Evanston/North Shore

In Other Words: YWCA Blog

Evanston Swims!: A Success Story from All Angles

Nancy E. Anderson
Communications Strategist and Swim Coach
YWCA Evanston/North Shore
Posted March 1, 2018

Mary Miller, who coordinates Evanston Swims! as a staffer at YWCA Evanston/North Shore, is passionate about teaching kids to swim. She has a long list of reasons why, but she began with the story of Donovan, a second grader at Oakton School.

“Donovan started with Evanston Swims! in September. He was so timid then, so hesitant to get in the water,” she said. “But by December, I could really see progress. I was on the bus with him riding back to Oakton after that session, and I told him I was really proud of him.”

According to Mary, Donovan looked at her quizzically and asked why.

“I told him it takes courage to try new things and do things that make you uncomfortable,” she said. “He was so nervous in the beginning, but he now he was getting in the water and making real progress.

“He started beaming,” she said. “In that moment, I think he understood that he was confronting something challenging, and he was succeeding.”

Donovan is one of nearly 300 Evanston second graders who are participating in Evanston Swims! this year. The program is a partnership between YWCA Evanston/North Shore, McGaw YMCA, Evanston/Skokie School District 65, the U.S. Coast Guard Auxiliary, and collaborators throughout the community.

Through the Evanston Swims! program, second graders in District 65 receive free swim lessons and water safety instruction during the school year.

A lofty idea at first

Evanston Swims! began as a lofty idea in 2011. It emerged from the “Evanston 150” project in celebration of Evanston’s 150th anniversary. As part of the project, Evanstonians brainstormed their top goals for the future, and “swimming lessons for all Evanston children” was high on the list.

By 2012, this “future goal” took shape as a pilot program focused, above all, on water safety. The pilot worked, and in the fall of 2013, the program was officially launched.

“By the end of this year, we will have reached almost 1,500 kids since the program’s inception,” said Mary. “We’re really making an impact when it comes to water safety. This is particularly important since we live in a lakeside community.”

Like a barn raising

Mary likened Evanston Swims! to a barn raising, something that only happens because so many people pitch in. For example, District 65 provides buses. YWCA and YMCA provide pool space and professional instructors. Three Crowns Park and Presbyterian Homes also provide pool space. The Coast Guard Auxiliary offers expanded water safety instruction. The Great Lake Plunge open-water swim raises funds. And a host of additional swim instructors come from parents, local Masters swimmers, District 65 middle schoolers, and others who want to be involved.

“The impact of Evanston Swims! goes beyond teaching kids to swim,” said Mary. “We’re also offering a venue for people to serve. This program gives a lot of people a sense of purpose and a way to contribute to the community.”

Henry Clay-Barbour, an eighth grader at Chute Middle School, is one such contributor. He’s in his third year as an Evanston Swims! instructor.

“I don’t have much else to do on half days, so why not do this? I love the kids and get to see them have positive experiences. I want to do it as long as I can because it’s really rewarding,” he said.

Honoring a special man

Kids like Donovan. Water safety. Community. Mary Miller has a lot of reasons for championing Evanston Swims!. But perhaps the most important reason is her commitment to the memory of her friend, Oswald Roper. Oswald (“Oz”), who died in 2013, was a longtime swim coach and instructor in YWCA Evanston/North Shore’s Flying Fish aquatics program.

“Oswald always thought his legacy was going to be music,” said Mary. “He was a well-known musician in Jamaica, where he was from originally. But I think his real legacy is swimming and the number of North Shore kids who learned to swim because of him.”

By coordinating Evanston Swims!, Mary believes she’s honoring Oswald’s wishes. “In his last months, Oswald was so excited about Evanston Swims!,” she said. “So there’s a little piece of me that’s promoting what Oz cared about, and in that way, he lives on. And his legacy lives on.” You can read Oswald's story here.

How to support Evanston Swims! and aquatics at YWCA

If you’d like to learn more or volunteer. visit the Evanston Swims! website at www.ywca.org/evanstonswims. You also can contact Mary Miller directly via email at evanstonswims@gmail.com.

If you’d like to give children who can’t afford swim lessons or competitive swimming access to these programs at YWCA Evanston/North Shore, you can give to the Oz Fund, which was established in honor of Oswald Roper’s extraordinary commitment to swimming and young people. Go to www.ywca.org/evanstongive and choose the Oz Fund on the gift designation menu. 

When are we called to speak up about racism?

by Eileen Hogan Heineman, Director of Racial Justice Programs
Posted February 1, 2018

Racial Justice Program Director Eileen Hogan Heineman was invited to preach at St. Nicholas Church in Evanston on Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. The following is an edited version of her remarks.

St. Nicholas Parish typically invites an African American to preach for Martin Luther King weekend. I am not Black, so you might be wondering why I am up here as the speaker. It seems to me that for too long, our society has acted as if people of color are the only ones who have anything to do or say about race. That belief has made it easier for the rest of us to just ignore the topic, or at least keep it arm’s length.

When are we called to speak up about racism? When have we seen others step up, into a “race conversation”, in ways that modeled a positive response from an ally? Here’s how I came to know that my history and African-American history were inextricably intertwined.

One of the first witnesses of this for me was my mother. I grew up in a completely white, mostly Irish, heavily Catholic neighborhood on the south side of Chicago, where the biggest “difference” that we ever talked about was whether someone was Catholic or “public”. That’s how we defined each other, and those were the two major groups. The publics (people who went to public school rather than Catholic) were “others”. I was one of those people who grew up so unaware of other differences, that if someone talked about a person being Jewish, I thought that meant they had been born in Jerusalem. Irish meant from Ireland, so Jewish must mean from Jerusalem, right? That’s how myopic my vision was.

But when I was in 6th or 7th grade, a neighbor came to our door with clipboard in hand, asking if my mother would take a shift the next day at the local public school. This was our across the street neighbor, member of our parish, mother of a few kids. My mother said, “Ethel, what are you talking about?” And this neighbor said, “Tomorrow is when they’re busing those “kids” to OUR public school. (I’m pretty sure she used the n-word, rather than kids.) We need to be there to tell them to go back to where they belong.”

And my mother, who was the mother of eight kids, a go-with-the-flow sort of person, said to her, “Please do NOT go to that school tomorrow. And please do not think that I would ever welcome you asking to do something like this again.” It was so surprising that my mother would talk like that to another adult. That was a tone and message usually directed to us kids, and she was using it on her peer. I didn’t fully understand what was going on between them. I DID know that Black students were being brought to this incredibly white, incredibly racist neighborhood, and I didn’t know exactly why. There was lots of talk in those days about busing, but it sure seemed unconnected to our neighborhood.

The next day, I saw neighbors on the television news, part of an angry group (some would call it a mob) outside of Mt. Greenwood School, where my siblings and I had attended kindergarten, before entering our local Catholic school. The people on our TV screen were screaming - and spitting! - at the seven students, who I think were 7th graders, as they arrived to start in their new school that winter day. What I remember to this day is their faces, filled with hatred, with an ugliness I had never seen before. These were grown people, most of them 1960’s stay at home moms, and they were spitting at children! These were women who went to church on Sunday, spitting at someone else’s children on Tuesday. 

My parents were appalled. They were actively involved with a social action program that was very popular in Catholic parishes during that time. Many adults in the parish were in these CFM groups that met monthly to study, then act on issues of social justice. My parents’ group was studying the question “What would it take to be welcoming, if people who are different from us moved into our neighborhood?” The people being referred to were black people, who were beginning to move west from their crowded neighborhoods east of the relatively new Dan Ryan Expressway.

Most people in our neighborhood were not looking for change, and not interested in welcoming anyone who was not white. Part of the soundtrack of my growing up was people saying, “They better not cross the Dan Ryan!” and “Well, they’ve crossed the Dan Ryan, but they surely won’t cross Halsted”, and then it was Ashland. Of course, “THEY” were black people. This was common talk for adults in my community, even though I’d venture to guess that most of the people saying this had never had a conversation with a black person in their lives. They were filled with fear of something with which they had no experience.

My parents’ CFM group was saying, “Let’s talk about what it would be like if our parish did figure out what it meant to be welcoming to black people.” They weren’t at all sure what that meant – or even if it was a good idea. Since our city was so profoundly segregated, they didn’t have many models of what successful integration would look like. When the pastor found out what question they were discussing, his response was, “You’re not to talk about that question, and if that’s the direction your group is headed, then you are not meeting on parish property.”

My parents and the others in their group were dedicated, involved parishioners. But this pastor wanted it to be clear: if they were going to talk as if they were encouraging people to explore what was the right thing to do, they weren’t going to do it on HIS property.  

So, there I was, 13 or 14 years old, having another defining moment: hearing that story, knowing that his response was wrong, and knowing too that there was something in there for me to understand.

Then Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. Although his public protests were not something my parents were used to, or would even necessarily support, my parents respected Dr. King’s message. And when Dr. King walked through Marquette Park in the summer of 1966 to highlight the racist real estate practices in the area, my father was one of the white people who went to create a line of white people standing between Dr. King’s path and the MANY white people who would be there to protest his visit, and possibly to cause harm. 

My sister Katy, who at the time of MLK’s death was a high school senior, was also very involved in racial justice issues, and King was a hero of hers. She was part of a citywide group of Catholic high school students who called themselves Operation B.U.S., for Better Understanding among Students, and referring to the school busing programs that were further tearing the city apart. These students were breaking lots of barriers: crossing the south, north and west sides, white and black students, meeting together to talk about how they might do better than their parents had, at learning how to get along across racial differences. As a high school freshman, I wanted to be as smart, brave and socially aware as they were. They were prophets for me, although I wouldn’t have known to use that word at the time.

The morning after Rev. King was killed, we did what families like ours always did when something terrible (or wonderful) had happened: we went to morning mass before going to school. When mass was over, my sister was crying, and that same pastor said, “Why are you so upset?” and she responded, “Father, Dr. King is dead, the west side is on fire and police are shooting people!” She was distraught. His response? “Oh, you don’t need to worry about that. We’ll just let them shoot and burn each other out.” 

So these conflicting messages were in my head: “Let’s talk about what it would be like to be welcoming” and “Let’s get to know other students around the city” vs. “That conversation isn’t welcome here” and “You don’t need to worry about them.” It was easy to tell which voices were right, but confusing too, because grown-ups were supposed to tell the right messages, and I knew that this issue of race was huge in our lives, and some people were really right about it and some people were really wrong. And yet, some people who were really wrong about it were people I loved and/or people I was supposed to respect.

And what much of white society decided at that time, was that we couldn’t really talk about any of this very well. So the message was clear: race was something that was always at arm’s length, but not inside us, and not about us, only about “them”.
Fast forward to 1992. I was an elementary school principal in Edgewater, and the Catholic schools in the area began talks toward consolidating the schools, trying to be proactive, so the smaller schools would not just close, one by one, as their enrollments declined. This was not a popular idea with many of the school parents and parish families! Tradition, turf, “we’ve always done it this way” – all of that was in the mix. No one wanted their school building to be one that closed. This had happened here in Evanston in the 80s, when Pope John XXIII School was created out of the merger of St. Nicholas & St. Mary Schools. Evanston experienced some of the same issues and discussions because of folks not wanting things to change.

But added to the talks in Edgewater and Rogers Park was the issue of race. Not that folks said that word out loud. (Remember, race isn’t about people who look like me – it’s about those “others”.) But letters to the editor in local papers said things like: “Consolidating these schools is a terrible idea. If our kids are going to school with the kids from these other schools, the curriculum will be watered down.” These were code words, meaning that if my white child is going to go to school with the kids of color from other parishes (who we know are not as smart as “our” kids), the academic level will decrease. There were many more ugly letters, all coming from that same way of thinking – fear of the unknown, built on the foundation of very well-organized segregation. Again, very few of those writing the letters knew any of the families or students about whom they were assuming things, but that did not matter.

Those who were willing to step into the discussion and say, “This is the right thing to do, so we’re going to figure out how to do it” were heard. A new school, Northside Catholic Academy, was created. Yes, some families fled, sending their kids to schools where the curriculum would stay strong (code switch: “whiter schools”). But NCA’s curriculum wasn’t watered down and the school is now in its 23rd year, serving over 500 students.

Fast forward to 2011. I had become Director of Racial Justice Programs at YWCA Evanston/ North Shore, just as ETHS Superintendent Eric Witherspoon announced that the high school was truly going to address the achievement gap that exists between white kids and kids of color at the high school, which had been talked about for decades, but hadn’t changed. The plan was to really study what had to be done differently in order to level the playing field, so students of color would have just as much access to Honors and Advanced Placement level classes as the white students.

I began hearing echoes of the community outrage I had heard in Rogers Park: “This program is going to mean that some other student might take MY child’s spot in an Honors or AP class!” These words of white entitlement sounded just as bad as they always have. 

There were strong voices saying, “This isn’t fair!” and “My child’s education is going to suffer!” Fortunately, equally strong voices said, “Actually, it does seem fair, giving all the qualified kids equal access.” and “It doesn’t mean that there won’t be room for everyone, but it does mean there will be room for students who were never given the access before.”

As both an educator and a community activist, I have tremendous respect for Dr. Witherspoon. He did not have to commit himself to the razor-sharp focus he has placed on solving this problem. He did not have to say, “I am dedicated to changing our structures, so that students have the same access to these top level courses, and are better prepared to succeed in them.” When unjust structures are changed to be more equitable, that allows everyone a better chance to live out their full potential.

You see, the thing about speaking up for what it right, is that we are ALL called to do it. And being called to do what is right is our ongoing state, not something that happens and then it is over. We ARE called; not we WERE called. We are called right now, in this moment, and we will still be called tomorrow and ten years from now. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr understood that call. His call to be a minister wasn’t finished when he was ordained. Every day, every month, he had to determine how to live that call.

In the years since King’s death, many in our society defined who he had been by focusing only on his work for racial justice; some even criticized him saying, “He only cares about Black people.” That ignores the fact that Dr. King had spent his ministry trying to show how our country’s economic structures, housing policies, national spending on wars, are all part of the systemic support of inequity. In a 1967 speech, King said, “The time has come for us to civilize ourselves by the total, direct and immediate abolition of poverty” and “The government needs to make sure every American had a reasonable income.”

That was 51 years ago. Just recently, I heard a TED talk with that same idea being discussed: that our country could afford to provide a basic income to all citizens, in order to eliminate poverty. We ARE called to eliminate poverty. But do we have the will to do it? Can we let go of the notions we might have had that things are working fine?

Making the systemic changes necessary to create equity means changing the questions we ask; so it’s not simply a matter of “How does this affect me – and people who look like me?”, but “How does this affect everyone? How does it affect all of us as part of humanity?” “How can we make this good for everyone?” This requires a change. 

Growing up, a phrase frequently heard from parents, teachers, all adults was “Use your common sense.” Immediately, the person being spoken to knew what this meant. Common sense implied doing what made the most sense for everyone, for the community, in any situation. But common sense has fallen out of favor, because if we’re thinking about what’s good for everyone, it might mean giving up a little of what I’ve come to expect as mine.

No matter our fears, that would not be the end of the world. As a matter of fact, it would be the beginning of creating “the beloved community”.

I am called. You are called. As a community, we are called – and we have many guides. Dr. Martin Luther King gave many powerful speeches, but it seems that about 90% of what we ever hear is his I Have a Dream speech, and even that is just a small part of the entire talk he gave that day. I encourage you to listen to that whole speech, or his powerful address about the Vietnam War to the Riverside Church, given exactly one year before his murder. Read his Letter from Birmingham Jail or his 1964 Nobel Peace Prize Acceptance speech, in which he said, “There is nothing new about poverty. What is new, however, is that we have the resources to get rid of it.” And “The rich nations must use their vast resources of wealth to develop the underdeveloped, school the unschooled, and feed the unfed. Ultimately a great nation is a compassionate nation. No individual or nation can be great if it does not have a concern for ‘the least of these.’” 

Martin Luther King Jr. was called. WE are called. 

And our answer to the call has to be YES.

Six ways to help someone in an abusive relationship

October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and research shows that at least 60 percent of us know a victim of domestic abuse. But what can we do to help? Sandy T. Williams, domestic violence residential and community services director at YWCA Evanston/North Shore, offered these suggestions:

  1. Listen. If someone is confiding in you, resist the urge to have all the answers. Validate your friend’s feelings. Don’t judge. She may already be feeling shame and embarrassment. 
  2. Be careful about the words you use. If you are approaching someone because you suspect abuse, you might say, “I’ve noticed you’ve been injured recently” or “I’m concerned about you.” Do not speak negatively about the abuser.
  3. Focus on the victim, not the abuser. Help the victim reflect on the power and control she has and reinforce that the abuse is not her fault. Don’t tell the victim she has to leave the relationship immediately. “What we know about domestic violence is that the person may still love the abuser,” said Williams. “In addition, leaving can be one of the most dangerous times for the victim.”
  4. Recognize that every domestic violence situation is unique. Your friend’s situation may be different from others you have known, including your own. “It’s important to recognize that each person is an expert in her own experience,” said Williams. “It’s also important to recognize that everyone has her own timetable to take back her power and control and make her own decisions.”
  5. Gather resources and talk about safety planning. If your friend recognizes that she’s in an abusive situation (and this can take time), you can help her develop a plan. “Gather resources first, then give the person the information if she’s ready,” said Williams. YWCA Evanston/North Shore is a good place to start. It offers a 24-hour crisis line: 877-718-1868.
  6. Remember that solutions take time. It can be frustrating, but you don’t want to be another person attempting to exert power and control over the victim. She needs to find it within herself. According to Williams, it can take seven to thirteen attempts at leaving before it really takes hold.

YWCA Evanston/North Shore, one of the only providers of comprehensive domestic violence services in north suburban Cook County, is one of hundreds of providers nationwide to participate in the Allstate Purple Purse Challenge, an all-out effort during the month of October to raise awareness about domestic violence and funds for services.

You can help YWCA Evanston/North Shore win the challenge, and receive an additional $100,000 grant from Allstate Foundation, with your donation to the cause. Make your donation today at www.bit.ly/YWPurplePurse2017.

With liberty and justice for all

by Eileen Hogan Heineman, Director, Racial Justice Program
Posted June 29, 2017

As our country heads into 4th of July celebrations, I am very concerned. To be honest, I am angry. The phrase “with liberty and justice for all” keeps running through my head.

As I write this, our state is on the precipice of entering its third year without a budget. Why? Mostly because two men in positions of power, Governor Rauner and Speaker Madigan, 1) refuse to compromise; 2) get away with it because other elected officials are afraid to stand up to them; and 3) are so disconnected from people who are most impacted by their stubborn impasse that they can ignore the jobs that have been lost, the agencies that provided critical services that have closed, the programs that have been cut, and the thousands of Illinois residents who have been negatively impacted about what has been done, among them our most vulnerable citizens. I’d like to see what the human cost is across the state of Illinois.

How many...

  • social service agencies have closed?
  • agencies, like YWCA Evanston/North Shore, have had to lay off valued staff members?
  • women and children experiencing domestic violence no longer have access to a counselor or safe housing?
  • elementary school students no longer have a safe after school program to attend?
  • people with mental health issues have had their services cut?
  • children no longer have access to early childhood education?

Most of those directly affected by the lack of a budget are the same people who are regularly marginalized by those in power. Is this justice for all?

I am concerned about the messages our young people are getting, every single day, about how things work in the United States: bullies can wear the disguise of leaders; white supremacists can disguise themselves as patriots; victims can be blamed when the system fails them and good-hearted people can be disheartened, or even silenced.  

This 4th of July is an opportune time to raise questions and change the narrative. It is the duty of every one of us to continue to work for a “more perfect union” and fight to ensure that our “beloved community” is inclusive of all. So raise the tough questions, contact legislators daily, talk with your family, neighbors, friends until “With liberty and justice for all” is the real narrative for the United States of America.

What can you do today?

by Sherialyn Byrdsong (Remarks made at Race Against Hate, June 18, 2017)
Posted June 23, 2017

Good morning. Thank you for beginning your Father's Day with the 18th annual Ricky Byrdsong Memorial Race Against Hate.

As you all know, my husband was gunned down a couple of miles from here in Skokie by a white supremacist while he was jogging with our two youngest children. Today, 18 years later, such horrific acts of hate are intensifying and occurring too frequently. They constantly remind us of the relevance of this race. The week before the race in 2015 it was the Emanuel AME Church nine. The week before the race of last year it was 49 people killed in the Orlando night club and earlier this week, if not for the heroic acts of two capitol police officers, there would have been a massacre of some of our congressman. I fear that this culture of hatred and gun violence is our new America. I fear that this has become our new normal. Instead of families enjoying the American dream, too many families are experiencing the American nightmare.

I believe that each of us has a civic and faith based responsibility to lead our communities in a different direction. Every morning when we wake up, each one of us should ask ourselves, "What can I do today to make the world around me a more kinder, respectful, peaceful, understanding and loving place? What's my responsibility in this race against hate?" Our nation is crying out for answers. 

I appreciate so much people like Karen Singer, Eileen Heineman and the entire staff of the YWCA Evanston/North Shore who every day do their part. Their work is making a difference in this community and they are relentless and true to their mission to eliminate racism. Your support of this race helps to make that happen. So please join me in giving the YWCA Evanston/North Shore and yourselves a round of applause for doing your part to make our communities a better, safer and more loving place to live.

That you so much. God bless you and God bless America. I look forward to seeing you next year!

Turning tragedy into triumph

by Karen Singer
Posted June 23, 2017 (Remarks made at Race Against Hate, June 18, 2017)

Promoting civil rights and racial justice are at the heart of the YW’s mission. For 18 years, the Race Against Hate has brought together thousands of people from across our region to send a powerful message that we are united in our commitment to end racism, hate and intolerance throughout our communities.

Unfortunately, we are reminded daily that crimes motivated by racial hatred, religious and political intolerance continue, and have actually risen over 20% since the year began. And on a daily basis, people are denied their basic human rights because of their race, gender, religion or sexual identity. We must continue to make progress safeguarding these rights, which is even more challenging in a broader environment of hate mongering and fear. It is up to ALL of us to continue and increase our efforts to create equitable communities.

Before you leave today, please visit the YWCA tent in the middle of the field to see what you can do to join us as we work towards equity and justice for all.

As most of you know, the Byrdsong Family created this race to honor Ricky Byrdsong, husband and father of three who was killed by a white supremacist in Skokie on a June day like this 19 years ago. Their courage in creating the Race, and their confidence in giving the Race to YWCA Evanston North Shore, has helped bring our community together year after year and, as Sherialyn Byrdsong has said, turn tragedy into triumph.

Evanston Men Challenged to Stand Up Against Domestic Violence

Evanston Roundtable editorial
May 4, 2017

We are living in an age of overt misogyny. Our culture is suffused with talk, music, literature, drama, and politics that demean or diminish women and at times applaud or advocate violence against women.

This is not new. For centuries – maybe even millennia – violence against women has been a theme of secular and religious stories. And, while there have always been excuses, there has never been a justification.

Evanston is not exempt. The Evanston Police Department reports that in 2015 there were 347 domestic batteries in Evanston, 113 domestic-related assaults or criminal trespasses, and 111 cases in which orders of protection were entered. There were also 991 domestic conflicts that did not rise to the level of criminal conduct, according to the Police Department.

Men are finally waking up to the notion that they can do something other than a) snicker in public at denigrating comments or so-called jokes or even repeat them in private, b) continue to blame the victims of domestic violence, or c) wring their hands. They made this mess, and it is time for them to step up. And in Evanston, some already have.

Late last month, the YWCA-Evanston/North Shore offered that opportunity to more than 180 male civic, business, and political leaders in this community, bringing them together to hear Jackson Katz, Ph.D. Dr. Katz, founder of Mentors in Violence Protection, challenges men to take an active leadership role in ending violence against women. He calls this the "bystander" model. It brings men who are not abusive into an active role.

Karen Singer, president and CEO of YWCA Evanston/North Shore, articulated some questions for the audience to ponder about the systemic causes of gender violence, such as how certain institutions produce abusive men and the roles that popular culture, sports, economics, and other societal forces play in this ongoing plague. Until men are involved in the solution, she said, the problem will continue.

Abusing people as an adult, teen or youth, is a learned – and, too often, fostered, condoned, or even glorified – behavior.

This is where non-abusive men can step in, assume a leadership role and interrupt the cycle: among peers, by verbally rejecting sexist or degrading comments; as church leaders, coaches, or scout leaders, by showing that respect and understanding are stronger than violence and aggression; and as individuals, by acting as leavening in the community to create a climate where violence is unacceptable.

We all have to play a part in changing the notion that violence against women is a cultural norm and basically women’s fault. Dr. Katz said we as a society must shift the focus from asking why the victim did certain things – wear that dress, return to an abusive partner – to the real questions of why that man beat that woman, why so many men rape women, and what roles some of our cultural institutions play in condoning or fostering domestic violence.

Ms. Singer and the YWCA Evanston/North Shore set the table, and 180 men came to dinner. The next steps involve evaluating feedback from the dinner and following up with men who will help create an Evanston model, and enlisting men to become leaders in ending violence against women.

Ms. Singer put it well: "We need more men with the guts, with the courage, with the strength, with the moral integrity to break our complicit silence and challenge each other and stand with women, and not against them."

We wholeheartedly support these efforts. Like everywhere else, Evanston could benefit from active bystanders in its effort to stem the public health problem of domestic violence.

Involving the men who are already at the table in creating the model is essential, as the YWCA has said. It is a giant and much-needed step in addressing this unconscionable public health problem.

Men taking a stand

by Karen Singer, President/CEO
Posted May 4, 2017

Karen Singer at the Men's Dinner, with Evanston Mayor Elect Steve Hagerty and Evanston Deputy Chief James Pickett.

As many of you know, the YWCA Evanston/North Shore has, over the last 30 years, developed a comprehensive continuum of services that help women get safe, stay safe and heal from domestic violence. What many of you might not know is that long ago we realized that while we can help women leave abusive situations and build sustainable healthy lives, this does not help men stop abusive behaviors. And so we have also been working with men and boys for over 20 years through our violence prevention education in local schools and universities and more recently with our Batterer’s Intervention Program, a program working with abusers, and Allied Against Violence, a program partnership with Youth & Opportunity United that works to engage young men and boys in ending gender violence.

I started working with women fleeing domestic violence in the early 80s, almost 35 years ago. A decade earlier the feminist movement had given rise to the mantra “we will not be beaten.” Formerly abused women launched the domestic violence movement in the 70’s, to expose domestic violence, and reduce the shame, stigma and silence that women were experiencing. They also worked to bring domestic violence out from behind the veil of being a private family matter, something that just happened behind closed doors. The DV movement has historically focused on women because women are the primary victims. This was an appropriate response given the shame and silence of the issue, and the immediate need of helping women escape violence. 

As the movement grew, it expanded its focus from helping individual women to trying to change the systems that in some ways condoned, or at a minimum turned a blind eye to the violence. We began to demand legislative and system changes to hold perpetrators accountable for their crimes and make it easier and safer for women to leave. The emergence of batterer’s intervention groups was a recognition that if we were going to end gender violence, it was men that needed to change. As importantly, the broad social norms that reinforced and perpetuated its acceptance needed to change.

So fast forward three and a half decades and here we are.

Yes, some gains have been made, but not fast enough and most certainly not deeply enough. Violence against women is still with us and continues to be what many consider one of the largest public health crisis we face. The statistics are staggering. Suffice it to say, after decades of efforts from women and women’s organizations, gender violence continues to take place across our globe, affecting women from all different backgrounds, socio economic classes, ages and religions. 

And this violence doesn’t just happen to “other women”. I would venture to say that many of you know of someone it has affected. In fact, it can and does impact those we know; it effects our sisters, daughters, mothers, grandmothers, aunts, friends, neighbors, coworkers. And the vast majority of this abuse is perpetrated by men.   

With the rise of violence prevention efforts has come the realization that men are untapped and necessary allies in this struggle. As most abusers are men, men can be the best influencers of other men.

As men, you continue to hold a majority of the powerful, influential positions that determine how we respond to gender violence. If you are a legislator, a hospital administrator, a businessman, if you are a police chief or superintendent, a judge, a prosecutor, a journalist or coach, you make decisions each day that determine how we respond to gender violence.

And you all of you are in relationship to women and girls in so many different ways. So you really have a vested interested in preventing this from happening in the first place. The critical role that men can play in ending gender violence benefits women and girls. It benefits men and boys as well. 

I heard an interview several years ago and it stuck with me. The sheriff being interviewed said that every male death row inmate in his state had experienced violence in their home as a child. We know that children growing up with domestic violence are 3 times more likely to repeat the cycle in adulthood. It is, in fact, the most significant predictor of whether or not someone will be engaged in domestic violence later in life, and also makes you 74% more likely to commit a violent crime against someone else.

So when a man stands against gender violence, he not only changes the life of women, he can change the life of a child. When a boy hears from men in his life that “being a man” is about love, strength, and kindness, not aggression, that changes him.

So we gather as colleagues, friends, leaders in our community, to listen, understand more deeply, and hold ourselves and each other accountable to the idea that violence against women is not just a women's issue, it is a human issue. I encourage you to listen for what is new to you, be curious, let yourself be challenged. Domestic violence is personal. Many of you have witnessed it, experienced it, and have struggled to know how to respond. We come to this conversation to learn, to share, to grow, and to see how, as a community, we can create safety for all those we love.

Take a moment

by Eileen Hogan Heineman, Director of Racial Justice Programs
Posted February 17, 2017

Take a moment to look around this crowded room and breathe in how good it is to be with people who share our beliefs, our fears, our hopes. Be strengthened by that as you ask yourself, what will I do now?

For those who are feeling overwhelmed and/or sad, you’re in good company. 

For those who are eager to be given something tangible to do, to feel like you can make a difference, you’ve got lots of allies in this room as well.

For those whose lives are already too busy, look around again, and take another breath. You are NOT alone…there are many of us to do this work, so no one of us has to do it all, nor do it every day, nor ever do it alone. I believe we can count on each other to step up when we need to step back, because we are all here for the long haul. Am I right??

Every single one of us has a role to play in addressing the growing inequities. At an MLK Day Celebration, Evanston Alderwoman Dolores Holmes said, “We each need to determine what is our part, and then do our part with great heart.” And that is what we are about right now. We each have a part to play, whether this is the first time we’ve become active or have protested for years. 

At the end of our YWCA Racial Justice workshops, I ask participants: “Given what you’ve learned and felt here, what do you now feel compelled to do?” Today, I encourage you to think about the things you’ve said you believe in and the things you will resist, and I ask, what do you feel compelled to do? And, of course, I have some suggestions to get you started:

  • Is there something you need to learn? Is there someone with whom you need to share real information you have learned? Here are some resources to get you started.
  • Do you need to dedicate a day to go to Springfield with others to speak with legislators about bills they should support? 
  • Do you need to invite your neighbors in for coffee and conversation, asking what, together, you will do to support those in your neighborhood who are living in fear?
  • Are you compelled to work with others to make sure your community adopts the Welcoming Community Principles, and creates an ordinance or statute that clearly states that position?
  • Are you willing to support local families, struggling to stay together in this country?
  • Can you show up when your presence, your body, is needed, outside the offices of ICE – Immigration and Customs Enforcement – or other agencies, and demand truth from those who are detaining immigrants who pose no threat to our community? Or at your City Council or Village Board meeting to ask about the racial disparity in police stops or how money is allocated for library materials that represent ALL races, cultures, and gender identities? Or at your School Board to find out if the textbooks selected are telling the FULL history of America? Or what is being done differently so as to address issues of equity impacting achievement? Can you simply SHOW UP, and stand next to the vulnerable members of your community, of our society?
  • Will you decide to use your social media platforms to share TRUTH?
  • Will your action be to raise the REAL questions when those in power or with the loudest voices are imposing their will on the rest of thus, particularly those whose voices are not usually heard? Questions such as:
    • ‘What fear is driving the decision that has been made or the position you are taking?’ That means asking the parents of New Trier who oppose their school’s seminar day on Racial Justice: What do you fear will happen if your child participates in this day? Asking the faith leader who resists making a public statement in support of being a welcoming congregation: What do you fear will happen to our congregation if we welcome the stranger, if we include a worship song from another tradition, if we change a practice? Asking ourselves: What fear keeps me from speaking up to the friend or family member with whom I disagree?
    • ‘Who is being impacted by this Executive Order, and why does our government feel the need to limit their access to citizenship, or housing, or voting?’

What do you need to do, so that when you finish your day, you can say, “Today, I did not stay silent. Today, I did not accept cruelty. I did not accept abuse of power. I did not pretend that lies were truth. Today, I stood with the marginalized.”?

The swim marathon makes me cry

by Nancy Anderson, Flying Fish Coach
Reposted January 19, 2017 (originally posted January 26, 2015)

I read somewhere that you should pay attention to the things that make you cry – the things that unexpectedly give you a lump in your throat – because they tell you something about yourself and what makes you tick.

For me, many such moments have occurred on the pool deck over the last ten years in my role as a coach. My eyes brimmed at a time trials meet watching a relay of 11-12 girls trying to make a cut while their teammates cheered them on. I had to pull Kleenex out of my pocket at an end-of-season intersquad as I watched a shy, nearsighted swimmer, who was firmly opposed to meets, step up to the blocks and swim a 50 free. I swallowed hard at an away meet when an 8-year-old who clutched his stomach and cried about having to swim a 25-yard butterfly did it anyway, and then climbed out of the pool with a smile on his face.

And, every year, at the Flying Fish marathon, when we blow the whistle and play the music from the Olympics to signal the end of the hour-long swim, my eyes fill up.

I suppose this is an affirmation that I’m in the right part-time job. There’s something about competitive swimming that touches me. But it really isn’t about swimming. It’s about discovering that you’re more than you think you are, played out against a backdrop of blue water and candy-colored lane lines.

The swim marathon is one of the best examples of this discovery. I have seen frightened young swimmers (one whose parents told me he was in the school nurse’s office because he was sick with worry) confront their fears by jumping in and just doing it. I’ve been surprised by children who don’t seem to have much endurance or enthusiasm in practice but who find the strength to swim 100 laps when I thought they might do 60.

My eyes well up when I watch the seven-, eight- and nine-year-olds whom I coach swim their marathons because my lens is long. I know that this courage and tenacity – their “swimmer selves” – will spill over into other parts of their lives. Even if they leave competitive swimming, if they go on to play basketball or get the lead in “Guys and Dolls,” they will still return to their swimmer selves when they face something physically or mentally challenging.

And, I’m hopeful their swimmer selves will stick around for their adult lives, like mine did. In dark moments, when life seemed difficult and uncertain, it was my swimmer self who propelled me forward. It was that part of me, forged over many years and many yards, that understood that I simply had to keep kicking and pulling, even though it hurt, and somehow I would reach the wall.

So, Flying Fish swimmers, I get choked up every year when you finish your marathon swims, as I know my colleagues and your parents do as well, because I get to watch you discover that you’re more than you think you are – and you’ve got what it takes to face all of the marathons that lie ahead.

We stand together

by Karen Singer, CEO
Posted November 11, 2016

We walk through our doors at the YWCA Evanston/North Shore each morning determined to make our communities more just and equitable, determined to work for women’s empowerment and equality, for a woman’s right to choose what happens to her own body, for freedom from violence, and for people of all races, ethnicities, sexual orientations, cultures and religions to feel that they are embraced, have opportunity, are respected and that their lives are valued.

Yesterday morning, we walked through our doors and felt that instead of a glass ceiling shattering, the floor had dropped out from under us. We sat and grieved together for what seemed to be a national affirmation of everything that is antithetical to what we aspire to and hold as our most cherished values.

We are all searching for an explanation; a way to get our heads around something we are struggling to understand. How can the climate and rhetoric of hate, racism, violence against women, and fear have been given its ultimate validation?

Mia, a staff member who answers our domestic violence crisis line, wrote something yesterday that especially resonated with us:

“(My son) stayed up with me until 12:30 am. He went to bed knowing it was probably over, but saying that maybe it wasn’t. There was a tiny bit of hope in his heart. The Cubs taught him about late night miracles last week. Still, I could hear the despair in his voice when he said, ‘I don’t want to go to school tomorrow, Mom.’”

“In the morning I came downstairs immediately after hearing him get up. I hugged him long and hard, with tears in my eyes, tears that are still in my eyes as I type this. I said, ‘I love you.’ And then I said, ‘You have to go to school today. You have to go to school for all those girls and Latinos and blacks and gays and Muslims at your school who were just told by America that they are not valued. You have to show up for them.’”

“To all of us who were told by this election that we do not matter, that our rights are irrelevant, I will show up for you. I will stand with you and I will fight every injustice I see. I will continue to use my voice as best as I can. For all of us. Even for those who voted differently. Because their rights may come under attack as well.”

Mia speaks for all of us at YWCA Evanston/North Shore. And like her and her son, we will show up every day to say and to demonstrate that we stand together. We will work together to fight bigotry and injustice. We will work together to ensure that our values not only stay intact, but prevail.

We live in a blue city bubble, and those of us who live in this big metropolitan area have heard but not fully appreciated or understood the deep anxieties and lived experiences of others as profoundly as we should. We need to build bridges across what seems, right now, like a vast chasm. The more we talk about the divisions, without finding common ground, the more polarized we become as a nation.

We are uncertain of what lies ahead and that can feel very scary. But let us not react in fear. We need to reach out, build connections and coalitions, build a more inclusive and united voice that brings out the best in who we all are. We need to move to action and double down on creating more just communities, a more just country for all. At the same time, we must never lose sight of and stop fighting for the values we uphold, and we must resist any encroachment on our fundamental human rights and notions of justice.

Let us not forget that while the glass ceiling was not shattered, it was cracked. For the first time in history, a major political party nominated a woman for president. But this election season has been a stark indicator that our work is as relevant and necessary as ever. We must and will continue to eliminate racism and empower women, listen with empathy and act in solidarity, and reaffirm the values that are the foundation of our mission: dignity, justice, and respect.

Hold tight to the vision of what we know we can be.

In solidarity,

Karen Singer, CEO, and all of us at YWCA Evanston/North Shore

Four Moments in the Life of a Flying Fish

by Peter Raffel 
Posted September 6, 2015


Peter Raffel (r) with CJ Smith (l), both of whom grew up swimming for the Flying Fish, spent the 2015/2016 season as assistant coaches in the program.

The following are four recollections from my fifteen years as a Flying Fish, both as a swimmer and a staff member: 

At eight years old: 

I am eight years old, swimming in my first inter squad meet after a few months of rigorous training. This is my freshman debut as a member of the Flying Fish.
The pool is massive, a shimmering fluorescent surface crowded by swimmers, timers, coaches, parents. The water, however, is oddly placid, unwavering in the impending upheaval.

This is the first time I feel a sensation later identified as Butterflies, a swallowing of the stomach into a vortex of anxiety. After three races I’m ushered via a chaotic queue back to the blocks for the fourth twenty-five, the aptly-named Butterfly. One of my cohorts bravely attests that, unfortunately, none of us know how to do Butterfly.

This is when we receive our introductory lesson. The head coach, a stoic man named Pete, sits on the hose reel container before us and waxes poetic about how to do this so-called Butterfly. Right there, in a thirty-second tutorial, I receive wisdom that informs me to kick like a dolphin and swing my arms over my head. And so, after Pete is finished with his explanation, we are routed into lanes. And when the starter sounds his horn we dive in, and I do Butterfly. I can only assume it was less than perfect. But I can also assume that for my parents, and perhaps even Pete watching, it was the very essence of perfect.

At ten years old: 

Two years later, at Indianapolis’ prestigious IUPUI campus, I’m swimming in what appears to be the largest pool ever commissioned. It includes: one fifty-meter pool converted into two twenty-five-yard pools, a shallow-depth warm down pool, and a heated diving well that’s really fun to try to touch the bottom of.

At this point it has been determined that I am a breaststroker. This was determined because my legs literally refused to do freestyle kick, even at the urging of a screaming Jamaican man. The screaming Jamaican man is Oswald, my coach: former reggae star, now a swim instructor and pool operator. Once he laid me across the block and pretended to chop me in half with a rusty saw. For a shy kid who has difficulty mustering the slightest conversation with teammates, it was wondrous. As a hero, there’s not much more you can ask for.

Now, though, it’s the Big League: apparently there’s this thing called Finals, in which after swimming your race in the morning, you re-swim it that night for your definitive placing. So Sunday AM: I swim the 100 Breast, coming in fourth overall for 9-10’s, out-touching fifth by hundredths of seconds. Those Butterflies (see previous section) have bred new Butterflies and are having some sort of Butterfly Dance Party. The idea of getting beaten by #5 is horrifying, and a repeat performance seems impossible – might as well scratch, go home, pick up tennis or something. My parents take me to Johnny Rocket’s for lunch; I can’t eat anything, and when the waiters get up on the table and boogie I don’t even break a smile.

So when finals comes around I’m naturally distraught. IUPUI’s arena is roughly the size of an upper echelon Sting concert. There’s an eerie silence before the start, before I’m expected to defend my title. I look over at Oswald: arms folded, heat-sheet in hand, nodding silently. The horn sounds, I burst from the block. Every bit of unwieldy energy is expended, every breath an affirmation more than a gasp, every pullout a silent shout towards the hurtling crowd’s roar. I know that last twenty-five was real rough – video footage could probably verify this. But when I two-hand touch I see that #5 is still at the flags – in fact, he finishes four seconds behind me. In fact, I dropped four seconds. In fact, I did better than I did in the morning.

The ribbon I receive in my folder is black and yellow with a snowman on it. I expected something more triumphant, honestly – like, say, an Edible Arrangement. But, needless to say, it’s the most important ribbon I ever earn.

At fifteen years old: 

Now I’m fifteen. My body has grown, so has my mind – so has the YWCA, adding a downstairs pool (colloquially know as The Warm Pool). I’m scheduled to begin employment that summer as a swim instructor, following in the footsteps of the great Natalie and JoAnne, who have changed more lives than most presidents I can name.

Still, though, there’s something growing inside me: a sadness, inescapable. It ebbs with the water, manifesting: so taking a stroke becomes physically painful, beyond willpower; so sometimes my goggles swim with what may be tears or may be pool-water; so sometimes I take a bathroom break to the locker room and just sit on the bench or stare in the mirror.

Things climax at our Charlotte meet, where Saturday night I’m overcome and end up crying unabashedly in the hotel bathroom. Dad hears me, we talk, but words don’t encompass what’s happening. Part of me wants to go back to Evanston, to some centralized location – namely, home. But also I’m on relays, I figure – and, subconsciously, the decision to not swim Sunday seems synonymous with giving up something larger, more internal. So I swim. And then I go home, and take Monday off school, and Dad and I walk to Walgreens and he says I can buy anything, and I choose a Sugar Free Red Bull because their commercials are cool and I’m dumb.

After this the winter clears up, the sun shines, and one day Seth takes me outside for a talk. Seth is, to a fifteen-year-old kid struggling with identity, the coolest guy. He’s introduced me to most of what I now enjoy, and championed my writing, film, music, whatever creative thing I’m throwing against the wall. After learning that he writes in all caps, the transformation is swift and exacting.

Anyway, Seth takes me outside to talk in the employee parking lot – which already has a Mecca-like feel to it. He’s leaning against a four-door and I’m standing there sheepishly, the sun warming earth, the leaves unfolding, a soft wind on us.
This is all I have from the memory. I don’t remember what Seth said, or what I said. I don’t know if he was aware of what was happening – whether my parents had spoken with him, or Oz, or Pete. I don’t know if Pete even knew we were talking – I don’t know if this was protocol, or his initiative. I don’t know how long the conversation lasted. I only remember him leaning against that four-door and the way he looked in the sun, where things seemed to be getting better already, maybe, if I worked at it.
And I remember how I felt afterwards – and so maybe the words weren’t so important. I remember thinking that that sadness didn’t have to encapsulate me if I didn’t want it to – that it was real, like fear, or desire, or water, but it was only a small part of something much larger inside me, and everyone swimming by my side. And I remember thinking I wasn’t as alone as I thought I was. And somehow, those ideas became affixed in my mind along with the image of that day more than any words ever were.

At twenty-three years old: 

I’m going to abandon my framework here, like all good writers do, because now it becomes not so much a moment as a feeling. I am twenty-three years old, and am writing this at 2:00 AM CST from the McDonalds in the Delhi airport. I have worked, in some capacity, for the YWCA Flying Fish for the past eight years.

And I know that feeling – it’s a feeling we hear about often. Much of the talk surrounding the Fish is about its life-changing qualities, its care with regards to the child both in and out of the pool, its place as a home away from home, its tireless staff and its heart-warming, family-centric attitude. These are comments we all relish, obviously – but to me they live in the abstract, in the far-off revelations of long-term relationships. We tend to look at the final puzzle as opposed to each individual piece we used to complete it – and so that feeling, for me, is not a moment, but infinite moments, patched together to create something that traverses time and space. Because practices exist, meets exist, games exist, more exists. Anne stands in the lobby laughing with a parent while a kid pleads to get something from the vending machine. Rom gets stonewalled by three out of four kids for his corny jokes, but then that fourth one breaks into a smile you didn’t know existed in modern times. Terry and Kim come up with innumerable ideas, every one of which seems more ingenious than many art installations at MOMA. Pigeon/Penguin is played, times are made, sets are completed, goggles are loaned, conversation swirls regarding everything from what you had for lunch to what’s worth getting out of bed in the morning. Those are all those moments – and they’re real, and they happen every day. And these intricacies are what to amaze me – not so much the big stuff, but the little stuff that seems to continue of its own accord, unchecked and unadulterated, but existing all the same.

A lot of kids ask me if we can do races to see who’s the fastest – and I tell them what I was always told: You’re not racing who’s next to you, you’re racing yourself. And maybe for the first few years, I said that out of habit – but at some point I began to mean it. Because swimming really isn’t about the person on either side of you, or even the clock timing you. Those are enablers for something larger – if anything, they’re your friends. It’s about you, and the water, and what you’re capable of both inside and outside of that pool. It’s about pushing yourself to limits you saw in a mirage far away, hurdles you didn’t think you’d be able to overcome, places you didn’t think you’d ever reach. It isn’t a stretch to say that what I learned at the Y is what led me to where I am now: unafraid, carving out a space in this world, exploring even further into what I know I must explore. It’s about the pool, but it also isn’t about the pool. It’s about the physical and the mental, but it’s also about something that can transcend both of those. The Y gave me that in those moments – moments that formed the puzzle that is me and everyone I swam with. If Pete is reading this, or Seth, or Oz, they’re definitely rolling their eyes – and I kind of am too. It’s hard to admit that something you do, something you created, changed so many. It’s hard to admit that living in those moments was something larger than expected: something timeless, malleable – cliché, yes, but apparent.

The work to eliminate racism is head AND heart work

by Karen Singer, President/CEO
Posted July 7, 2016


Last week's shooting deaths were horrific. As Donique McIntosh, Co-Director of our Racial Justice Program wrote last week, "The work to eliminate racism is head AND heart work. And today my heart is heavy." (Read her essay here.)

Like most of you, I am filled with a wide range of emotions: despair, shame, outrage, confusion and a deep and unrelenting sadness. Fear, anger, and violence breed more fear, anger, and violence. We can start to see racism and profound structural inequities as intractable. And although YWCA Evanston/North Shore doesn't have easy answers to these deeply-rooted, complex problems, our commitment to fighting for racial equity is stronger than ever. We know we cannot be silent.

So we join with the many others in our communities to be the change needed to dismantle the deeply entrenched system of racism that has been created. We invite all to get engaged with this change - to have conversations, get involved and take action to make our communities more equitable for all.

Our racial justice summit in May, the Race Against Hate, our weekly lunchtime conversations, racial equity trainings, and now our equitable institutions work - are all opportunities for growth and change. In a time of despair, let's take hope from the powerful rally organized in Evanston by our young people, and the many other efforts being made to gather people for action.

We cannot sit idly by. We must come together, heal; and act as one community. Dr. Martin Luther King talked about "the urgency of now". Join us.

Thank you for your continuing commitment to the mission of YWCA Evanston/North Shore and for standing up for social justice and racial equity,

Today I'm at a loss for words

by Donique McIntosh, Co-Director of Racial Justice Programs
Posted July 7, 2016


I am at a loss for words. I woke up to news of yet another killing of a black man by police. Writing seems so futile and yet here I am, putting fingers to keys hoping that something halfway coherent and meaningful will show up on the computer screen. The work to eliminate racism is head and heart work. And today my heart is heavy. I don’t know either of the latest victims personally but it feels like I do. It feels personal when your brown skin is the thing you have in common with the people who keep being killed. It feels like an assault and there isn’t any good way to take cover, no way to dodge a bullet when they come from seemingly every direction and no direction.

I just had a random conversation with my sister over the weekend about these killings. We shared our fears and concerns for my nephew who’s a tender teenage boy who happens to be 6 feet tall and probably two hundred pounds. I see his tenderness and his boyish ways but I can’t help but wonder what a random white police officer will see when they look at him. Will they see him as a threat and shoot to kill? Will he wear a hoodie one day, despite my sister’s admonition, and die some useless death because somebody thought he looked dangerous? I used to tell myself that instances like that were rare. These days my belief in the paucity of such tragedies is fading like an image in an old photograph.

I want to feel hope instead of despair but I’m not there today. Tomorrow’s another day and with any luck I’ll feel more hopeful. I desperately want to feel more hopeful. But I can’t and I won’t wake up tomorrow and go on as if two more lives weren’t taken. Will you?

We invite you to work for racial justice

Donique McIntosh and Eileen Hogan Heineman, Racial Justice Program Co-Directors
Posted April 18, 2016

At YWCA Evanston/North Shore, we take the words “eliminating racism” on our sign at the corner of Ridge and Church seriously and hold ourselves accountable on a daily basis to work towards racial equity. To encourage others to join in those efforts, we offer: programs and dialogues throughout the area; racial equity workshops or trainings for businesses, civic or faith-based groups, schools, and community organizations; long term support for those institutions working internally to become more equitable; access to resources through our website or racial justice library; as well as public events such as our April 29th Stand Against Racism and June 19th Race Against Hate to bring our community together, united against racism in all its forms.

On May 5 and 6, YWCA Evanston/North Shore will host our first racial justice summit, “Mirrors and Methods: Tools for Creating Racial Equity”, featuring keynote speakers Brittney Cooper and Dr. Robin DiAngelo, as well as 18 breakout sessions, all designed to help participants learn, share, and develop new strategies to end racism. 

We need a racial justice summit

In the past few years, publicized events around the country have created, for many, a new or increased awareness of how often skin color determines outcomes in our society. We want to believe we are in a “post racial society,” but the reality of what People of Color experience, both personally and institutionally, on a daily basis, tells us otherwise. For those who aren’t as aware of racial inequity, the growing attention can make people respond defensively and increase the tendency to engage in various forms of ‘blame the victim.’

In Chicagoland, as in the nation, we continue to grapple with institutional racism, in part because it is often invisible to the people who don’t experience it. Yet research conducted by the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights, the ACLU, and the Sentencing Project, among others, consistently identifies the racism that is woven into the fabric of our institutions – schools, businesses, government organizations, and courts of law.
More than half of our nation’s prison population is people of color and for black males the statistics are more unsettling. One in 10 black males in their thirties is in prison or jail on any given day, the Sentencing Project found.
Closer to home, the ACLU of Illinois reported earlier this year that “African Americans are far more likely than white residents to be subjected to traffic stops by the Chicago Police Department.” According to the Department of Education's Office of Civil Rights, “Illinois has one of the widest disparities in the nation between suspended black students and their white classmates. During the 2012-13 school year, Chicago Public Schools issued suspensions for 32 of every 100 black students, compared to just five of every 100 white students.”

These statistics are a few of the many examples that highlight an urgent need for increasing awareness, deepening understanding, and taking action.

Why learn more about racial justice issues?

The goal of the summit is to bring people – of all ages and demographics – together to learn more about why racial disparities exist, deepen our understanding of racial identity, develop skills to work for change, and formulate action plans. 

We see the work of racial justice as both internal and external. The “mirror” of “Mirrors and Methods” is the internal, reflective piece. “What do I need to understand better? What tools or skills do I need to feel more confident in addressing racial issues?” The external piece is looking outward and saying, “Who are the people with whom I can connect? What actions can I/we take to start changing inequities?”

You can’t do the external work without doing the internal work. And both are processes. It’s the journey on which we need to focus, and people are at different places in their journeys. If participants leave the summit with a deeper understanding of systemic racism, if they acquire new skills, and take steps towards individual and collective action to create racial equity and justice, the summit will be successful.

Creating racial justice needs to be owned by all of us; it is everybody’s work to do. We hope the place will be packed!

To learn more and register to attend, go to www.YWCA.org/RJSummit or contact Donique McIntosh at 847-864-8445 x159.

Antonio Rice Works to Give Young Men New Models of Leadership and Masculinity

by Ariel DeLaRosa, Special Events and Social Media Coordinator
Posted February 12, 2016


Antonio Rice, Violence Prevention Educator, wears orange in honor of Teen Dating Violence Awareness month. His sign says "I wear orange because together we can and will end violence against women and girls."

Antonio Rice began working at YWCA Evanston/North Shore five years ago in the Relationship Violence Prevention Program. He is a Violence Prevention Educator and works primarily through a partnership between YWCA Evanston/North Shore and Youth Organizations Umbrella (Y.O.U.) known as Allied Against Violence

Allied Against Violence empowers young men to become strong leaders in their community. It also helps them understand the importance of healthy relationships, and most important, teaches them how to prevent violence against women. The first half of the program is heavily focused on training and teaching. A select group of participants is then chosen to strategize on public campaigns within their communities on how to prevent violence.

Allied Against Violence is an important program for young men because they learn to recognize and take responsibility for patterns of hurtful behavior toward women,” said Antonio. “They also learn to resist the cultural pressure to be dominant males. Instead they support each other in developing new ways to create a healthier culture of masculinity.”

Antonio noted that YWCA’s mission to empower women includes working with men. “Working with young men goes hand in hand with what we do at YWCA,” he said. “They are learning to treat women and deal with their manhood in a mature and responsible manner.”

Black History Month isn’t just for schoolchildren

by Eileen Hogan Heineman, Co-Director of Racial Justice Programs
Posted February 12, 2016

It’s February, which means it’s Black History Month. As a 30-year educator and a 15-year racial justice worker, I know how vitally important this is. I believe that until every textbook in every classroom in the United States contains all the history that has been missing for so long, we must intentionally work to get these stories told.

And it shouldn’t only be one month. Throughout the entire year, students should be made aware of the presence, role, and sacrifices made by all peoples – American Indians, Hispanics, Asians, Blacks, Europeans – in the building of this country.

Moreover, this learning should not only be in schools. All of us, particularly elected officials, need to be aware of the full picture of our country’s history. 

Here are some great books that can help those of us no longer in school “catch up” on what was not included in our textbooks:

  • People’s History of the United States – Howard Zinn
  • A Different Mirror: A History of Multicultural America – Ronald Takaki
  • Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong – James W. Loewen

Each of these illuminating books is available in our YWCA Racial Justice lending library in the southeast corner of our lobby, or at your local public library. 

Another incredibly valuable read is The Warmth of Other Suns by Isabel Wilkerson. It tells the story of The Great Migration, which brought six million black Americans from the south to points north and west in the U.S. between 1920 and 1970.

We need our eyes opened not only to the history of blacks in America, but also to the present realities of people in our own communities. This reflection from a junior at Northwestern, "The Spectrum: Minority students belong at Northwestern,"  is a perfect example.

This young woman’s experiences would not surprise most people of color, but they are not a part of my daily life, or the lives of most people who walk through the world in white skin. How can we make sure that we are working every day to shine a light on these types of incidents? What can I, as a white woman, do to enact change?

Please consider sharing this post with your social media circles, so more people will have the chance to read her story. Perhaps you have other stories to tell. I’d be eager to hear them at: eheineman@ywcae-ns.org.

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month

by Craige Christensen, Violence Prevention Education and Outreach Coordinator
Posted February 11, 2016


Craige Christensen (l), pictured with the Building Healthy Relationships team. 

Our Building Healthy Relationships team at YWCA Evanston/ North Shore works year round to increase awareness and recognition of teen dating violence. We also work with youth to develop the socio-emotional skills they need to develop healthy relationships built on respect, honesty, trust, support, equality and safety.

In the United States, 1 in 3 teens has experienced some form of abuse from a dating partner. Dating violence affects 1.5 million teens annually. (Love is Respect.org)
Many people assume that teen dating violence is only physical or sexual abuse. Often those are the most obvious signs of abuse. Less obvious, but no less harmful forms of abuse are:

  • Emotional/verbal abuse: Putting you down, humiliating and threatening you, or controlling who you see and what you do as well as how you look—hair, make-up, clothes you wear.
  • Digital abuse: Sexting, using social media to humiliate, threaten or stalk you. It also includes a partner demanding sign-on information and logging in to your digital accounts without asking permission.
  • Financial abuse: Preventing you from working, and taking your money.

The Building Healthy Relationships program at YWCA Evanston/North Shore uses early education, starting with kindergarteners, with classes focused on skills of empathy, emotion management, and problem solving/conflict resolution.

Our teen dating violence curriculum is geared to students as young as fifth grade. We start with workshops that teach recognizing healthy and unhealthy behaviors in all relationships, whether in school, with friends, or in extracurricular activities.

As we move fully into middle school and high school, we get more in depth as we teach skills of setting boundaries, and healthy ways to help friends who are either abused or abusive. Through all the classes we look at the influences of culture, media and stereotypes.

Unhealthy behaviors can start early and can last a lifetime. But prevention strategies, like YWCA’s Building Healthy Relationships, have been proven to prevent and reduce dating violence. For more information about this program and how to offer it at your organization, contact me at cchristensen@ywcae-ns.org.

No time to sleep

by Donique McIntosh, Co-Director of Racial Justice Programs
Posted January 18, 2016


Every year, around the Martin Luther King holiday I read “Letter from Birmingham City Jail”.This year was no different. I sat down to read the famous essay so that I could reflect on it and think about its contemporary significance. While I found the essay personally meaningful, I didn’t find it as useful in shaping my thinking about our current realities as I did his last Sunday sermon.    

Dr. King delivered his last Sunday sermon just days before he was killed. In the sermon, entitled “Remaining Awake through a Great Revolution”, Dr. King recounted the story of fictional character Rip Van Winkle who went to sleep and woke up twenty years later. The significance of the story, according to Dr. King is that Rip slept through a revolution. Dr. King wrote, “…the most striking thing about the story of Rip Van Winkle is not merely that Rip slept twenty years, but that he slept through a revolution. While he was peacefully snoring up the mountain a revolution was taking place that at points would change the course of history- and Rip knew nothing about it: he was asleep. Yes, he slept through a revolution. And one of the great liabilities of life is that all too many people find themselves living amid a great period of social change and yet they fail to develop the new attitudes, the new mental responses- that the new situation demands. They end up sleeping through a revolution.”

I believe there is a revolution happening in this country. I believe that people of color, and increasing numbers of white people have developed chronic racial injustice fatigue syndrome. They are, as civil rights leader Fannie Lou Hamer said, “sick and tired of being sick and tired”. Across the country, coalitions of people from different racial and ethnic groups, socioeconomic levels, religious and spiritual backgrounds, sexual orientations, and gender identities are joining together to transform this nation from what it is to what it should be. Organizations like Black Lives Matter, Dream Defenders, and Showing Up for Racial Justice are awake. What about us? Are we awake or are we sleeping through the revolution? If we’re asleep, what will wake us from our slumber? And, if we are awake, what do we use to join the revolution? What does the revolution require of us? I invite you to reflect on these questions with me as we observe the King holiday.

This moment in history

by Eileen Hogan Heineman, Director of Racial Justice Programs
Posted December 3, 2015

We are grateful for the many voices - and tragic videos - that have brought us to this moment in history. However, the firing of Chicago Police Superintendent Garry McCarthy will be merely a symbolic gesture, unless what follows immediately is a comprehensive plan for changing the culture within the entire Police Department. The CPD and the Fraternal Order of Police need to work together to address questions such as:

  • What outside agency will be brought in to provide long-term Equity and Inclusion training of every single CPD employee ? 
  • When will it begin, and what will be the schedule for ongoing delivery of training?
  • What systems of real accountability will be implemented for those officers whose on- duty conduct does not reflect a deeper empathy for the citizens they are serving?
  • What will be the new procedures for dealing with officers who have generated multiple complaints of excessive force?
  • What will be the penalty for a CPD employee, at any level, who witnesses another CPD employee using excessive force and neither interrupts nor reports the behavior?
  • What incentives will there be for police stations to create positive interactions with community groups, houses of worship, etc. in their beats?

Systemic problems can no longer be treated as if they are isolated incidents. Perceived threats, based primarily on the race of the person in question, can no longer justify criminal behavior on the part of law enforcement officers. The large percentage of police officers, who respond with appropriate levels of force, must be freed from the negative image created by those officers who abuse their power.

Culture change takes collective hard work, and wastes no time with blame, shame or excuses. Authentic transformation requires a high level of intentionality, so City of Chicago and Fraternal Order of Police, get busy! To borrow a phrase from 1968, “the whole world’s watching!”

Evanston Swims!: A Success Story from All Angles

When are we called to speak up about racism?

Six ways to help someone in an abusive relationship

With liberty and justice for all

What can you do today?

Turning tragedy into triumph

Evanston Men Challenged to Stand Up Against Domestic Violence

Men taking a stand

Take a moment

The swim marathon makes me cry

We stand together

Four Moments in the Life of a Flying Fish

The work to eliminate racism is head AND heart work

Today I'm at a loss for words

We invite you to work for racial justice

Antonio Rice Works to Give Young Men New Models of Leadership and Masculinity

Black History Month isn’t just for schoolchildren

February is Teen Dating Violence Awareness Month

No time to sleep

This moment in history


Learn more, get safe, get involved, empower yourself.