Thank you, Nashville and Middle Tennessee, for accepting The Challenge. No, I’m not talking about the Instagram campaign where millions of women have been posting selfies with the hashtags #challengeaccepted and #womensupportingwomen, meant to unite women across the world to empower each other while protesting interpersonal and structural violence.
However, this photo-hashtag challenge did overlap with YWCA Nashville & Middle Tennessee’s recent 21 Day Racial Equity and Social Justice Challenge. The Challenge helped us — community members — address social inequality, reflect on how we support a culture of racial injustice, discrimination and other cycles of oppression, and acquire skills to build an anti-racist future. We ended the 21 Day Challenge on Friday, July 31 with over 2,600 participants from Nashville, the state of Tennessee, and 35 other states for a daily journey to learn more about racial injustice and how we can work against it.
Why did so many people accept this Challenge? We learned that many of us — some veterans in the social justice movement and some brand new to the fight — are hungry to learn how to resist discriminatory behaviors and systems and build an accountable, more inclusive community.
We find ourselves in a moment when people who never thought much about institutionalized racism and its impact are no longer able to ignore it. Social media demands that we see racism in all its forms, alive and active. We find ourselves looking for information, empowering ourselves with knowledge, and craving to be a part of solutions to interrupt and end racism.
The mission of the YWCA Nashville & Middle Tennessee is a bold one: to eliminate racism, empower women, promote peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all. There’s no question — we’ve supported individual women and children by combating domestic violence, making adult education and economic advancement more accessible, and preventing violence through youth development and empowerment programs in K-12 schools and community outreach.
But the 21 Day Racial Equity and Social Justice Challenge held us accountable to take our mission more seriously. Specifically, The Challenge highlighted “intersectionality” for us – a term, coined by legal scholar Dr. Kimberlé W. Crenshaw, for understanding the different ways multiple forms of inequality or disadvantage compound themselves. These multiple forms of oppression, such as racism and sexism, create obstacles that often are not understood within conventional ways of thinking about anti-racism or feminism. Essentially, we can’t undo sexism without undoing racism, and we can’t undo racism without undoing sexism.
To take you through one of our journeys, we reviewed the disproportionately high percentage of Black and Brown individuals and communities facing traumas from the criminal justice system. We focused on the shocking 700% increase of women in prison over the past four decades – the majority of whom have a history of intimate partner violence — and the racist implications of the uptick. As an organization whose priority is to end domestic violence, and whose mission is to eliminate racism and empower women, The 21 Day Challenge helped us take an “intersectional” approach to ensuring we account for all women and all Black, indigenous, and people of color’s safety.
The Challenge was an opportunity to rethink our community accountability, providing a daily dose of information on broad topics including voting, education, criminal justice, and public health. We are fortunate that our sister affiliate, YWCA Greater Cleveland, developed and shared this project with us.
The original 21 Day Challenge was created by Food Solutions New England in 2014 based on the works of Dr. Eddie Moore, Jr. and Debby Irving. We adapted the project for Nashville and Middle Tennessee and shared national and local news stories, videos, podcasts and other resources with those who embarked on The Challenge. All of the 21 Day Challenge materials are found on our website and we urge everyone to take some time to review them and educate yourself.
Reflections from those who took The Challenge revealed much about our history and our knowledge of what’s happening in the world today. Here’s a small sample:
“Traditional American history does not tell the whole and true story about race in this country.”
“Being anti-racist requires awareness, education, and continuous effort.”
“I realized how much I didn’t know, didn’t think about, and how much I have stood on the sidelines with regards to the inequities within this country.”
“The voting rights and criminal justice modules truly opened my eyes. I learned that systemic racism is very much real and that it is all interconnected.”
2020 marks a significant year for celebrating grassroots movements against racism and injustice. We recently celebrated the 55th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act and on August 18, we will recognize the 100th anniversary of women’s suffrage in the U.S. At the start of the 21 Day Challenge, we highlighted the history of African American women who made the U.S. suffrage movement possible, even as they experienced racism from some of the movement’s leadership.
We reviewed the history of voter suppression against Black people, including actual literacy tests and poll taxes that many of our parents and grandparents had to take. We also addressed the various outgrowths of slavery that, to this day, negatively affect the social, emotional, and economic fiber of our country. At the end of The Challenge, we asked participants what they are going to do next. A majority of individuals responded with similar enthusiasm:
“I am excited to get more involved with local groups leading the fight for racial justice. I also plan to be more intentional in talking with friends, family, and co-workers about these issues. Most of all, I’m excited to VOTE.”
In the spirit of community, truth, and accountability, we urge everyone to work every day towards peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all. We invite you to reach out to YWCA Nashville & Middle Tennessee for support.
There’s a role for every single person in our society, as we build for a bright, inclusive future for all. We got this, Nashville.
Sharon K. Roberson, President & CEO
YWCA Nashville & Middle Tennessee