YWCA – It’s Time to Talk

On Friday, February 15th, our first event of the day was the 5th annual “It’s Time to Talk”  (ITT) forum put on by the YWCA Greater Cleveland whose purpose is “to expand racial understanding and cultural competency through dialogue about community and business members of different races with the ultimate goal of eliminating barriers that foster racism and discrimination…”

The forum took place at the Jack, Joseph and Morton Mandel Humanities Center at Cuyahoga Community College  Eastern Campus and was described on the YWCA website as “a unique one day forum on combating racism and unconscious bias. ITT features a keynote, a gallery walk, small group circle conversations, as well as a World Cafe. ITT gives participants the opportunity to share their lived experience, learn from others, and begin the work of finding solutions that will allow us to begin to heal our community from the harm caused by racism and unconscious bias.”

We arrived early and got to say hello to several prominent people that were also participating such as Ms. Barbara Danforth, Executive Officer at Summit Academy School and former President and CEO of YWCA Greater Cleveland; Mr. Piet Van Lier, former Executive Director of the Cleveland Transformation Alliance; Mr. Marty McGann, Senior Vice President of Advocacy at the Greater Cleveland Partnership; and Mr. Ian Heisey, Community Engagement Director at Bellaire Puritas Development Corporation.

We also viewed the Gallery Wall that contained photos of significant events that took place within the last year, including demonstrators gathering at the Starbucks in Philadelphia where two black men had been arrested two days earlier in what was admittedly an instance of racial profiling; a celebration of the election of women of color and LGBTQ people in the 2018 midterm elections; and immigrant children being separated from their parents at the U.S./Mexican border. All of the attendees were encouraged to place comments next to the photos stating our reactions. On the one pertaining to the immigrant children, we commented that comprehensive immigration reform was urgently needed.

When it was time for the morning keynote, we sat in the first row beside Ms. Margaret Mitchell, the current President and CEO of the YWCA Greater Cleveland, and Professor Ken Schneck of the Sociology Department at Baldwin-Wallace College, both of whom delivered brief remarks. In the course of her opening words, Ms. Mitchell paid tribute to the Native Americans who inhabited the land for many years before the ancestry of the rest of us immigrated to the United States.

Professor Schneck then introduced the keynote speaker: Ms. Karen Williams, who fulfills multiple roles as a comic, emcee, host, diversity trainer, motivational speaker, and humor educator. In addition, Ms. Williams is the Founder and CEO of the HaHa International Institute of Humor and Healing Arts whose mission is “to encourage the fullest and highest activation of human potential for compassion, wisdom, and life force through the daily use of humor and healing arts…”

Since the issue of focus for the ITT forum was the healing power of humor, we cannot imagine a more appropriate speaker than Ms. Karen Williams proved to be because she demonstrated that, from a health management standpoint, laughter is a very healthy thing to engage in periodically throughout the day because it increases oxygen to the brain and lungs.

From a social standpoint, she also demonstrated that when people of diverse backgrounds and beliefs laugh in unison, it brings them together; perhaps only for the moment but at least this is a start. Indeed, Ms. Williams wasn’t sure that laughter can eliminate racism because it is so ingrained but it can expand the boundaries and possibilities for friendship.

Along these lines, Ms. Williams shared with us her 10 commandments of Human Relations which were: speak to people, smile at people, call people by name, be friendly and helpful, be cordial, be genuinely interested in people, be generous with praise, be considerate with the feelings of others, be alert to give service, and lastly have a good sense of humor.

More specifically, to help us through the day, she suggested five things that could really help us at our workplace: not read too much into people’s actions and give them the benefit of the doubt, practice generosity of spirit by being the first to offer assistance, speak well of others and avoid negativity, look for the positive in all situations-it may be tough to find but it is there, and show appreciation by simply saying thank you. Moreover, Ms. Williams contended that to all of these suggestions a sense of humor should be added along with patience, and humility. She sincerely believed that if we can engage in these practices, we will be rewarded many times over.