Today marks the beginning of President Barack Obama’s last term in office. After taking his oath in front of millions, he delivered a speech which set the tone for his ambitious final term by promising to tackle gun control reform, immigration reform, and more comprehensive climate change legislation; however, the most memorable moment for me was when he referenced the reality that millions of girls face in our country .
“We are true to our creed when a little girl born into the bleakest poverty knows that she has the same chance to succeed as anybody else because she is an American, she is free, and she is equal not just in the eyes of God but also in our own.”
I appreciate President Obama singling out the status of the girl, and I think this reference indicates that our country is poised to solve our country’s girl crisis. Millions of kids in this country are faced with a bleak reality: poverty, homelessness, abuse, failing public schools, and discrimination whether due to skin color or gender.
Here’s why I believe the solutions are at hand: White men will no longer be the majority of the Democratic caucus in the House as several of the seats have gone to women and minorities; congress has a record breaking 20 female senators, one of whom is the first openly gay senator in history; and a record 78 women now serve in the House of Representatives. I believe that with the increased presence of women and minorities in our legislative bodies will come a new perspective and fresh commitment to issues effecting women and girls.
I am hopeful for the positive impact government can have on the status of women and minorities in this country, but I know that most progress towards equality is enacted by local organizations. Last week I had the pleasure of touring one of the most effective and inspiring organizations working locally in the U.S.: the YWCA of Central Alabama. The Young Women’s Christian Association has been advocating for the rights of women and for the elimination of racism since its founding in 1858, and has been established in Central Alabama since 1903. Guided by the visionary leadership of Suzanne Durham, the YWCA has become the go-to organization in Alabama for women and families in crisis– whether homeless, abused, unemployed or otherwise, the YWCA offers women and children hope and a home. As I walked the historic halls of this YWCA with Ms. Durham, my hope for the future of this community and country were vindicated as I watched at-risk women and children able to claim their power and potential through the effective, evidence based programing and services offered.
As Ms. Durham lead me through half a dozen state-of-the-art classrooms, the grim reality that faces at-risk children was evident: most live amongst chaos and suffer trauma. The YWCA offers a place of peace and stability so that these children can thrive. You can learn more about the work of the YWCA of Central Alabama here.
Ms. Durham has led the YWCA of Central Alabama as director for more than 30 years, and has also served as the national YWCA board chair. Under her leadership, the organization has been selected as the 2013 winner of a national Planning Excellence Award for “Advancing Diversity and Social Change” in the Woodlawn neighborhood. In 2007, 43% of families in Woodlawn were living below the poverty line. The YWCA responded in force and has established a Family Resource Center, an interfaith housing center for the homeless, and a 58–unit housing initiative. They are actively empowering this community and helping thousands rise up out of poverty.
With the YWCA, Ms. Durham has impacted countless lives in Alabama. Sitting in her office full of tributes to powerful feminists who have come before (including her “Gertrude Stein” and “Virginia Woolf” pillows), I felt the power of those brave women and men who fought for my equality, and was humbled to be speaking with an integral member of that legacy.
On this historical day, I am grateful for leaders like President Obama and Suzanne Durham who boldly envision a more equal world, and who are working everyday to see their vision turned into reality.