Sep 15, 2022 28 min read

Values-Driven Racial Justice with the YWCA

Image of Gery Paredes Vásquez with a quote from transcript about learning, unlearning, leading & collaborating

Episode 33, 47 min listen

In this episode, we learn about the racial and gender justice mission of the YWCA and how the YWCA in Madison, Wisconsin, uses their values to deliver on that mission in their community. Join me as we talk with Gery Paredes Vásquez, the Director of Racial and Gender Justice at the YWCA Madison. Gery reminds us that we must first acknowledge each other as human beings in our full complexity and then build relationships as a practice and container where growth, healing, transformation, and liberation can happen.



Learn more about the YWCA Madison

Learn more about their Summit and purchase tickets. Dates for the next summit are 28-30 September, 2022.

To learn more about equity work in Madison, you can also listen to our episode: Finding Joy in Working Toward Equity - with Kristy Kumar.

Books mentioned in our discussion:

Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds, by Adrienne Maree Brown (Links to my site)

When Blood and Bones Cry Out: Journeys Through the Soundscape of Healing and Reflection, by John Paul Lederach & Angela Jill Lederach (Links to my site)


Gery Paredes Vásquez (ella, tu, she, her) is a lifelong practitioner and collaborator for intersectional justice, healing and collective liberation.

She is currently the Race and Gender Equity Director at YWCA Madison, in which role she collaborates with her beloved team and a growing community of artists, advocates, organizers, educators and practitioners in the co-creation of offerings such as the Racial Justice Series Community Series, YWCA Madison’s annual Racial Justice Summit, as well as intersectional race-based offerings such as the BIPOC Healing Justice and Co-Liberation Series. In her work, she also provides collaborative consulting services for equity to organizations via YWCA Madison’s Creating Equitable Organizations partnership program.

As many Latinx people, Gery was born to families of mixed ethnicities and races due to colonization: Indigenous Quechua, Aymara and Guarani with Spanish. This reality shapes her personal journey of learning, unlearning and healing as well as continues to inspire her work for intersectional justice and collective liberation every day.



Gery Paredes Vásquez  00:00

These conversations here at why do we say Madison let us to co create our values. So we have these four values, humanity, community growth and restoration. 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, right where, where healing can happen, where transformation can happen, where liberation can happen, right? And that’s what takes us to restoration.

Ame Sanders  00:49

This is the State of Inclusion podcast, where we explore topics at the intersection of equity, inclusion, and community. In each episode, we meet people who are changing their communities for the better, and we discover actions that each of us can take to improve our own communities. I’m Ame Sanders, welcome.

Today we are happy to welcome Gery Paredes Vásquez. She’s the Race and Gender Equity Director for the Madison, Wisconsin YWCA.

Welcome, Gery.

Gery Paredes Vásquez  01:25

Hey. Thank you so much for the invitation, Ame.

Ame Sanders  01:26

We’re really happy to have you on the podcast. Back in April, we had the opportunity to talk with Kristy Kumar from the City of Madison. She talked with us about the work that she and her team do with the city and she also gave a big shout out to the work that you guys do at the YWCA and also told us about your wonderful Racial Justice Summit. When I looked out there this year and realized that your Racial Justice Summit (which is coming up the 28th- 30th of September) had a virtual component, I did not hesitate. I registered immediately to join you guys and it seemed like a good time to reach out and have a conversation with you about the work that your YWCA does and that you do on behalf of the YWCA. A lot of people are pretty familiar with the YMCA, but maybe not the YWCA. They may not realize that you do racial justice and gender equity work at all. So, help us understand the work that you do in the Madison YWCA and let’s just talk a little about the focus and mission that you have.

-About Racial Justice and Gender Equity at YWCA

Gery Paredes Vásquez  02:39

Yes. Well first, I’m so excited that you’re joining us at the summit. So, thank you for deciding to come. I always get excited when we have another person join us as a community of practice for racial justice and for liberation. So, that’s exciting. Thank you for joining. Well as the YWCA Madison, we are a 112-year-old organization that is part of a collective history of YWCAs in the nation here in the United States that also actually a global component. As you can imagine, being more than 200 associations, we’re talking about 200 more journeys of leaning into the mission that we have now, which is eliminating racism, empowering women, and promoting peace, justice, freedom, and dignity for all. That wasn’t our mission from the start, so that in itself already speaks to a journey. There were moments in our history where Black and Indigenous women in particular had been advocating for associations to join movements in the country that were talking about ending segregation and racism. These voices really grew and started pushing our collective to deciding how we want to stand and where do we want to stand when justice is calling.

So, that journey led that sometime in the 1970s this new mission was was adopted with an invitation for all of the sister associations to lean into this mission and allow this mission to transform who we are, transform our work, and transform our offerings. I think for us as YWCA Madison, of course, this continues to be an ongoing journey. I always love to imagine us as a group of people that are actively learning, actively unlearning, sometimes leading, sometimes collaborating to deepen our own intersectional practice for racial justice and for liberation. Recognizing that when we’re thinking of justice, we’re also thinking of justice that is intersectional and that is gender diverse and that that in itself is asking us to think of ourselves as YWCA Madison. In areas that we are yet new learners in a way to right. We’re older learners and practitioners in some things, and we’re new learners and other things.

So, that’s who we are in the context of the broader history of YWCA is. Since 2017, we are being led by our beloved Vanessa McDowell, that I’m sure it’s gonna be listening to this podcast. So, I want to send my love to her. She is our CEO in the history of our YWCA Madison the 112th years that we have, she is the first woman of color and Black woman leading our organization. That also speaks to our journey. With her leadership, I think something that we’re being very intentional is to have conversations about what do we want to practice with each other and how? These conversations here at YWCA Madison led us to co-create our values.

So, we have these four values that have become our way to engage with our mission, our shared mission with all of our sister YWCA associations. Those are humanity, community, growth, and restoration. 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. That’s what takes us to restoration. So, every time I’m facing an opportunity where I’m called to restore something in relationship with someone, I’m like, “Oh, my God. These values and the flow of these values are right on because I can feel myself going into this flow, as we become more free in practice with each other.” So that’s who we are and who we are becoming.

Ame Sanders  07:35

Let’s talk a little bit more about what does the work look like for you guys? How does it come to life in Madison? What are the things that you offer to the community and how do you work with and within the community?

Gery Paredes Vásquez  07:48

Yes, thank you so much. In conversations with Vanessa and people in our organization, I think we are coming more to understand that everything that we do is actually race and gender equity in some way. So, there are different ways in which that comes to life in our programming. So, for example, with our housing and shelter programs, these programs are race and gender equity in the sense that they provide access and support for sometimes transitional, sometimes permanent housing for women, disabled people, and survivors of domestic abuse. Our employment and transit programs are race and gender equity in the sense that they are offering opportunities for women and people of color to gain job skills and also to gain access to employment that is dignified. For example, one of their components is their YWeb Career Academy. It’s recognized also nation-wide and for me. So, it was really beautiful to just see the journey of students that are joining and how that transforms from the moment that they start to the moment that they’re ending and how that is race and gender equity in that way.

We have also restorative justice programs. We have a beautiful team of restorative justice practitioners that are really heart and mind and hands committed to interrupt the school-to-prison pipeline in the school settings, but also to support communities to be able to restart the culture in practice. Of course, I’m part of the race and gender equity department. We are at the moment a team of three people. We are looking forward to becoming a team of five people.

Together with Libby and Faith, what we are passionate about is to create learning and unlearning experiences that can support people and ourselves (because we also see ourselves as ongoing learners) to shape our intersectional racial justice practice in a way that can be very intentional; to give deliberate attention to the interconnectedness between the work that we need to do internally personally, relationally, culturally, and structurally and support each other and the people and organizations that we collaborate with in moving through these levels. Because as much as it is important to understand that the work is actually about all of these levels, it’s important to develop a practice to move between self, relational, cultural, and structural practice and understanding so that we can actually move differently. We can move in a way that we don’t perpetuate the rigidity of oppression and dominance. All of that is supported of course by our folks in the development and marketing team. There is a little area that connects us all through advocacy and operations that basically keep us running all the time. Yeah, so that’s a little bit of who we are and what we’re offering the community here.

Ame Sanders  10:54

I used to have a manager who always asked me, “Who is the who you serve?” So, the question I want to ask you is, who in the community do you see as the “who” that the Madison YWCA and your team serve?

-Intentionally Centering Marginalized Communities

Gery Paredes Vásquez  11:08

Yes. I think this is very broad. It’s very intentional in the sense that 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?

-Toward What Change in the Community?

Ame Sanders  13:04

Gery, thanks for sharing that because that helps to see how you view the community that you serve. You see it in a very expansive and inclusive and open way and that’s really nice to hear. What change or what do you want to accomplish in the community? What do you want to see Madison become as you guys do your work and move forward?

Gery Paredes Vásquez  13:31

If I would be to this from a very unapologetic possibility place that can call us to move towards there. 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 we do what 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 in to. 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.

You mentioned that Kristy Kumar connected us, and she’s one of the collaborators that we connect with for the Racial Justice Summit. I believe that the more we understand how we are all needed and how we’re all asked to collaborate in ways that we can bring something different to life, it’s really important. It’s something that we need to make sure that we’ll lean into with the most honesty and integrity and courage, and love that we can. So, I dream of us here in Madison to really give ourselves a chance to have the conversations that can shape decisions and actions that could have us stand very unapologetically as a city that is transforming itself from that understanding of intersectional justice and collective liberation and have that be the journey. Because in any journey, you’re going to have challenges and opportunities, right? What would it look like if we actually say “Okay, the journey is going to be about being unapologetically in the practice of creating systems and structures and practices, and all of that, that are centering intersectional justice and collective liberation?” Let’s see. Let’s engage with the opportunities and the challenges that that’s gonna come with. That would be amazing.

-About Madison

Ame Sanders  18:10

It is amazing to listen to you describe that and the dream that you have for your community and how you see that potentially moving in the world at large and over time–the seven generations back and forward, as you said. One of the things that made me want to talk to you guys is the fact that I don’t always find communities that have multiple, big initiatives going on at the same time. So, I wanted to talk with you a little bit about Madison as a community. You say you partnered with Kristy and talking about the summit. Are there multiple things that are going on in Madison and how do you guys work together to help move this work forward in your community?

Gery Paredes Vásquez  19:06

Yeah, that’s a great question. I think we are in the journey of understanding how we are all strengthened by leaning into collaboration with each other in a way that we can build more community and power towards justice and liberation. So, yes, there is actually a lot of stuff. Many initiatives happening in Madison. Like in any other community, I think that we are leaning into understanding more that the ways that oppression and white dominant culture can show up in our initiatives is thinking that we are competing with each other when we are actually needed in different ways. We can actually collaborate with each other in ways that will strengthen everyone. I think that it’s an ongoing journey in Madison.

I just had a meeting with another organization this Monday, where we were exploring possibilities to collaborate across movements, climate justice and racial justice in a way that is more intentionally interwoven. We understand that these are interwoven, but I think we need to start moving together in our community building and in our power building, so that we can get the best of really the movement that we can activate together. That’s actually a big part of the summit this year. In our own reflections, we have been really reflecting on how this idea of lanes or silos ends up limiting what we can do with each other across movements and across initiatives. Part of that is creating spaces for intentional collaboration.

When I think of justice I literally get just thrilled and excited of what we are starting to lean into, which is intentionally finding ways to recognize each other as different dimensions of justice and liberation and start collaborating from there. So, folks that might be taking care of the climate justice part of these dimensions, folks from gender justice, folks from disability justice, from immigration justice, folks from restorative justice, racial justice, and then again, that in itself is going to be a journey. But the journey itself can only strengthen the way that we can together bring possibilities for something different than what we’re having.

In Madison, I am feeling that there is now more of that spirit of wanting to explore collaboration with each other. I’m excited of where that can go, because I do think that for too many years, in some way or another, it was easier to pitfall into this mindset of scarcity and competition versus collaboration and shared collective power. I’m starting to feel that it’s starting to be more present, and we want to be part of that and collaborate with folks for that.

-About YWCA Racial Justice Summit

Ame Sanders  22:26

I think that’s a common situation that communities find themselves in, where the opportunity to collaborate can in fact build their power, can enrich their mission, can broaden their mission and make it much more successful, but there is a sense of competition and scarcity, as you say. So, finding the courage to move beyond that as a group and build those relationships and cultivate them over time and build the trust to do that. It takes a lot of work and a lot of time and a lot of patience. So, it’s very encouraging to hear that you guys are moving into that mindset, because I was encouraged just to see the work that you guys have going on that I was able to see from a distance going on in Madison. It’s good to know that you have a lot of things going on and that you’re finding a way to weave those together so that your collective work is more impactful. So, let’s talk about your summit now, though. You just kind of teased me again with some things that are coming. So, tell me about your summit. I want to know what’s happening, and maybe encourage our listeners to consider joining virtually, but also to get some behind the scenes information from you. So, tell us about your summit.

Gery Paredes Vásquez  23:44

Yes. Thank you so much for that. That’s totally connected with what we were saying before. I want to make a bridge here, because when we are naming the ways in which we can be socialized or more easily pitfalling into that mindset of competition or scarcity. There’s a reason for that. There’s a reason why, across our history, there have been ways in which the relationship to power that we have seen over and over demonstrated and the lens has been always one of “power over” not one of “power with.”  So, there’s a huge learning for all of us there and that learning brings a lot of willingness to be unlearning the ways in which sometimes we might perceive something as a threat when it could actually be a possibility for collaboration.

In the particular aspect of our relationship to power and how we build power, there’s a direct connection on how that is related to the ways in which we internalized the dynamics of white dominant culture and dominance. Again, they’re an invitation to really be honest with ourselves on what is happening, what, what will be given energy to, and then if we are centering justice and liberation in our practice and in the way that we want to move in this world, then that’s constantly going to ask us to catch ourselves pitfalling into the egoic ways of “power over.” It will constantly happen to other facets and make space for possibilities of “power with.” That’s actually one of the things that we want to invite folks to explore in the summit, because this is the 21st Racial Justice Summit.

One of the things that has to stay with us from the ongoing pandemic is that now the summit has both a virtual and in-person component. Before it was just an in-person component. What started happening–that’s why I was so happy that you are joining t0o–is that when we started developing the virtual component, it also gave the opportunity for folks outside Madison and outside the state of Wisconsin to join the summit and really find a meaningful experience, which for us, of course, was really just beautiful to learn.

So, the summit this year, in both virtual and in person components, wants to be an experience where we can practice. The theme is “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, we 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 interest intrinsically connected. So, that’s going to happen through a combination of virtual keynotes, virtual community spaces where people can process and debrief in a community of their choice (that could be by a particular practice that one has in terms of journaling or movement practice or another creative process). There’s also going virtual community spaces that are going to be about a particular area of your justice practice–climate justice, restorative justice, etc.

There’s also going to be spaces that are available in race-based community, so that we can also give ourselves the opportunity to go into the nuances of what is in this journey for each other. For me, the two virtual days and the virtual experience of the summit, and that’s why we add these components of the community spaces most so much. At the same time, as we have learned in the pandemic, we are in different places. So, we need to find spaces, containers, where we can be in community with each other to further process that. Then for folks that are going to be here in Madison, or that can come to Madison, the third day is about extending that further into spaces of in-person practice. So, we’ll have the whole day filled with sessions and institutes.

There’s an art exhibition and a pop-up market that is about Black, Indigenous people of color (BIPOC) creators here in Madison. Some justice initiatives. Then of course, I don’t think I have mentioned this, but our CEO, Vanessa McDowell is also a DJ, and so of course, we have to end with a rooftop party. So that’s what’s gonna happen. Let me just tell you a little bit of the people that we are gathering, because we wanted to gather an intergenerational and intersectional group of people to guide us in this practice so that we can be in community with these folks that are really just great thinkers, great practitioners, advocates of our time.

So, we’re opening the summit with dual keynote by sisters Angela Davis and Fania Davis, because for who they are and the relationship they have with each other as sisters in practice for justice and liberation has so much to teach us about the intergenerational and the interconnected nature of this work. The importance of the healing part of this work, as well as the structural advocacy of this work and how all of that connects. We just had this call with the amazing Fania Davis yesterday to explore a little bit of what that opening keynote is going to be and just to know that they are also excited about the possibility of doing this in relationship with each other just means everything.

That second day in the morning we have a virtual intergenerational dialogue facilitated by a beloved collaborator we have here in Madison, Wisconsin, Angela Russell (who has a podcast called Black Oxygen). She is facilitating these reflective and generative conversation between Ericka Huggins, Linda Sarsour, Rudy Bankston, and Jenifer Garcia-Mendoza, who is youth national organizer from the United Green Movement. We also just got her yesterday to connect a little bit with each other and have a little bit of a feel of what that experience is going to be. And it’s still in my heart. I’m just so excited for what we’re going to be able to experience with them in conversation with each other and teaching us about the ways in which this work is always intersectional, interconnected, and really transgenerational. Then the last virtual keynote is with sisters adrienne maree brown and Autumn Brown. I’m so excited about this. It’s a little bit of a keynote, but it’s also a little bit of a practice because emergence is very present in the spirit of this summit. Both of them are just amazing practitioners of emergent strategy and of course adrienne maree brown is definitely like the mom of emergent strategy. We’re all here learning. They are considering weaving some song in the practice.

So, I am just loving what that’s going to be for us to transition into this in-person day. Yeah, so that’s where the virtual component. In the in-person day, we are having some featured practitioners. The one that comes to mind because it’s very close to my heart is Kelsey Blackwell, who is an embodied practitioner, a Black woman that is really teaching us about how part of the decolonizing practice that we need to do in ourselves is paying more attention to our bodies and pay more attention to the holistic nature of our bodies, our heart, and our mind, to also be part of the ways in which we can move for movement building and for our power building. I think I went on a trip. I’m sorry, that was so long.

-A Container for People to Come Together

Ame Sanders  32:04

It’s okay. It’s so wonderful to hear about what’s going to be in the summit. I’m going to just pull out a few things that you said. I had just finished reading a wonderful book by John Paul Lederach and his daughter, Angela Jill Lederach. They’re international practitioners that work with communities that have experienced extreme violence and they help them on their healing journey. The book that I just finished reading was When Blood and Bones Cry Out: Journeys Through the Soundscape of Healing and Reflection. There were several things that you said that I connect to their writing. One is that with a summit, you’re creating a container for people to come together, to exchange and to find their voice, and to learn together. So, that was really, really encouraging.

Another concept that they introduced me to which I feel like I’m part of this for you guys, they talked about healing work having both an individual component, but also creating a social echo. Meaning that you deepen your own practice, and your own healing but you also, if it’s done well, there’s a social echo component that reaches out to the broader world. So, you guys with your virtual summit are reaching out to the broader world, and from the people who will be there, they will then create their own echo out into the broader world. I was very excited to hear that you have actually a song or music component, with adrienne maree brown and her sister, because they also talk about how important shared vibrations and experiences around voice and sound are for building community and healing communities. So, I don’t know, maybe you’ve read their work or not, but everything you described made me think of that book and how their practice centers those elements and how they see that working in communities around the world.

It’s exciting to hear that you guys are taking some of those same approaches in Madison. Again, I would just encourage our listeners to consider to join you guys virtually. I know I’m looking forward to it. Thank you for sharing about your work. So, if I just listened to you, as well, I hear you talk about you must have decided a theme, then you tried to figure out who could help embody that theme and bring that to life. Then it sounds like from what you talked about, you give those very impressive speakers a lot of room to design their time, but then you check in with them so that you can see, is that going to be what you need, or they need some feedback from you? Tell us a little bit about your process and what a community who might be thinking about doing this should know about creating a summit like this.

Gery Paredes Vásquez  35:03

That’s such a great question. I have a bit of a story to share with this. I mentioned about the impact of moving through the COVID-19 pandemic and how that took us to have a virtual component. The other part of this story is that it also made us aware of the ways in which we could start doing things differently. So, that was about continuing some of the things that have been done for the gatherings of the summit since their start, which is actually is a really beautiful story too because the summit that we have today with 1,600 people was not the first summit.

So, the department that we’re hoping is going to be five people next year (we’re three people this year) for a long time was a one-person racial justice initiative in YWCA Madison that wanted to start leaning into that invitation to give life to this mission of eliminating racism and empowering women. This was so hilarious to me, because before we knew that the pandemic was going to change the ways that we could gather, we were in the process where we are already connected with a different theme. So, the theme of 2020 was “Centering Blackness.” I don’t remember now what was the previous theme, but it was something else. We had an idea of where we wanted to go to the summit. One of the things that we want to be very intentional practicing is staying 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? What are we asking from each other when we say being in practice for racial justice? Being in practice for liberation? What are we actually asking from each other? What are the relational components of this? What are the cultural components of this? What are the inner work components of this? What are the structural components of this, the parts where we need to actually create transformative actions to make some change?

Of course, the pandemic comes and changes everything. Vanessa always tells us like, “You’re the team of the table, because as a team we’re very good on engaging whenever is necessary. I think that’s key, because when you start seeing the–this is actually part of emergent strategy–when there is a need emerging for some sort of intentional adaptation, the worst you can do is to think that you already had a plan. Let’s just go with the thing.

Our beloved Reverend Angel Kyodo Williams, when we started having the conversation about what the space was going to be about and how we were not going to go ahead with the plan that we had with a different team, it was so beautiful to see someone like Reverend Dr. Williams being so moved by knowing that we actually had moved with what was needed. And feeling honored by that and saying, “I’m so happy that I’m not going to be asked to do the thing that I was asked to do, but just virtually, and there’s no conversation about what’s present for me.”

-Humanity, Community Growth, Restoration

So, again, humanity, community growth, restoration. So, we connect with keynotes, not as the icons that they are–of course, they are our icons–but we extend ourselves to them as the people that they are moving through their everyday lives as any other person and have a lot of insights and thoughts about what is in their hearts for what they want to offer. We have this balance of offering what’s our vision and what’s coming up for us and then offer space for them to share that. Because it’s also confusing, if you don’t have a vision. If you’re like, what do you want to do? These are authors, practitioners that are having so much to attend to and they will like have 110 possibilities for what to say if you don’t give them a little bit of a container for that in a different way. Then engagement and be open for the conversation. I think that that speaks to the attention we have. This has been shared back to us in ways that I really appreciate and have felt very humbling, which is the people notice the attention we have to relationship building, and to make sure that that is the container where we can explore possibilities. So, we are in relationship with you in practice with our values. Then that becomes I think the best container ever to explore any kind of possibility. So, a lot of attention in the ways we communicate with people, in the ways that we invite practitioners and collaborators. This is why I’m so happy when we assured that Kristy connected you with us because we were also very intentional to outreach for for Kristy when she came to Madison because the role that she has is beautiful and it’s incredibly broad. These are the ways in which we need to find each other to say “Hey, just so you know, we’re here with this.” How can we be in support of each other for what like gathers us, which is this commitment to justice and liberation.

-More than the Sum of Its Parts

For folks who are exploring doing events, I always say this to everyone. 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 are we centering as we engage with this tasks? How are we centering every single person that we engage with in that experience of exploring? What is possible? What is the specific part that they are holding on? If there is some confusion or anything in the communication, how are we also centering in taking care of our relationships, and not just going over people? Because in an endeavor like a summit–I mean, honestly, we collaborate with about a little more than 100 people, if we count everyone like the practitioners of the in person, they venue people that are in charge of making sure that we get the equipment that we need is it, it’s actually more than 100 people. It’s a very broad community of people, including volunteers, and all of that. So, in all of that, I think it’s so important to set the tone for those relationships to be relationships that we can be open with each other about what has been confusing. It’s been exciting too. What what needs some more attention? Then when difficulty shows up–not if, but when– difficulty shows up, that we also take care of the relationships, not just the tasks. I hear that back from people that collaborate with us that that is one of the things that they mostly appreciate, that we are very intentional about valuing the ways in which we are building a relationship with each other for collaboration. Honestly, I think that makes all the difference. Whenever we talk about the summit the system of communities that the summit is, right? We have an amazing team of summit curators that are folks that are also in this practice of staying in the ground, hearing what is needed, what are the conversations that are needed to be tended to? They come from very different practices with very different identities, across race, gender, and so on. That makes the summit the rich experience that it is because we’re not just hearing a particular group of people by we’re actually practicing making sure that we are as much as possible, connected to what is on the ground or what is needed. That has also been a journey of learning and unlearning for us.

We are now exploring with this year being more intentionally an intergenerational space. That has also taking us in a journey to start being very intentional, as the race and gender equity team, to start developing relationships with youth that want to be part of these experiences. In YWCA Madison, our restorative justice department, is the one that has a long history of being in relationship with youth. 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.


Ame Sanders  44:27

So, thank you for sharing all that with us, because what is very apparent is that the summit that you have built is not just the sum of its parts, as you said, or the sum of its activities, or even the sum of its speakers. It is an outgrowth of relationships that you have built and cultivated within and beyond your community and that the way you live your values in putting this together creates a very special container for the the event for the people who will join. I loved your discussion about youth and bringing them into cocreate the space as well. I really appreciate also, this notion of not just relating to the speakers as the icons they are but as the people they are and the journey they’re on as well. Particularly staying close to the conversations that are happening within your community and what you know your community needs to be able to explore and learn and unlearn as you say, through this event. So, it sounds like the work that you do to bring that together is also in itself, part of your practice. So, I just want to thank you for that and thank you for sharing that. So Gery, I also want to thank you for joining us today and having this conversation about the work at the YWCA Madison. I want to encourage our listeners, if they have a YWCA in their own community, to reach out to their local YWCA and talk with them about how either racial justice is or can be more of part of their practice for their association within their own town. So again, thank you for joining us today.

Gery Paredes Vásquez  46:18

Absolutely. The gratitude goes back. Thank you so much for this invitation and for the opportunity. I look forward to seeing you virtually in the summit. I really enjoyed our conversation and your intentionality and making sure that this is a space that we can flow with what is coming up in conversation with each other. I think that speaks to the spirit of your practice too, so I want to I want to thank you for that. Yes. Muchisimas gracias.

Ame Sanders  46:50

This has been the state of inclusion podcast. Join us again next time. And if you enjoyed this episode, the best compliment for our work is your willingness to share these ideas with others. Leave us a review. We’d love your comments. Thanks so much for listening.


Guest: Gery Paredes Vásquez (ella, tu, she, her)

Host: Ame Sanders

Social Media and Marketing Coordinator: Kayla Nelson

Podcast Coordinator: Emma Winiski

Sound: FAROUT Media

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