YWCA’s Women For Racial Justice Breakfast Brought Unity, Compassion and Inspiration for Social Change

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Story and Photography by BRANDON VILLALOVOS

6:26 pm | October 17, 2016


Community leaders and organizations came together Monday to celebrate working towards racial justice in Pasadena and beyond for the Pasadena-Foothill Valley Young Women’s Christian Association 14th Annual Women For Racial Justice Breakfast Monday morning at the Pasadena Hilton.

“We can sit here and gather strength and energy from each other, but racial justice means actually working for justice. It’s happening right here. All of us need to be entrenched and involved in the struggle for racial justice wherever we are,” Dr. Melina Abdullah told the crowd of almost 300.

Scholar and activist Abdullah is this year’s honoree. She delivered a charismatic speech asessing the state of racial injustice both locally and nationally and offered insight as to how community involvement can produce change that benefits everyone — a main topic of discussion across the board from the power packed lineup of featured speakers.

Abdullah is a Professor and Chair of Pan-African Studies at California State University, Los Angeles as well as the immediate past campus president and current Chair of the Council for Affirmative Action for the California Faculty Association. She was appointed to the Los Angeles County Human Relations Commission in 2014 and is a recognized expert on race relations.

She serves on the leadership team for the Black Lives Matter movement and is committed to ending law enforcement violence towards all people, specifically people of color, according to a press release.

“I want to uplift why we are here. I think it’s really important that when we think about racial justice and why we do what we do, why Black Lives Matter Does what it does, we are inheriting a legacy of black liberation. The black freedom struggle is a challenge for us as black people, but it’s a challenge for all of us whether you identify as a black or African or not, it is your sacred duty to stand up,” said Abdullah.

Abdullah’s main points of discussion focused on the relationships between law enforcement and African-American people in reference to recent tragedies that have affected communities nationally and locally in Pasadena such as the most recent death of Reginald Thomas Jr., a 35 year old black man who died at an apartment complex while in custody of Pasadena Police last month.

Abdullah called for the audience’s undivided attention as she asked everyone to not forget the names of the men that have died in police custody in Pasadena in recent times including Thomas and 14 year old Kendrick McDade who was fatally shot by police in 2012.

“It is our duty to fight for freedom. It our duty to win. We must love and protect one another. We have nothing to lose, but our chains,” said Abdullah as audience members repeated her words in unison.

Keynote Speaker and President/CEO of The California Endowment Dr. Robert Ross had a lot to say about the importance of working with children early on and to move away from criminalizing people and move towards focusing on helping people. Ross has an extensive background in health philanthropy, as a public health executive, and as a clinician.

“I’m a physician and I see America as a patient. How does this patient move past this trauma? Justice is going to come from places outside of Washington D.C. It’s going to come from places like Pasadena. You can’t worry about how divided the nation is, but you can worry about the families and the young people in your community and make sure that social justice and equity is advanced in your community,” said Ross.

“Pasadena YWCA, what you’re doing to provide safe spaces for children with after school programs, mentoring, and counselor support — stay on that path. Our children are dealing with a lot and I want us thinking that those kinds of programs that the Pasadena YWCA offers up is not a luxury for our children. That’s a must have for our children. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to be a part of this conversation of how do we get the real money — federal, state, city budgets — to recognize what our children and young people need in context to structural racism in this country?,” said Ross.

Today over 2 million people participate in YWCA programs at more than 1,300 sites across the United States. Globally, the YWCA reaches 25 million women and girls in 125 countries.

“Since 2009, we have poured considerable energy and resources in developing our tech girls program, our Girls Empowerment summer camp and more recently our Express Yourself program. We continue to asses and implement curriculum that gives young girls and women what they need to be empowered, to thrive in their environment, to succeed in school and to develop into healthy adults who are engaged in their community,” said YWCA Executive Director Jessica Kubel.

“I find myself in awe and inspired most by the girls that are in our programs and I know that they will be the next leaders and innovators of our world.”

The YWCA Pasadena-Foothill Valley was established in 1905 and has long been a pioneering voice in the fight for racial, economic, and gender equality in the region. From its pre-1920 racial integration plan to the early 1970s founding of the nation’s first Big Sister program and the area’s first rape hotline, the YWCA has been active in responding to the needs of women, according to the organization’s website.