by Dara Richardson-Heron, M.D.
CEO, YWCA USA
On January 21, I will be joining many Americans to watch the second Inauguration of President Obama – the first African American president of the United States. This is particularly exciting for me after having had the honor to personally meet the President during my tenure as CEO of the YWCA, and to work with his staff on issues impacting women and girls across the country.
As I reflect on next week, I realize the confluence of events is very significant. January 21, 2013 represents more than just the Presidential swearing-in; it is Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, a day where the lessons of racial justice – some painful and some triumphant – are crystal clear in the minds and memories of many. It is also a federal holiday in honor of one of our greatest civil rights leaders. With the legacy of Dr. King’s commitment to civic engagement, Americans now dedicate the holiday to volunteerism and service and use the time off from work as an opportunity to give back to the communities around us and to make the country a better place.
This year also marks the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation and 50th anniversary of the March on Washington. I am truly inspired by the fact that President Obama will use both President Abraham Lincoln’s and the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King’s bibles for his public swearing-in ceremony.
It is also quite fitting that Myrlie Evers-Williams, the widow of civil rights icon Medger Evers, who died for the cause of justice and freedom, will deliver the invocation at the Inauguration ceremony.
With all of these milestones converging, I am truly honored to be representing the YWCA and those we serve as we celebrate these important civil rights anniversaries and Inaugural events in Washington, D.C and across the U.S.
I too can reflect back upon the YWCA’s long history of fighting for racial justice in the United States. Here are just a few events in the past century in which the YWCA played a seminal role:
- We held our first interracial conference in Louisville, Kentucky in 1915.
- In 1934, we asked our members to speak out against lynching and mob violence, and in favor of interracial cooperation and efforts to protect African Americans’ basic civil rights.
- In 1960, the YWCA cafeteria in Atlanta became the city’s first integrated public dining facility.
- The first YWCA National Day of Commitment to Eliminate Racism began in 1992, when Rodney King, an African American man, was beaten by four white Los Angeles police officers, who were acquitted of the charges. Riots and unrest unfolded across the country.
- In 2004, we held the “Igniting the Collective Power of the YWCA to Eliminate Racism” summit in Birmingham, Alabama, bringing together YWCA leaders from across the country to strengthen our movement for racial justice.
As we approach the MLK and Inaugural festivities, we at the YWCA are pleased to commemorate many proud milestones for racial justice; however, we are well aware that so much more work must be done to achieve the true equality that Dr. Martin Luther King spoke about in his historic “I Have a Dream” speech.
As the President begins his second term and the 113th Congress sets its priorities for the coming legislative session, the YWCA will continue our historic work in the fight for racial justice. We will also continue to advocate for the reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act, including ensuring that protections are included for Native American women, immigrants and LGBTQ women.
As deficit reduction efforts continue, we will be paying close attention as to how these federal budget decisions impact women and girls, especially those from low income families and communities of color. We will also call upon Congress and the Administration to implement policies that help us continue our historic legacy of eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all.
I hope you will join us in continuing to work for equality in your communities and across the United States.
To find out how your local YWCA is celebrating MLK Day, click here.
Dr. Dara Richardson-Heron is the CEO of the YWCA USA, which promotes solutions to improve the lives of over 2 million women, girls, people of color and their families in the United States. Dr. Richardson-Heron has more than 20 years of health care leadership, management and operations experience in the corporate and nonprofit sectors. For 150 years, the YWCA has dedicated its efforts to eliminating racism and empowering women with a focus on women’s economic empowerment, racial justice and women’s health and safety. The YWCA is also the largest provider of domestic violence services and battered women’s shelters in the country, serving 500,000 women and children annually.