The Work Continues
YWCA's Stand Against Racism
Story and Interviews by Teresa Nguyen
I wish people would believe. I think that’s the most important thing. When you hear people’s stories, those who are part of a group that’s been oppressed, don’t think that it’s made up or that they are whining. There’s really a story behind it.
~ Wanda Sloan
The Rock County Board of Supervisors recently declared April 28 - May 1 as "Stand Against Racism Days" in Rock County. One might wonder why we would need such a thing. But it only takes a few minutes of listening, of learning the stories and believing the truths that others have to face on a daily basis to recognize that we still have a way to go. There is still work to do.
Even though we have made exceptional progress since Janesville was settled in the 1830s, especially in the last few decades, racism, both personal and systemic, stereotypes, discrimination, exclusion, marginalization and disparities still exist in our community.
This year marks the 100th anniversary of YWCA Rock County. It's mission is to not only empower women, but also to help eliminate racism by raising awareness, building community and working toward racial justice. One way to raise awareness is to initiate conversations and to hold events. The YWCA Rock County invited Dr. Atiera Coleman, the Rock County Equity Manager, to speak to the public at the April 25th Stand Against Racism event. She spoke on the challenging issues of today and how we can work to make change.
Her words were moving and inspiring, giving beautiful hope to the younger generations in the crowd. Their wide eyes and beautiful smiles revealed their innocence - too young to remember the struggles of the Civil Rights era. They’re not experiencing that deep discouragement by the seemingly snail’s pace of change or the realization that, in some ways, we have taken steps backwards. Their eyes and ears were all on Dr. Coleman, soaking in her words and enthusiasm. One could easily assume that they left that April rally with lifted spirits and renewed energy to continue the work of so many great activists before them.
In an interview with Dr. Coleman, she expressed what this event meant to her and described the work she intends to conquer in her new position.
Atiera Coleman, Ph.D.
Rock County Equity Manager
This event is a great opportunity for me to share my approaches and my lens for the change I hope for the county. I want to help others to create an environment where we can call each other in to grow and learn about racist policies, learn how to locate those things within ourselves, to have that introspection. With that, we can all become better agents of social change.
The county is here to serve everyone and I’m here to make that a reality. I want to ensure that everyone not only can learn from this but also feels they are a part of the community and each person has a role in this.
There’s a lot of history, not all positive history, between the different cities in the county.
But, it’s 2022, and these last couple of years with the pandemic have highlighted some of the inequities that exists. But I feel that people’s empathy is up, and they are at a place where they feel they can make change and they can help. And I hope to utilize that energy and bring us all together.
This work is happening in all different spaces and places. I’m not recreating the wheel, I’m just reaching out and bringing it all together, so it seems more cohesive.
A Few Thoughtful Points from Dr. Coleman’s Speech
Food security, healthcare and housing for all is not political. These are human rights. When we label providing basic necessities to our brown and black communities as “political”, that is racism. These are tactics that have been historically used to divide and conquer, enslave and disenfranchise.
The way we teach history can be a distraction. It is important to read and fully understand history because history can repeat itself. It is a problem when slavery is taught as “Black History” and not as white history.
American journalist, Ida B. Wells stated, “The way to right wrongs is to turn the light of truth upon them.”
Language can be a distraction. We like to skirt around racism a lot and call it other things to make it more comfortable. We’ve all been easily distracted.
This rally today could be a distraction, as well, if your sole purpose is just to show up and not to use the lessons learned today to go and apply action for change. Collectively, we can make this inspirational move needed to make actual change in Rock County. We could actively support anti-racist policies through our actions. I myself am not immune to needing to do the work necessary to make change.
This work is my passion, my vocation, the way I want to give back to the world. What I want to bring to the county is a paradigm shift. I want to dismantle these inequitable systems, to focus on a lens change. I’m interested in creating an environment where we can all learn and work together.
Rock County Today
Rock County is still struggling, like the rest of the nation, with pervasive racial issues that impact our communities. There are racial inequities and disparities in our education system. We can see this with our test scores, our suspensions and graduation rates. We see it with housing, in our courts, mass incarcerations, infant mortality and more.
This is perpetuated with our policies. It isn’t one person pulling the strings, but it’s the community of well-meaning individuals who can’t identify or may even turn a blind eye to the inequities that continue to oppress people of color in our community.
Stating that DEI is a priority isn’t enough. Showing up today isn’t enough. The creation of my position alone isn’t enough. But you all hold the power and have the ability to truly do the work to create a critical mass of anti-racist social change.
What Can We Do?
What can we all do? How do we make an impact and become better agents of social change?
Dr. Coleman gives an inspiring speech at the YWCA
Stand Against Racism event in Janesville.
I lean into this work by providing an outlet for myself to leave spaces more inclusive than when I entered them. It is also the internal work of unlearning misinformation, challenging stereotypes that we all have internalized about ourselves and others. Believe what is actually outside the cave.
Standing against racism now means standing against the external and internal threats. Sometimes the hardest action is pausing and realizing that we all have some unlearning to do.
We don’t need more allies. What we need are accomplices. The term accomplice encompasses allyship, but it goes beyond to advocacy. An accomplice uses one’s privilege to challenge existing conditions at the risk of one’s own comfort and well-being.
Before we can change the world...
we all have to figure out what we can change within ourselves.
I hold the power to enact change, correct history, call in misinformation to my friends, to my family, to my clients and to my colleagues. I have the power to be introspective, to look within at the places and the spaces where I may be complicit and not actively fighting against racism. Use your power. Own your power.
As Alice Walker stated, “What did you do to learn about that problem? What did you do to find a solution?” That is this work.
Before we can change the world, we all have to figure out what we can change within ourselves.
I thank you for taking time to engage and consider what you can do in this work. Think about what your contributions will be. How will you do the work to take a stand against racism?
To learn more, visit
Community Action, Inc. Youth Development Mentor
We’re here with a couple of our students who will be giving speeches and we’re here to support them. But I’m also here because it’s important for our community to have these kinds of events.
I feel like I’ve spent a lot of time talking about these issues, especially over the past couple of years, especially with COVID and all of us being stuck indoors and away from others. It’s important to have events like this to keep the conversations going face to face.
It's interesting to see what people have to say. It’s good to hear what people are experiencing personally, and to see if our stories line up or if they differ drastically. Our stories are important, they show us how we can help.
They show us what we’re not focusing on or paying attention to. A lot of the people sharing these stories get left behind, or are forgotten.
What Can We Do?
Listen. Listening is the most important part. People don’t want to listen, but it’s critical in understanding others.
This is an issue that has concerned me for a long time. One of the most personal reasons is that my oldest son married a young woman from Jamaica, and I have three beautiful grandchildren who are of mixed race. I desperately want a world for them where they can be comfortable, accepted and where I don’t have to worry about them the way I do now.
What Can We Do?
Attend events like this. Our society is still so segregated that it is hard. You have to make an effort! You can’t allow integration and the end of racism to come to you. You have to actively work for it. I think that’s something we have to work very, very hard for in order to make change in our society.
A Speech by Antane Thomas
Student at Fresh Start - Community Action, Inc.
As a society, we are drowning in stereotypes. In society, I don’t have a problem, I am a problem. The world looks at me differently. I want to feel understood and for people to understand that my outlook on life comes from experience.
Many young black children are left behind because we are comfortable with the labels society has given us. We label our youth as “argumentative” or “aggressive” instead of “passionate” or “strong minded”.
We need to start asking why. Why are our youth hiding, why don’t they speak up? We need to start somewhere. We need to start with a conversation and more representation in our communities.
Superintendent of the School District of Beloit
I’m here because the work needs to be done at every level in every corner of our society. If we live in a society that is multidimensional, we can’t allow racism to take root anywhere.
For me, personally, working in a school district that is a third Black, a third Hispanic and a third white, we have to be doing this work each and every day. It has to be individualized work, done separately, but it also has to be done collectively.
If you take a look around here, at these students, this is why I do the work. These students came here from Janesville Parker, from Beloit and they came on their own. I’m here to support the work and also to support the district and friends who are here.
What Can We Do?
For people who look like me, get yourself outside your comfort zone. If your friends’ group isn’t diverse, broaden your circle. Put yourself in spaces where you will get a broader perspective. That’s one simple way to get the process started and then build from that.
Rock County Coordinator for the Wisconsin Poor People’s Campaign
I was invited to this event and feel it’s really important for those of us who belong to organizations to really connect together. It’s very meaningful to me.
What Can We Do?
Our power is magnified when we join together. We all have different perspectives on what we see as our major focus, but they’re very much connected.
When we work individually or as organizations, we push the narrative forward until it becomes really loud. We have to stand together as organizations, as a people, to build hope.
Independent Consultant on Race Relations, Diversity/Inclusion And Cultural Competency
I’m here primarily for the future. I’m kind of disenchanted with the little progress we have made, as long as we have been working on the issue of inclusion and equity. I’ve done this work all my life and was hoping to form a better society for my children and grandchildren.
So now it doesn’t seem as close. There doesn't seem to be a resolution to all this, ending racism and discrimination, and personally, feel we’re going a little backward. It’s disheartening. It’s tiresome.
But then I think of my ancestors, others who are doing this work. You just keep going, because they didn’t stop.
I am where I am today because they didn’t stop - the Fannie Lou Hamers, the Ida B. Wells, the Martin Luther Kings, the Mother Theresas, all the people that did critical, heartfelt, compassionate work. They were my role models and they never stopped, so why should I?
What Can We Do?
It’s so weird that it took until the latter years of my life, that I didn’t see this before, but I wish people would believe. I think that’s the most important thing. When you hear people’s story, those who are part of a group that’s been oppressed, don’t think that it’s made up or that they are whining. There’s really a story behind it.
Because we live in the land of plenty, it’s harder and harder for people to look at someone who is homeless and to feel any sympathy. Instead, they blame that person, rather than the systems and the structures that are in place in this bountiful country. There’s absolutely no reason for it.
Those walking by a homeless person would rather say, “They could do better.” It’s judgmental. But the person judging doesn’t really know the story and would rather deny that person’s reality.
We have to believe those stories.
Street art in Madison - Photo by Victor Corro
A Poem by Jarmarie Jarrett
Full Time AmeriCorps Member
When I look at myself in the mirror, can I tell you what I see? I see a Black woman, strong as ever, not defined by her past, but who is determined, because she sees her future.
So, when you look at me, what do you see? Some say a loud Black girl who can’t keep her mouth shut. And that’s why I tend to speak quietly.
But when you look at me, what do you see? Some may say a thug with no home training and that’s why I dress nice and talk properly, so they don’t discredit me.
When you look at me, what do you see? Do you see the beauty behind my black skin and hair or do you see a threat underneath?
When I look at myself in the mirror, here’s what I see…I see a Black girl who has to work twice as hard to get what she wants, a Black girl who has to change her speech, change her stance and, most of all, change herself.
Then, when I look at you, here’s what I see. I see a world full of possibilities and, most of all, I see you.
So, when you look at me, all I ask is that you please see me.
Click here to watch the WKOW 27 News report on this Rock County event: