Relationships are Everything

Photo of
Image of Gery Paredes Vásquez and quote from the transcript.

Gery Paredes Vásquez (ella, tu, she, her) is a lifelong practitioner and collaborator for intersectional justice, healing and collective liberation. When I spoke with her in 2022, she was the Race and Gender Equity Director for the Madison, Wisconsin YWCA. We discussed the annual Racial Justice Summit the YWCA has held for twenty-one years.

My conversation with Gery was rich with insights and wisdom. In this spotlight, I want us to consider what Gery had to share about the importance of relationships.

Acknowledge Each Other's Full Humanity

Their YWCA values are humanity, community, growth, and restoration. Gery talked bout centering that in all they do at the YWCA.

I want to tell you something. When we were co-creating these values, there were conversations about the order of the values. I remember that for me, at some point, it was like maybe humanity, growth, community, restoration. Then in these conversations, I don’t remember who of my colleagues shared, and it really spoke to me and I’m seeing it in action now that the flow of humanity, community, growth, and restoration allows us to 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. 

Build Relationships Before Action

In creating the conference, she knew it would be made of spaces co-created together with the YWCA as host, sponsors, speakers, panelists, entertainers, artists, venue spaces, and perhaps most importantly, participants. We talked about their desire to grow youth involvement in the upcoming conference and what was needed for that to happen in the most positive and collaborative way.

So, there’s also growth for us there to see if we want to make sure that you are invited also as co-creators of these spaces, what is the journey there for us? In that conversation, we were like “Well, guess what? It’s the answer that we always have.” We need to start building the relationships first. Otherwise, we could have all of these ideas, but if it’s in relationship with each other, that I think the most richness of that can come to life.

Remember that Community Includes Everyone

In their work at the YWCA, they center marginalized individuals and communities, but they are also clear about the need for everyone to be part of this journey toward equity and inclusion. Gery told us that this includes even those of privilege.

We very intentionally center people and communities that have been marginalized and that continue to be marginalized. In some way, not only as people that we serve, we definitely do that, but also as people that continue to teach us about how do we need to serve communities and people that continue to be marginalized by systems of oppression. Together with that, we also serve people that have identities that have been privileged that are committed to heal from that and to dismantle the ways in which privilege can create distance with ourselves with the complexity of our own self and with each other in the community. I think that all of that serves this bigger intention of being really a force for justice, and liberation with the most integrity and the most honesty, and the most love that we can as an organization.
So, in my mind, there are children and women and families and men that are also finding their ways out of patriarchal ways of thinking, and people that are really wanting to understand gender beyond the binary that we have been taught to believe as the only possibility and really lean into more free ways of being in relationship with each other. So, lots of people come to my mind. Organizations too, because what is an organization if it’s not a group of people committed to something that they are passionate about and they care for?

Recognize Our Sacred Interconnectedness

Gery also reminded us that recognizing relationship and interconnectedness as foundational is not new. She also placed this work in context of a long journey across generations. At the same time, she acknowledged that the work in her community, as in many other communities, comes with "lots of sides and edges."

I dream of Madison and really places around the world that can unapologetically stand on the practice of centering our interconnectedness, our sacred, unquestionable interconnectedness between people with all beings and with nature too in very concrete ways. In the ways that we make decisions about the structures that we’re going to have. In the ways that we’re going to make decisions about the policies that we’re going to have. In the ways that we’re going to make decisions about the practices that we will have with each other across communities.
So, that we are very consciously knowing what is it that we’re seeing, not just for this present, not just for the needs that our communities present, but literally for generations to come. This is not something new that I’m inventing in this moment. This is part of Indigenous wisdom from many indigenous nations around the world that have asked us to think not just in this generation but actually in seven generations to the right and back. I think we have yet to understand how what we call “present” is really just a fragment of what is always transgenerational. It always has a connection to the past, and so it has a connection to the future. So from that place of unapologetic possibility, I dream of us human beings actually getting it, and instead of creating structures that go against our sacred interconnectedness in all ways possible (structures, practices, beliefs, everything you can imagine–that whole concept of borders is already just a nonsense, right?) and that we can actually give ourselves the chance to stand on that incredible opportunity we have as beings to actually create something that could honor that interconnectedness.
From that huge view, there’s a long journey to lean into. For us here in Madison, it comes with a lot of sides and edges I would say. I don’t know how much you know about Madison, but Madison really been cited in many ways as one of the best cities to live here in the United States. At the same time it is part of one of the states that is one of the worst states for Black Americans to live in. So, that disparity in itself says that there is something that we need to transform and to heal, so that we can actually start creating ways of being and processes and coalition building and community building that can take us in a different direction.

We are part of a very long journey across generations. There will be challenges and setbacks in our work. It is through centering relationships and our sacred interconnectedness that we live into our community's more inclusive and equitable future.

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