Words from Paula Penebaker

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Words from Paula Penebaker

Categories: News

Dear Racial Justice fans, mavens and aficionados,

Welcome to my final blog as leader of YWCA Southeast Wisconsin.  Effective December 31, I will retire making this my final Racial Justice post with reflections about our work.

We revived the YWCA’s Racial Justice work in late 2005, the year following the update to YWCA USA’s mission of eliminating racism and empowering women. It was that year when I thought it’s time for us to dig in and make a difference, to illuminate one of Milwaukee’s intractable problems: racism and its impact.  We started slowly by establishing our An Evening to Promote Racial Justice event to kick off the work.  It caused a bit of a stir as people didn’t know what to expect.  Sponsors accustomed to our Circle of Women luncheon, didn’t know what to think of an event to promote such a highly charged topic. Sponsorships were modest at best.  The crowd was small but very engaged.  The event was our stake in the ground, an announcement of the future of the YWCA’s work.  The next year was a slow walk with book discussions, movies, etc., activities that didn’t upset anyone, but when we hired Dr. Martha Barry as Racial Justice Director, it signaled serious commitment: The YWCA of Greater Milwaukee (then) is going to tackle the topic of racism head on!

Since hiring Martha nearly 13 years, ago, things have grown beyond my wildest dreams.  Our Unlearning Racism: Tools for Action© series started with seven participants in late 2007.  Today we have to cut off registrations and we offer the series multiple times a year in Milwaukee and Racine.  In addition, Martha and her team provide innumerable customized sessions for a variety of profit and not-for-profit organizations.  Their work will continue to grow in the months and years to come.

We have highlighted important topics of the day in our blog posts, touching on subjects including poverty, women’s history, mass shootings, segregation…you name it.  Each has had enough of an edge to make the reader wince as they consider their take on a situation.  Hopefully, we changed hearts and minds.  If not, I hope we agitated readers enough to cause them to vent to others who might be more effective at challenging them to open their minds.

My work has been rewarding beyond measure and I’ll not soon forget the memories 20 years have brought me.  It has been an honor and great privilege to shake things up–if not but a little—over the fact that racism is not going to just go away when the old people die.  It is a problem that all of us must fight wherever it exists and “by any means necessary.”  The heart of the metropolitan area depends on it and depends on us to make the difference.

Thank you for your support of YWCA Southeast Wisconsin’s work toward eliminating racism.

Best wishes for a wonderful Holiday season!