Taking a Stand Against Racism
with Alejandra Castillo of YWCA USA
YWCA, the oldest and largest multicultural women’s organization in the world, strives to eliminate racism and empower women.
Alejandra Castillo of YWCA USA delves into the history of her organization and its fight for justice for underserved communities.
March 31, 2020
Anderson: Racism is described as prejudice, discrimination, or hatred directed at someone because of their color, ethnicity, or national origin. More than just words, beliefs, and actions, racism creates barriers that prevent people from enjoying dignity and equality. Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I'm Tetiana Anderson. YWCA USA is on the front line of the fight against racism, and this year, civic engagement is at the core of its mission to stand up for social justice, eliminate racism, empower women, and strengthen communities. Alejandra Castillo is the CEO of YWCA USA, and she joins us to talk about all of it. Alejandra, thank you so much for being here.
Castillo: I'm thrilled to be part of this platform and to tell you the story of the YWCA.
Anderson: So I wanted to start with the story of YWCA, because taking a stand against racism and other issues is not new for the organization. But explain a little bit of the background.
Castillo: Sure. So we are probably the oldest women's organization in the country. We are 162 years old, and we are the first racially integrated women's organization. The issue of the intersection of race and gender has always been at the core. It's part of our DNA. And I'm so happy to say that this year, we're actually celebrating 50 years of that tag line that you hear -- eliminating racism and empowering women, which we owe that amazing work to Dorothy Height, who was at the forefront of this movement. But I will tell you, there are so many incredible stories of what the YWCA has done for women but especially for women of color and communities of color. We marched in 1913. We had an anti-lynching march. We were very aware of what was happening in the country. We had many YWCAs across the country that really were the safe place for black women to not only to join, but to join together with white women to make sure that civil rights was at the forefront. So this is an exciting organization. It's an organization that is true to its core and to its mission.
Anderson: And so what's happening today is essentially an offshoot of that. And this campaign is for that very reason. But I want to know what it was you were hearing from people in communities, what people were telling you that led you to say, "Hey, we've got to do something new and we've got to do it now."
Castillo: Sure. So we have 200-plus YWCAs across the country. And when you go and you travel this amazing nation and you go to communities and you have the finger on the pulse, and that is what the YWCA does. We have the finger on the pulse on communities. You see what's happening. You see that children are coming home from schools and they're confused and they don't understand, how do you process? You see women who understand also that something has to give, something has to change. As the YWCA, we are that safe place where conversations can occur, where we can mobilize, where we can educate, where we can advocate. And that's why our voices have to be raised.
Anderson: And there's particular incidents that are touchstones for these things, correct, in certain communities?
Castillo: Sure. So it can range anything from, unfortunately, a school shooting. It can range from a hospital that has chosen to shut its doors in a predominantly African-American community. It can range from voter suppression. There are so many ways that racism is rearing its ugly head.
Anderson: So I wanted to get to that, because the campaign is Stand Against Racism. But it's not just racism. It encompasses a lot. And you started talking about voter registration. But what are some of the other buckets that this campaign touches?
Castillo: So this campaign is actually an invitation to communities. Let's address the issue. Let's talk about it. Let's find solutions together. And as the YWCA, we are known as that safe place for women and communities, a place where you can have these very difficult conversations.
Anderson: And conversations about voter registration, education, women's rights. We've got the census coming up, which is a huge issue.
Castillo: Well, we need to talk about the census, and we have a #YWomenCount campaign, because one of the issues about the census is that there's always an undercount -- an undercount among communities of color, an undercount among women, an undercount among children, especially children under 4. So we want to make sure that people understand what the census is all about. And it's about appropriating dollars and apportioning power. And if we don't understand that for the next 10 years, we live with these numbers and that we must all be participatory of this process, then you know what? That child that's 4 right now may not have a desk at its local school in a couple years. So we need to understand the importance of the census.
Anderson: So while the campaign is focused on, you know, empowerment, eliminating racism, promoting peace, these are things that can't happen in a vacuum. How important is it that you're folding in every member of the community on this?
Castillo: So as I said before and you'll hear me say many, many times, we are a safe place. We are in communities. We've been in communities before they've even been cities. So we are a trusted partner. But we partner with other organizations. And that's the secret sauce. The secret sauce to weaving communities across America is partnership. It's making sure that everyone comes to the table. We all have a role to play in making sure that we bring back hope, that we bring back solutions, and that we bring back that type of future for our communities.
Anderson: Well, that's what it's all about. Alejandra, thank you for being here.
Castillo: It's been a pleasure. Thank you.
Anderson: And thank you for joining us, as well. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, be sure to visit comcastsnewsmakers.com. I'm Tetiana Anderson.