Leading initiatives to support a Just World

Engagement Panel: A Just World, YMCA 20th World Council, July 5, 2022

By Kyle Kane

“Holding up the mirror to our history is the guide to us moving forward”, said Ryan Bean, Reference and Outreach Archivist at the University of Minnesota Libraries, at the ‘Just World’ exhibition panel at the 20th YMCA World Council in Aarhus, Denmark.

‘The YMCA is a gift wrapped in a burden that is so well connected all over the world’, he said. Many YMCA trace their origin to imperialism and YMCA missionary evangelicalism which has had damaging effects on communities and cultures around the globe.

Carol, a transgender woman from Peru, noted that many indigenous tribes in the past embraced gender fluidity. However, when European colonists forced their customs and religion on these people, it started a new trend that we see today. They created a culture where these indigenous tribes now expel anyone questioning their gender and give them no support to survive independently.

The YMCA has since moved far away from our old ways of thinking and has worked to foster a community that fosters local processes towards humanisation. When children grow up in an unjust world, they become more likely to take on the negative attributes that come along with it. In a household, many children at younger ages take after the behaviour that their parents exhibit growing up. Similarly, these same children will begin absorbing and normalising the unjust world. Without the continuous reminder of the systemic prejudice within our countries, children may develop a skewed view of the countries they live in. However, these inequalities do not exist at just the state level but globally as well.

For example, during the Covid-19 pandemic, so many low-income countries were hit extremely hard by the economic hardship that came along with this. While large countries had the money and infrastructure to obtain and hold critical medical supplies, small countries with lower GDP struggled to buy the most basic ventilators and masks. With little access to life-saving medicine, many parents with underlying medical conditions were unable to fight off the deadly virus. Left without proper care and dwindling support, kids could not effectively take care of themselves. Furthermore, with many public schools and social programs shut down, they were left to find their way alone and in the dark. Without equity, children around the globe will continue to live without human rights and necessities that are otherwise available to other wealth classes and countries.

The YMCA has long been a proponent group that advocates for meaningful and inclusive environments by prioritising equity. From local to global levels, the YMCA ensures that in our individual relationships, as well as in our organisations, peaceful, non-violent processes and diversity and inclusion are respected. As an organisation that spans over 120 countries, we can reach out to YMCAs all across the globe for support and advice on how to tackle specific issues that many countries share.

The YMCA is recognised as one of the world’s oldest and largest youth organisations. As a public service organisation, YMCA collaborates with international organisations, religious groups, local governments, citizen’s groups, and other bodies to strengthen communities and fulfil its mission. With the ability to unite globally and exchange ideas, many issues become easier to address and unite against. When discussing the inequalities and inequities of our countries and what the YMCA is doing, panellist Rocio Solis Vargas said, “In Peru, we do not have any laws that pertain to gender identity. Peru is in the back, waiting for social change; the key to our work is creating a relationship with grassroot organisations. If the YMCA does not have the framework, then we work with these organisations to bring it to the Y. We provide safe spaces for transgender people to be able to socialise with one another and think about the future. The average life expectancy for trans people in Peru is only 35 years, so being able to think about a meaningful future is very fulfilling to these people”.

Bringing people together to promote a Just World is one pillar of YMCA’s Vision 2030. She stated, “If we say that we are an inclusive YMCA, we have to show that”.

David Brown says that his YMCA does this by ensuring that the Staff and volunteer recruitments represent our communities. This also means asking questions and learning from the community rather than placing itself within and telling people what they will do. “Throughout our monthly conversations, we started seeing these barriers that have happened historically, and we saw the politics that happened historically, and collectively we wanted to do something about it, and in particular, we wanted to do something to help the communities that are the most vulnerable, those that are marginalised,” said David Brown.

The equitable communities agenda is how we focus on equity as the YMCA. We use three pathways: Community engagement and partnership, Staff and volunteer recruitment representative of our communities, and Innovation and activation. Each of these pathways is measured so that the Y can show the impact it is having in the community so that we can do advocacy work to raise money and help build these programs. “We’re moving towards being an anti-racist, multicultural YMCA. What I find surprising is the amount of equitable champions among people from very diverse backgrounds”. By putting ourselves out there and working alongside rather than stepping on local communities, we have found many great partnerships and opportunities that have continued to help raise awareness and support for the YMCA’s goal for a Just World.