it is something that affects the future of Lancaster County.
It is personal. But fundamentally, we are all impacted together.
And while it may be fundamental, that does not mean it was not hard fought. We are mothers by choice, a choice that was won through the sacrifices of generations of activists and advocates, specifically Black women. It is because of their work so many people have been able to access this fundamental right.
As it stands, this will be the first generation to have fewer rights than the generation before. Unless we act now, together.
Let’s start with some important facts:
Abortion is still legal in Pennsylvania and the United States. The leaked decision from the U.S. Supreme Court is just a draft and not legally binding until a final version is issued by the court.
If Roe is overturned, according to the Guttmacher Institute, 26 states are certain or likely to ban abortion. Pennsylvania is not one of those states, though we will become the nearest resource for neighboring states.
Abortion bans do nothing to stop abortion rates, and disproportionately impact lower-income people, and people and families of color.
You, we and everyone in Lancaster County have benefited from a society that allows safe and legal access to abortion.
YWCA Lancaster has always been at the forefront of making sure our community members are able to decide when, and if, to grow their families. And we will never back down.
Our work impacts women and people of all backgrounds. And this ruling, if codified, will impact them, too. We know it because we live it. Every day our doors are open to community members looking to grow their understanding of anti-racism; parents dropping their children off for day care; victim survivors seeking counseling for sexual assault; and residents who are in need of affordable or safe housing. A decision that impacts their ability to control their own futures affects all of us.
It is personal. But fundamentally, we are all impacted together.
From every metric, restricting the right of individuals and families to make their own decisions hurts our community and disproportionately causes harm to families of color. Denying the right to safe and legal abortion will stop countless members of our community from being able to pursue their goals, contribute new and innovative ideas, and move our county forward. A ban will ensnare the economically disadvantaged and people of color in an inequitable health care and child care system. Most importantly, it will force many who are desperate to terminate their pregnancies to seek dangerous and unsafe ways to achieve it, risking their lives.
The advocacy organization SisterLove Inc. has a useful tool for tracking the impact of Roe v. Wade being overturned. Using it, you can see that if Roe is reversed, Pennsylvania’s abortion protections will remain in place. However, we are a “nearest clinic” state, meaning that if this draft decision comes to pass, then our already burdened health care system will be strained as individuals seek help here. The best, safest and most beneficial way forward for our community is to keep abortion access legal.
It is a personal decision. But fundamentally, we are all impacted together.
Every day, we are privileged to engage with people who are seeking the freedom to choose: whether it’s a new career path, a fresh start from a dangerous living situation or the next chapter in their journey toward healing from sexual assault. The freedom to choose is sacred; one we honor and vow to protect.
YWCA Lancaster will continue to fight for our community members’ ability to choose their own futures and to have freedom over where, when or if to grow their families. We will continue to fight with the women and people we serve and the women and people we haven’t yet served. We will continue to fight for our community’s best interests.
So we will repeat it until it truly is a cliche: Abortion is a personal decision. Abortion is health care. Abortion is a fundamental right.
Because fundamentally, we are all impacted together.
Stacie Blake is CEO of YWCA Lancaster. Deborah Wilson Gadsden is the organization’s board chair.
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