Understanding racism: young people take the lead for the future

The #BlackLivesMatter movement shows us that we, human beings, still have a long way to go to embrace our diversity and our differences. But in this journey of learning and mourning, we also need to ask ourselves: as an international organisation, what have we concretely achieved to make the world a better place to live together in peace and in safety?

When we look back at our history, we can see that in 1921, World YMCA set up an international commission to make a detailed report on “The Young Men’s Christian Association and the Applications of the Principles and Spirit of Jesus Christ to the Social and Industrial Order and to International and Interracial Relations”. We also stood officially against Apartheid. Racism is not a new topic in our organisation and it was regularly debated.

As part of our commitment to challenge our thinking, we launched on Saturday 27 June the first session of our new online series: “Youth Voices: A Future Without Racism”. This was a great opportunity to create a safe space to speak out, to reflect and to learn about racism. As World YMCA Secretary General Carlos Sanvee said in his opening remarks, “the topic of racism is felt differently by each individual. We are protesting and calling for reform. And the first reform starts with me and with you”.

The moderator for this event was Senait Brown from Chicago, USA. She is an anti-racist organiser, educator and curator of black power and pleasure spaces who is active in the movement for black liberation. She shared: “We need to raise the collective consciousness and the understanding about what racism is. Because to undo it, we first have to know it”. She challenged people to stop thinking there is something wrong with themselves but instead to fix the system.

The four speakers then exchanged about their experience and their thoughts.

What does racism look like?
Mongadi Makhetha from South Africa shared that long after colonialism and imperialism ended, despite democracy, the thinking of white supremacy and black inferiority persists. Elise Knutsen from Norway encouraged everyone to take responsibility to work daily on their stereotypes and prejudices.

 What are the roles for YMCA?
Sidney Edwards from the USA reminded people of the mission statement and Christian roots of YMCA, which are about loving and respecting one another. Jean Belony Fortune from Haiti concurred, by stating that YMCA can be the centre of the change, the place where the human family can meet and be united.

The event was closed by Einstein Ntim from the UK sharing one of his poems, as an encouragement to express ourselves. Then Tomás Ramírez
from USA called the participants to engage in practice and reflection about what we can do to move forward. As he quoted: “Participation is the best form of education”.

Our organisation has firmly condemned racism and discrimination. But behind our official declarations, what kind of measures were put in place?

–        Do we have enough gender equality, nationalities and age ranges represented in our Leadership teams and Boards?

–        Do we actually give a decisional voice to minorities?

–        Are we really paying attention to our vocabulary and our communication when we address our messages?

–        Are we sensitive enough to understand the suffering of those who keep quiet because they feel invisible and unheard?

This is why this online session is just the first one of many to come. Let’s keep questioning ourselves if we have fully implemented a culture of inclusion, openness and trust in our own offices and facilities.


Watch the video of the full event