The YWCA Madison has been getting some fantastic accolades lately. This past summer YWCA USA presented them with the National Association Excellence Award in the field of racial justice at its annual gala in Washington, D.C. This past weekend, the Urban League of Greater Madison awarded the YWCA the 2015 Whitney M. Young, Jr. Award for “their exceptional race and gender equity work that they do on top of the housing and job training that they are most commonly known for.”

“We’ve been working very hard so, yes, it always feels really nice when people notice,” YWCA Madison CEO Rachel Krinsky tells Madison365.

The annual YWCA Racial Justice Summit is one of the YWCA’s signature events, although they focus on racial justice issues all year long. Looking at culture through the lens of race, the YWCA offers educational training to broaden intercultural and interracial awareness and to improve intercultural and interracial communication through their Racial Justice Workshops.

Nowhere is the great work that YWCA Madison year round better exemplified than at this week’s 2015 Racial Justice Summit which will once again be held at the Concourse Hotel in downtown Madison.

On Oct. 1-2, this annual summit will bring together community stakeholders to work on eliminating barriers that foster racism in the Madison community. The summit focuses on institutional racism and involves nationally known keynote speakers and researchers, as well as local experts and advocates.

The 2015 Racial Justice Summit is titled “From a Moment to a Movement: Building the Beloved Community.” It’s a phrase that’s been bouncing around Madison for a little while now. “The tide of local conversation really changed right after the [Wisconsin Council on Children and Families’] Race To Equity report that was released at our Summit two years ago,” Krinsky says. “After Rev. Alex Gee’s Justified Anger movement, there was suddenly all of this conversation [around race] and a shift in the tone. Those of us who have been around have seen moments come and go before and there was fair bit of reasonable cynicism where this was just going to be another moment where Madison got excited about this as the flavor-of-the-day issue and then moved on.

“I think that many of us are excited that that hasn’t been the case,” she adds. “It’s been a full two years and people are still talking earnestly about racial disparities.”

Two years in history is still only a moment. “Although the conversation has changed dramatically, disparities have not changed dramatically,” Krinsky says. “We really need to move into some deep strategic work.”

Breaking Ice is an entertaining and thought-provoking theatre experience designed to foster better understanding and communication around difficult issues.
The Racial Justice Summit’s Breaking Ice is an entertaining and thought-provoking theatre experience designed to foster better understanding and communication around difficult issues.

There are several focuses of this year’s Racial Justice Summit; one of them is around unconscious bias. “If we’re really going to change this into a movement, ‘unconscious bias’ is underlying so many things,” Krinsky says. “That’s why we continue to do deep learning about unconscious bias and perception and how that influences all of the things that touch racial disparities.”

Another Summit theme will be: How do we take care of ourselves and each other? “If you’re going to have a successful movement, there has to be the ability for people to survive within the movement,” she says. “How do you balance activism and strategic movement with self-care so you can stay in the game?”

Through an environment that encourages learning from and supporting each other in common goals, the annual summit provides a platform for action planning and community dialogue. The annual Racial Justice Summit will feature Racial Justice Workshops that will include diverse breakout topics and facilitators.

The keynote speakers for the 2015 Racial Justice Summit will include:
◆ Rachel D. Godsil, a director at the Perception Institute and the Eleanor Bontecou Professor of Law at Seton Hall University Law School.
◆ Alexis McGill Johnson, executive director of Perception Institute.
◆ Ian Haney López, a constitutional law scholar, a chaired law professor at UC Berkeley, and a Senior Fellow at Demos.

Ian Haney López
Ian Haney López

◆ Loretta Ross, a co-founder of the SisterSong Women of Color Reproductive Justice Collective and an expert on women’s issues, hate groups, racism and intolerance, human rights, and violence against women.
◆ Shakil Choudhury, a highly-regarded consultant, having worked with organizations such as: Human Resources Development Canada (HRSDC), Ontario Public Sector, Ontario Human Rights Commission, and many more.
Shakil Choudhury
Shakil Choudhury

“The keynote speakers are going to be phenomenal and coming from many different perspectives,” Krinsky says. “I’m particularly excited about Loretta Ross, who we are bringing to this Summit in particular because she did a really great job at another conference where some of our staff attended. She’s going to be talking about this concept of ‘troubling allies’ where, in many cases, it is preferable to have a troubling ally than to have an enemy.”

In its 14 years, the YWCA Racial Justice Center has come a long way since just 200 people gathered in what was once much more like a YWCA workshop.

“It’s grown. It’s much bigger. Over the years we have really evolved and have become much more about movement building, structural change, and moving the needle,” Krinsky says. “It’s about bringing all of the best minds in the community already working on these issues along with some national experts to keep moving this forward.”

It has become a huge conference. Does Krinsky want it to get even bigger? “We love working with the Concourse [Hotel]. They have been great to work with. And they are at their capacity,” she says. “So, I think growing the conference even more is a question for the future. But it’s a great problem to have.”

Krinsky says that the overarching goal of the Racial Justice Summit is to keep moving towards racial equity in Dane County. “Whether that means individual people learn something more about how they can contribute to racial equity and take action, whether that means that people who are there as representatives of systems are able to take back ideas that make their organizations or businesses more equitable,” she says. “We want to all think about ourselves as a whole community. We just want to keep moving forward and stay refreshed and strategic.”

Can Madison become that special place some day?

Krinsky shared her favorite quote from Eduardo Galeano, a Uruguayan journalist, writer, and novelist.
“Utopia lies at the horizon.
When I draw nearer by two steps,
it retreats two steps.
If I proceed ten steps forward, it
swiftly slips ten steps ahead.
No matter how far I go, I can never reach it.
What, then, is the purpose of utopia?
It is to cause us to advance.”

The 2015 YWCA Racial Justice Summit will be held at the Concourse Hotel in downtown Madison on Oct. 2. For more information, and speaker updates, please click here, friend us on Facebook, or contact Colleen Butler at [email protected].