YWCA Racial Justice Summit at
A Space for Diverse Voices
reminded us that immigrants contribute greatly to the health and prosperity of our country.
“It is assumed that because I went to school, speak English and can articulate my predicament that I am more worthy of being here than my own grandparents.” He shared a photo of
his grandmother who provided for him by recycling bottles and cans. “My grandparents took the trash this country gave them, and they made a life for us.”
While the Racial Justice Summit was a conference, it was also the “Swan Song” for outgoing Racial Justice Director Colleen Butler. Summit planning committee member Joyce
Boggess took the stage to share a story about her friend and colleague, one that resonated with many in the room.
“Over the years, she and I would often meet at a restaurant after work, and, over dinner, we go about the business of saving the world, eradicating racial and gender injustice, you
know the way you do when you sit with a friend and talk. You reiterate and rehearse the issues, and you outline and dissect and resect a plan to fix it. Because…in the evening…after
work…over drinks…it is often fairly easy to save the world. At the end of the night, you both laugh and say, “Oh well, we did it again. We came up with the plan to save the world from
injustice.” “Let’s meet back here in a couple of weeks, and we can do it again.” We laugh, because of the anxiety and pain of knowing that injustice and inequity is where we live, its
who we are, in Madison, and in the United States of America. We laugh, so we don’t cry, though we may do both—at the same time. “
Butler would later tell her own story while introducing the final day one keynote, Dr. Shakti Butler, who she credits for helping her find her own voice in the racial justice landscape.
Dr. Butler provided her keynote entitled “Reclaiming our Souls: Narratives of Transformative Love, Consciousness and Radical Healing as Political Acts for Social Justice” and a
moment of mindfulness that provided a healing space for the day’s work.
Day two, which included Renae McNeal’s one-woman show, literally kicked off with an in-your-face keynote delivered like a hip-hop beat by Dr. Bettina Love. “We Gon’ be Alright, but
that ain’t Alright: Abolitionist Teaching and the Pursuit of Educational Freedom” was powerful, rhythmic and never boring, despite being heavy with truth.
Dr. Love filled up the room with knowledge and a huge mirror to reflect the effect of racism on our educational system and young people, onto everyone who could hear her words.
“We are in a constant mode of survival in education. Education has never been about Black, Brown and Indigenous folks thriving. Nelson Mandela said, ‘Education is the most
powerful weapon we can use to change the world.’ So, when are they going to weaponize our kids?”
“We are in a divisive time in our society. I don’t think anybody can watch Fox News or CNN and not see the division. There used to be a time in this country, when we actually taught
civics. There is great research that shows that we don’t just have an achievement gap, but a civics empowerment gap.”
“We moved on from the idea of a civics education to the idea of personal responsibility civics, which is the low hanging fruit of civics. It means to be a good citizen you obey laws,
volunteer every now and then, you work and you pay your taxes and you never ask questions, but we know that to be a good citizen we need that you not only pay taxes and obey
laws, but you also seek out and understand areas of injustice. You explore why people are hungry and act to solve those root causes. “
“The new civics education that we have in place now is: there is a food drive, you get the food, drop it off, take your selfie and then you don’t talk about why this has to happen every
year. What the root cause or the pattern of injustice involved.”
Dr. Love continued to share her expansive viewpoints on education with the audience, including those on the private charter school system and the need to save the educational
system. She encouraged everyone, like the abolitionists, to dream freedom dreams and to take the risks necessary for one another.
Dr. Love encouraged white allies to not just be “allies”, but to be “co-conspirators” in the effort to fight racism. A co-conspirator, meaning to put something on the line in the name of
justices or giving up power and position. She shared the example of Bree Newsome, a Black woman, who took down the Confederate Flag in South Carolina and James Tyson, a
white man. Tyson, understanding his privilege in the moment, grabbed the flag pole to prevent police from electrocuting the pole and Newsome in the process.
“The idea of just being can’t be there for Black and Brown and Indigenous folks. We always have to fight. So, when it is going to be everybody’s fight? That’s what humanity is about.”
Those leaving the summit took away a lot of information, but more importantly, they were able to make connections. Outside of the keynotes, a plethora of workshops were held that
provided more opportunities to dig deeper and connect one-on-one with the keynote speakers and others in the community who are doing anti-racism and social justice work.
As we enter unchartered territory in our country, these moments will be more important in our local communities’ ability to dialogue and take on the issue of racism and its deleterious
effect on the people who live in it. This strong work by the Madison YWCA will be important to that effort.