The YMCA's Role in Progressing Civil Rights


Sometimes it can seem like our nation’s darkest impulses are winning out, and changing this xenophobic, fearful trajectory is impossible. 

On Monday morning, I joined YMCA of Austin members and staff to stand with a community of caring changemakers on the campus of The University of Texas at Austin in front of the statue of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. There, it was demonstrably clear that the good people of this nation are legion. We continue to steer our country toward justice, equity, inclusion and love. 

The YMCA has always stood at the front of the call for racial equality, from establishing the first YMCAs for African Americans in 1853, twelve years before the thirteenth amendment was ratified, to calling for an end to racial segregation in YMCAs in 1931. Racial discrimination was officially banned in YMCAs in 1967

Having played a part in the justice movements of the past, though, is not enough. Today, the YMCA must continue to stand at the front of the call for not only racial equality, but also equality for all genders, all abilities and all classes, with special attention paid to the fact that discrimination does not occur in silos. The intersection of oppressed groups is a place where especially vulnerable people need the greatest care. 


It is up to all of us as citizens of this nation, this state, our city, to keep the movement alive, fighting injustices. — Dr. Colette Pierce Burnette


Dr. Colette Pierce Burnette, President and CEO of Huston Tillotson University, and board member of the YMCA of Austin, spoke to marchers on Monday. She encouraged that “it is up to all of us as citizens of this nation, this state, our city, to keep the movement alive, fighting injustices.”

Dr. Pierce acknowledged that we continue as a nation to be plagued with racism, misogyny, homophobia and sexism. But she reminded us that Dr. King left us with a blueprint so that we can realize our true brotherhood of humanity:

  1. Continue to courageously challenge all systems of racism and segregation.
  2. Make full and constructive use of the freedom we already possess. We must not use our oppression as an excuse for mediocrity.
  3. Exercise our voting privileges.
  4. We must be willing to suffer and sacrifice to achieve freedom. Freedom will never be handed out on a silver platter, and it will never be free. 
  5. We must assure that our struggle is conducted on the highest level of dignity and discipline. Do not flirt with retaliatory violence or drink from the poisonous wine of hate. 

Our community was able to gather at the MLK statue together in peace, and to sing songs and celebrate victories, only because of the hard work that others have done before. One year ago, civic leaders called for the removal of Confederate names from Austin public schools. Today, those schools have new names to reflect civil rights heroes. Seventy-one years ago, UT did not have any Black students or faculty. Today, UT is a majority minority undergraduate population. These changes happened because people worked hard and made it happen. 

It is so much more than marching on the third Monday of January. Our actions must back up our aspirations every day of the year. The Y members and staff at Monday’s march enact these aspirations daily at locations across our city. The YMCA of Austin continually reassesses its actions to verify that it is living up to its mission. 

YMCA of Austin staff remain committed to continuing the struggle for equal rights under the law and equal rights in practice for the people of our city, and the people of our nation. 

YMCA of Austin at the 2020 MLK Day March and Community Celebration

crowd at MLK statue
The procession began on UT campus in front of the MLK statue
YMCA staff at MLK day march
Staff and members represented the YMCA of Austin
Peace has attended the MLK Day march every year since 2010
big crowd
People stretched as far as the eye could see


Roxanne Rathge
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