Oct 1, 2018 4 min read

Durable and Lasting Containers for Growth

YWCA Madiso Acting Executive Director, Gery Paredes Vásquez

Each year, for the last twenty-one years, the YWCA in Madison, Wisconsin, has held a racial justice summit for their community. Conference organizer and acting Executive Director, Gery Paredes Vásquez, described their 2022 conference in the following way:

The 2022 theme was “Weaving our past, present, and emerging futures for racial justice and collective liberation.” The invitation behind that is to be in community with each other, to explore the ways in which we can be in right relationship with change; in right relationship with healing; in right relationship with transformation; in right relationship with mutual dignity and the freedom that comes when we understand ourselves as intrinsically connected.

Not only had the YWCA team woven past, present, and emerging futures, but they had also woven an experience that brought together over seven hundred people from Madison and beyond to listen, learn, share, laugh, and cry. 

The summit itself is a journey of sorts. For that year, because of the pandemic, it consisted of two virtual days and one in-person day for the community to travel together as they moved forward in a common direction and as they shared experiences, shared learning, and shared growth. After each year’s conference, Gery and the team at the YWCA will take a short break, and then they will begin to plan for the next racial justice summit, the next, and then the next. They clearly understand there is not much time to celebrate a single successful event. This is a journey, a practice, each step circling and deepening. The work has to be done deliberately, with focus, with intention, but also with urgency.  

Still, the YWCA team seems to enjoy their service to the community. This was part of the note they sent following the conference. Perhaps you can sense their spirit. I left the emojis as they sent them. 

🌈 Happy Post Summit Week Beloved Community,

💞 What a powerful, loving and liberating blast we co-created this past week at the Summit!!!🔥

🌱 In these post Summit days, and as we are collectively allowing the energy of all that we brought to life together to further root in our hearts, minds, bodies and spirits, we wanted to share our deepest gratitude to each of you for joining in practice, both during our virtual offerings as well as during our In-Person Summit Day here in Ho-Chunk land in Teejop, most recently known as Madison, Wisconsin 

What are some takeaways...

Growth over Time.

Gery was clear that the YWCA had learned and grown through the summits they had delivered over the years. I would also suggest that as community members attend multiple summits, they also grow and deepen their learning and practice. The YWCA, through its Summit, provides a community container to house learning, experience, and growth over time.

Local by Design

Another fundamental aspect of the YWCA’s Summit is that it is not a national conference. It is local by design. 

Gery talked about how important it was to:

stay responsive to what is present in our community, in our movements. What I mean by "what is present" is what are the conversations we need to have? What are the understandings we need to clarify?”

By staying responsive to what is present in their community, they can adapt the messages and experience to fit what is needed for the collective community journey in their community.  

An Opportunity to Model Behavior

Gery also reminds us that while creating the summit, they also model the behavior they wish to see in their community. She reminds us that how they engage with each other as they prepare for the summit is fundamental. Gery shared:

There is no doubt that an event like a racial justice summit has countless tasks. However, the event itself is not the sum of the tasks. It's how we engage with these tasks and what we are centering as we engage with these tasks.

Consistent with that thought, the team also models the behavior of co-creation and recognizes the community’s diverse needs. In creating the summit, many aspects of the conference were community designed or co-designed. This included using local artists and performers, using a community curation team to help with design choices, choosing speakers with a good connection to their work and their community, providing vehicles for and using input from the participants, and holding space where different community groups could process together. 

Relationships Are Everything

In our discussion with Gery, she also emphasized the importance of relationships and individual respect. She told us that relationships are key when you want to accomplish anything or when the journey becomes difficult. The ability to cultivate and nurture deep relationships across the community is at the heart of this work of equity and inclusion. It is an important behavior to learn and model. 

We can remind ourselves that we have the opportunity to model behavior daily as we work to make our community more inclusive and equitable. Are we modeling the behavior of valuing relationships and putting people first in all that we do? Are we practicing co-creation? Are we sharing power? Are we modeling these behaviors in all of our interactions and in the hundreds and thousands of tasks we will undertake to move our work forward? Are we living daily into the inclusive community we wish to see?

..first acknowledge each other as human beings in our full complexity, and then start building these relationships that can actually be a space for practice where actually growth can happen. Where healing can happen, where transformation can happen, where liberation can happen. - Gery Paredes Vásquez, acting Executive Director, YWCA of Madison, Wisconsin

Learn more about YWCA Madison.

Ame Sanders
Founder of State of Inclusion. A seasoned leader & change-maker, she is focused on positive change within communities.
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