Last Tuesday, about 200 of our Y leaders came together for our Fall Leadership Retreat, an extraordinary morning of fellowship and exploration around our values, shared experiences, diverse perspectives, challenges and accomplishments. We met at the newly constructed Forest Park High School in northwest Baltimore, which is a Y Community School. The focus of the retreat was diversity and inclusion, what it means and how it shapes the Y’s work and mission.
During one of the activities led by District Executive Director Lauren Reyes, one of our executive leaders who happens to be an African American woman stood up to tell the story of being the mother of a grown black son, a college graduate with a good job, and worrying endlessly about his safety while simply driving home at night. “Will he reach his home tonight?” she asked. These are worries that have nothing whatsoever to do with her son as a responsible citizen and everything to do with the sad and lasting reality of racism in this country. As the parent of a white grown son, I am certainly not spared of worry, but it’s not based on fear of him being singled out based on his race. Such was the nature of the conversations we had at the retreat, and I am proud that as the Y we are not afraid of honest dialog that allows us to understand the often unseen or unacknowledged barriers of truly being “for all.”
Diversity and inclusion is not the “flavor of the month” at the Y. Rather, it is fundamental to our work and to who we are as an organization. We will be unyielding and clear-eyed in our commitment to it, now and always. As I have often said, to me diversity is a fact; inclusion is the opportunity that we must embrace.
Another incredibly impressive and important part of the experience was a youth panel moderated by Shanelle England, Community School Director at Forest Park. The panel included five extraordinary students from the high school who shared their honest and telling experiences growing up in a very challenged neighborhood where physical safety is not a given, where resources are limited and where the privileges of suburban life are unavailable. Their clear-eyed stories give you an idea of both the immense challenges they face and the inspiring optimism which nonetheless fuels them.
“I see neighborhoods in the county that have trees and parks and are green. They have lacrosse, soccer. In my neighborhood, Park Heights, you’ve got to make something out of nothing.”
“There are always sirens, accidents, kids dying. In my neighborhood everywhere you go is drugs, drugs, drugs.”
On daily living:
“You can’t stop death, can’t decrease the murder rate.
“We need more rec centers.”
“My mom won’t even let me go anywhere. I’m always watching my back. Nobody at a young age should have to watch their back.”
“No one knows what you go through when the doors close.”
On what I am most proud of:
“I’m most proud of becoming the person I am right now. I’m proud of myself.”
“I’m proud of the fact that although I struggled a lot when I was young (when my dad wasn’t around). I knew that that couldn’t hold me down forever. That couldn’t be what defined me. I didn’t want it to be an excuse. I’m proud that I changed my attitude. I’m proud of myself on the inside.”
“I’m proud of the fact that I push myself to become a stronger person.”
“I’m proud of myself but I’m also proud of my sister.”
On the world I dream of:
“I dream of a world that will seek equal opportunity and better privileges.”
“I dream of world peace and people not judging.”
“I dream we will all come together as one and stop being separate.”
You could hear a pin drop in the room when these young people spoke. It was our privilege to be able to listen to their stories and, as their Community School provider, play a role in helping them overcome the immense obstacles they and their classmates face. I am so proud of the work we do in Community Schools and across our programs addressing the significant challenges of growing up in underserved communities, divided not by dreams or talent, but by zip code and forces well out of the control of these promising young people.
At the retreat, we also recognized some of our most outstanding Y leaders who were nominated by their peers for demonstrating critically important leadership traits. The impressive winners were:
- Accountability: Lana Smith, Vice President, Camp Operations
- Integrity: Debra Barrett, Senior Director, Head Start Operations
- Customer Focus: Angie Smith, Membership Coordinator, The Weinberg Y in Waverly
- Change Management: Michelle Anderson, Membership Billing Supervisor, and Jaime Kilgore, Regional Business Services Director
- Resilience: Dana Ashley, Senior Director of Licensing Operations, Before and After School Enrichment
- Innovation: Sherri Wilkens, Program Director, The Y in Pasadena
- Teamwork: Stanley Hopkins, Mentoring Enrollment Coordinator, Big Brothers Big Sisters at the Y
- The Quinney Award (given to the associate who most exemplifies the qualities of Lynn Quinney, a long-time associate who lost her battle with cancer about ten years ago): Monica Booker, Executive Director, Marketing
I can’t thank enough the many talented Y associates who put this inspiring morning together, including our diversity and inclusion team, the School Partnerships teams, Diana Beeson, Christie Ryan and Michelle Becote-Jackson.
Thanks one and all and congratulations to our award winners!
All the best,
John K. Hoey
President & CEO
The Y in Central Maryland