City’s first ‘Center for Racial Equity and Inclusion’ opens in Charleston

By Matthew Young, RealWV

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – “People who know me very well know that I love a good quote, and I want to share with you one of my favorites; ‘If it doesn’t challenge you, it won’t change you.’ I can assure you that this project has presented me with every kind of challenge imaginable.”

That’s what Program Director Shanté Ellis told politicians, community leaders, staff, friends, family, and well-wishers gathered at the YWCA Charleston’s Elizabeth Street location on Thursday, for the grand opening of the city’s new Center for Racial Equity and Inclusion. 

“I can testify that I stand before you a changed woman,” Ellis said. “The journey that has led us to this moment has been one of reflection, collaboration, and a shared vision for a future where equity and inclusion are not just ideals, but living principles guiding our actions.”

YWCA Charleston Racial Equity and Inclusion Program Director Shanté Ellis. Photo by Matthew Young, RealWV.

As explained on ywcacharleston.org, the YWCA’s Racial Equity and Inclusion program, “Is designed to create a culture that celebrates differences, ensures fairness, and promotes collaboration among all members of our community. By embracing diversity, striving for equity, and fostering inclusion, we can collectively create conditions where all individuals can thrive and contribute their best.”

The YWCA’s Center for Racial Equity and Inclusion was created to be “a place where people of all identities and backgrounds experience a sense of belonging.” The Center is the first of its kind in Charleston, and will serve Kanawha, Boone, and Clay Counties. 

“Today we embark on a mission to promote understanding, empathy, and respect for all individuals regardless of their backgrounds, ethnicity, gender, or beliefs,” Ellis continued. “In a world that is becoming increasingly interconnected, embracing diversity is not merely a choice – it’s imperative.”

“Our centers stand as a testament for our commitment to creating a space where everyone’s voice is not only heard, but celebrated,” Ellis added. “We recognize the strength that comes from our differences, and understand that true progress is born out of unity and diversity.”

To begin the grand opening ceremony, Leah Glover, president of the YWCA Charleston’s Board of Directors, told those in attendance, “It is my honor to welcome all of you to a historic and monumental day for the YWCA Charleston, our community, and the State of West Virginia.”

“Today’s ceremony highlights and serves as a reminder of the YWCA’s mission – to eliminate racism by inspiring a passion for learning, and creating a culture that celebrates differences, embraces diversity, ensures fairness, promotes collaboration among all of our members, and our great community,” Glover said.

After remarks from Charleston City Attorney Kevin Baker, as well as representatives of both Senators Shelley Moore Capito and Joe Manchin, Glover welcomed Kitty Dooley, the YWCA’s co-chair of Racial Equity and Inclusion, to the podium. 

“I’m hopeful that the existential threat to our system and our society – that recognizes the systemic, cultural, societal, and individual racism – that this center will help us to all understand what that is,” Dooley said, “And that that understanding will bring this racism to its knees.”

“Each one of you has a responsibility to do better once we know better,” Dooley continued. “Too often, America has known better, and yet has not done better. To make matters worse, today in our society, some believe that citizens learning of this history will somehow diminish us and not make us stronger. So we have to stand on the truth in these times, and we have to stand on the faith that brought us here today.”

“Several years ago, we had a deep conversation with Deb Weinstein (former YWCA Charleston CEO), Jennifer Goddard (current YWCA Charleston CEO), Kenyatta Grant (Racial Equity and Inclusion committee member), and I about the Y’s dedication to racial justice and inclusion,” Dooley added. “I asked them to put up or stop talking to me, and they put up big time. We’re here today as a testament to the faith that was shown then. Are we where we want to be? No, but we’re not where we were. We’re on the road to getting to where we ultimately want to be.”

Before the ribbon was removed, officially opening the center to the community, CEO Jennifer Goddard spoke briefly, saying, “I can’t even begin to express how delighted I am to see so many people who have just made such a difference in this organization, and in bringing us to where we are in this moment.”

“Thank you so much for all of the time, all of the dedication, and all of the passion that you all have for our mission at YWCA Charleston,” Goddard added. “We cannot do this work without you, and we are committed to doing this work with you.”

Representatives of the YWCA Charleston remove the ribbon, officially opening the Center for Racial Equity and Inclusion to the community. Video by Matthew Young, RealWV.

Those in attendance were treated to refreshments, and a tour of the state-of-the-art facility, which features meeting rooms, work stations, relaxation areas, and a children’s library. The building is adorned, inside and out, with handmade artwork, including “Heart Overflowing With Inspiration,” by world-renowned Louisiana-based artist Joi Ellene Whiley. Whiley’s stunning piece was created in honor of the center’s grand opening, and is displayed beside the exterior door as an invitation to enter.

Joi Ellene Whiley, along with her husband, Joseph, were on hand to greet attendees. Commemorative prints of “Heart Overflowing With Inspiration” are available by following this link, with proceeds benefiting the YWCA Charleston’s Racial Equity and Inclusion Program. To learn more about the YWCA Charleston, including the Racial Equity and Inclusion program, or any of their other programs, visit ywcacharleston.org

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