As YWCA Columbus’s Activists and Agitators event on October 17th draws near, we deepen our commitment to personal and community empowerment towards advancing social change. During a night centered on activism and disrupting the status quo, we celebrate and learn from the important work of community leaders like Achea Redd, Nina West, Jeni Britton Bauer, and Fran Frazier, who each advocate for inclusion and social justice in their own way. This year’s theme, “Find Your Voice. Let It Out.” is a nod to our keynote speaker Achea Redd, a local mental health activist who will speak about mental health stigmas, black mental health, and the importance of self-care in our journeys to help others.
We know gender is a critical determinant of mental health that negatively influences the control women have over the socioeconomic determinants of their lived realities. According to the World Health Organization, women are much more likely to develop anxiety and depression than men. When examining mental health risk factors that disproportionately impact women, like gender-based violence, income and wealth inequality, socioeconomic disadvantage, and chronic caregiving responsibilities, it’s easy to see how structural inequities put women at an increased risk for experiencing mental health issues. The consequences of these disparities largely impact the families in need of emergency housing at The YWCA Family Center, and the women residents of our downtown Griswold building – 100% of whom have a mental or physical disability.
YWCA Columbus is dedicated to combatting the negative impact of these structural inequities by providing direct service to low-income individuals and families as well as facilitating leadership, empowerment, and activist training to the community. We believe it is imperative to take an intersectional approach to advancing social justice that recognizes the role historical oppression and systemic inequality continue to play in our communities and in the lives of women, especially women of color.
Taking a comprehensive approach to advancing social justice involves approaching change at individual, institutional and societal levels. YWCA Columbus works in this way by acknowledging and challenging our own unconscious biases, advocating for change through thought-leadership and advising policy makers on issues that impact our most vulnerable populations, and motivating community members to create change through activism-based programming and events like Activists and Agitators.
The funds raised at Activists and Agitators supports the work of the Leadership & Social Justice Department at YWCA Columbus, including the relaunch of our Bright Futures program. Bright Futures is a 10-week, neighborhood-based leadership program focused on social justice concepts facilitated in some of the most under-resourced communities in Columbus. It seeks to empower middle school aged girls to understand and disrupt systems of oppression, develop positive self-image and agency, create healthy relationships and support systems, and build confidence in their ability to advocate for their communities and effect change.
Research tells us that girls in 5th-9th grade experience a 26% decline in confidence, but access to early empowerment interventions provide an opportunity to mitigate declining confidence rates before they reach an all-time low in high school. Bright Futures seeks to interrupt declining rates of confidence by helping girls aged 11-14 improve their understanding of how systemic sexism and racism impact their sense of self and their interactions with others. The program encourages girls to recognize their own power and stand against systems of oppression through advocacy and community organizing. By providing upstream empowerment interventions that increase resilience and lower the effects of toxic stress, we hope to disrupt patterns of homelessness, economic insecurity, and mental illness that many of our adult clients experience; and encourage girls to take up a trajectory of activism that will lead to advancing equity and social justice in their communities.
Bright Futures is just one of the many ways YWCA Columbus works to eliminate racism, empower women, and promote peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all. Our work is rooted in our commitment to not just meet immediate needs, but also to empower individuals to change our community for the better. We hope you will join us in partnership as we work to activate Columbus towards advancing social change and invite you to attend Activists and Agitators on October 17th!
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