YWCA’s 24th annual Empower Luncheon was powerful indeed.
The audience of 375 at the Sept. 12 event at the Hilton Vancouver was held spellbound by the story of abuse, courage, and a new life shared by Diana Jaramillo, a participant in the YWCA’s SafeChoice domestic violence program. They learned about the role “white people” can play in erasing racism through actions rather than words. And they generously pledged more than $175,000 to support YWCA’s powerful work in the community.
“We are so grateful to everyone who contributed to the great success of the luncheon, from our board, to our donors, sponsors, staff, volunteers, and, of course, our amazing presenters,” said Sherri Bennett, YWCA Executive Director. “It is so gratifying to see our community come together to support our mission in such a compassionate, caring way.”
Event emcee Obie Ford III, Associate Vice Chancellor, for Equity, Diversity and Inclusion at Washington State University Vancouver, set the tone for the luncheon, presented by Columbia Credit Union. “Today we are here to share the life-changing impact YWCA Clark County’s Programs have on our community and how ‘eliminating racism’ is at the forefront of their mission and embedded into every aspect of their work,” Obie said. “Eliminating racism takes a lifetime commitment to being anti-racist. This means we all have work to do!”
Sherri said she and other white people have a tremendous responsibility to fight racism. “I’ve been participating in anti-racist work for 20 years and I’m still learning and growing… everyday. Acknowledging and being accountable for my privilege, especially white privilege, has been a significant focus of my personal and organizational journey.”
Diana’s account of her escape from an abusive spouse, and the support she received from SafeChoice, was moving and powerful. Keynote speaker Ali Michael, Ph.D, elaborated on Sherri’s remarks concerning whites and racism. White woman, author, educator, and director of the Race Institute for K-12 Educators, Ali emphasized that whites must recognize their unconscious racism, reject the reaction to feel guilt about it, and instead find ways to actively address racism in their communities.
She adopted the “beloved community” philosophy espoused by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. as the model for her teachings to white people on ways they can combat racism. Raised in a lily-white suburb of Pittsburgh, Michael said she was unprepared to confront her own racism when she left home for college. “If I as a white person am going to contribute to fighting racism, I need to know certain skills and competencies that I was not given when I was growing up,” she said. Her words of advice and encouragement to whites to truly engage in anti-racist activities were both revelatory and challenging.
Obie recognized the power of Ali’s words on behalf of all in attendance there. “Thank you Ali for sharing your story, calling out and calling in White people to commit to being anti-racist; and thank you for emboldening us all to resist systemic oppression rooted in white supremacy. We receive your call to action.”
Those in attendance were clearly moved by what they experienced at the luncheon. With auctioneer Alix Zimmerman following Diana’s testimony with a call for donations, the audience responded in rousing fashion. The more than $175,000 raised in donations will help empower YWCA programs in Clark County, addressing the racism and injustices that cry out for remedy.