YWCA Lower Cape Fear is building an equitable community, one race talk at a time

YWCA Lower Cape Fear hosts Race Talk the first Tuesday of the month, to help strengthen social justice efforts in Wilmington. (Port City Daily/Screenshot by Shea Carver)

WILMINGTON — A pandemic, plus social and civil unrest, and the political ire fanning its flames, have affected communities nationwide over the last year. After the killings of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and others in 2020, YWCA Lower Cape Fear responded by reaching out and tackling the subject of racism head-on. Last summer the organization launched Talk on Race, as part of its mission and makeup — which for 104 years has centered on eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting inclusion in communities nationwide. 

It all started on Juneteenth, when YWCA CEO Velva Jenkins hosted a 21 Day Racial Equity and Social Justice Challenge. With an overwhelming response, 700 people deep, the YWCA decided, since the challenge drew vast interest, it could launch something of the same caliber monthly. Its participants wanted more information and resources about strengthening a diverse community. 

“Our goal and hope for 2021 is that the momentum continues, and we have more people support and join in our mission to eliminate racism, empower women, and promote peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all,” according to its marketing and community engagement officer Grace D’Angelis.

Talk on Race is hosted the first Tuesday of every month. It usually garners 70 live viewers and within a few days, the Zoom talks reach upward of 2,000 people. The local YWCA chapter has sussed out its schedule for 2021 and will launch its first discussion of the year on Jan. 12, noon to 1 p.m.

“With the coronavirus pandemic approaching its one-year mark in the U.S., we are using January to tackle mental health, as we’ve been hearing from our community that the events of the past year have been incredibly straining,” D’Angelis added.

D’Angelis, Jenkins and Jhaniqua Palmer (YWCA’s racial justice and advocacy coordinator) consider professionals with various backgrounds and areas of expertise to lead the discussions, to share experiences and knowledge with viewers. Expert panelists for Tuesday’s event will include Ashley Gilmore (Gilmore Counseling and Consulting Services), Susan Lewis (Community Counseling Center), Dr. Miranda Pearson (Divine Appointment Counseling Services), Crystal Pellom (Coastal Horizons) and Daniella Williams (Community Counseling Center). 

The monthly topics always are studied through the lens of race, specifically addressing disparities, power and privilege. Panelists share stories, insight, and how they help their own clients deal with sexism, racism and micro-aggressions. They especially will offer resources, self-care tips and data that help heal the community toward hopeful progress.  

D’Angelis, Palmer and Jenkins decide on questions to ask ahead of the discussions — especially focusing on hard ones that many seem to avoid. For the mental-health discussion, it will center around Black, Hispanic and Native communities, and how Covid-19 has affected them harder via job and housing loss and healthcare. 

“We’ll also be addressing the stigma around mental health disorders, the difference between mental health and mental illness, policies around mental health, and answer questions from the audience,” D’Angelis said. “Viewers can ask questions during the live event through the chat features on Facebook.”

D’Angelis called many of the moments during 2020’s race talks seminal and reflective. During the first conversation last July, they discussed the school system with deputy superintendent Dr. LaChawn Smith, D.C. Virgo Preparatory Academy principal Sabrina Hill-Black, and teacher Marquis Duncan.

At the forefront of discussion was the benefit of positive mentorships leading to educational success. 

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Another discussion on public safety welcomed New Hanover County Sheriff Ed McMahon, Dr. Joseph Jones and local historian Lettie Shumate. They tackled the hottest topic of 2020: defunding the police.

“The tension between the police and black communities were real, and to have the sheriff acknowledge those issues and affirm that his officers are mandated reporters and are not to use excessive force, was remarkable,” D’Angelis said

The communications officer said YWCA invited several people to join that specific event. Yet, “almost everyone declined.”

The YWCA also hosts bonus episodes and special events within the race talk series. Last year’s discussion on domestic violence included resourceful information for folks to learn more about precarious domestic-abuse situations. Its panelists included Amber Burgin (Elijah’s Farm), Andrea Stough (Domestic Violence Shelters and Services) and attorney Amy White. 

“They walked the audience through the signs of domestic violence, the inequity when it comes to dealing with members of the LGBTQAI community when it comes to arrest and their interactions with police, to describing offenders and their mentality, as well as the reasons why it is not easy to just leave and all that is interconnected,” D’Angelis described. “That conversation was eye-opening with the different perspectives: hearing from Andrea who works with victims, Amber who works with offenders, and Amy who is an attorney. It was one of the most diverse panels we had all year.”

YWCA also hosted youth discussions as part of Talk on Race to help kids work through their struggles with virtual school and the Covid-19 pandemic. It will continue to be a part of the programming through 2021. D’Angelis said its youth editions were some of the most viewed panels last year.

“The community likes to hear what our future leaders think and have to say about current affairs, so we will definitely be including another talk dedicated solely to our youth,” she said.

The YWCA will continue to evolve its outreach to be more inclusive with Talk on Race, inviting panelists to focus on people with disabilities in May and picking up the Indigenous peoples discussion again in November. It also has topics on housing disparities, women in leadership and reproductive health on the docket. All of the talks are hosted live on YWCA’s Facebook page — or viewers can watch it afterward on YWCA’s YouTube channel or website.

“Our hope is these conversations will positively impact our community,” D’Angelis said, “which is deeply rooted with a history of racial hatred and injustice, to acknowledge our past, see how it impacts our present, and move forward to a future to promote effective social justice habits and create a community that views women, girls, and people of color the way we do: equal, powerful, and unstoppable.”

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