YWCA initiative takes aim at racism

Mana Tahaie, director of racial justice for YWCA Tulsa, says the community can join ''Stand Against Racism.'' MIKE SIMONS/Tulsa World

The Tulsa YWCA is continuing its efforts toward eliminating racism with a new program.

With "Stand Against Racism," the organization joins 68 other YWCAs across the country to raise awareness that racism still exists. It was created after a report from the Southern Poverty Law Center showed a 54 percent increase in hate groups operating in the country.

The report listed "immigration fears, a failing economy and the successful campaign of President Obama" as factors that fueled the increase.

On April 30, organizations, faith groups, businesses and individuals can join the project by hosting or attending one of the many events throughout town.

"Organizations can tailor the event to adapt the overall theme to what fits within their walls. It's really able to be modified and adapted," said Mana Tahaie, director of racial justice for the YWCA.

For example, Community Action Project is reading to its kids while the Pine Street Mart is hosting a poetry reading.

"This event offers a one-day, out-of-the-box program that organizations can implement however it suits their constituency best and may kick-start their efforts for years to come," Tahaie said.

One of the issues facing Tulsa is that it's geographically divided by race, Tahaie said. The result is an "us and them" mentality that creates mistrust and suspicion, she said.

"As a result, rather than looking at challenges affecting Tulsans as a whole, we interpret social issues as 'their problem' or the fault of 'those people.' We saw this with the river vote, with violent crime, with the state of our public schools and countless other issues that hinder the entire city from thriving," Tahaie said.

"Rather than seeing the improvement of the quality of life of one group as an ultimate benefit to all, we often dismiss the challenges facing regions of the city as isolated. The truth is, the racial divisions are behind imaginary barriers, and their challenges and successes both ripple out to the whole city."

Tahaie said racism is one of the things hindering the city's growth.

"It impacts whites and people of color alike, resulting in deep mental illness, poor health and educational outcomes, economic suppression and community discord," she said. "When we can start seeing challenges facing our neighbors as our own rather than 'their problem' we can get more creative and proactive about improving our city as a whole."

She said the Y's mission is to empower Tulsans to feel more comfortable discussing, analyzing and ultimately eliminating racism.

"How liberating would it be if, instead of pointing fingers, getting defensive and assigning blame, we could instead be honest with one another, admit where we're struggling with these issues and help one another out. That's the vision the YWCA has for Tulsa," she said.

Trinna Burrows, executive director of Kendall Whittier Inc., said she signed up because the organization's Youth Mentoring Program has a diverse group of elementary-age students that use its after-school program.

"It's important for us that everyone has the same shot at success and nobody is a second-class citizen based on the color of their skin," Burrows said.

Leading up to the event, the kids will make posters to take to Kendall Whittier's Day of the Child event that is also on April 30.

Burrows said about 1,000 people from the school and surrounding community will attend the celebration of the Central American holiday.

The children in the mentoring program also will discuss racism and prejudice.

"Those are hard terms for kids. They just know sometimes they feel put down. This is an opportunity for empowerment. They can say 'I stand against this,' " Burrows said.

Those interested in hosting a Stand Against Racism event can sign up online at tulsaworld.com/standagainstracism.

The deadline is April 16 in order for organizers to receive the free event tool kit.

Mike Averill 581-8489

mike.averill@tulsaworld.com SUBHEAD: An indication of a rise in hate groups prompts the effort.