Building a Culture of Solidarity in a former “Sundown Town”

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Building a Culture of Solidarity in a former “Sundown Town”

By Tara Peterson, CEO, YWCA Glendale and Pasadena

As a Black woman who has spent most of her career working for and leading social justice organizations, I have always envisioned that I would work in a diverse and progressive community. Inspired by the dual mission of eliminating racism and empowering women, five years ago, I joined YWCA Glendale located in a predominantly white and conservative community in Los Angeles County. In 2020, while the city’s demographics had shifted substantially to include the largest Armenian population in the country, Glendale’s Black population only made up 1.6%, or 2,500 residents. As a sundown town for the majority of the 20th century, Black workers were asked to leave the city by sundown or face violence by police and community members. Black folks and other communities of color were also excluded from residing or purchasing property in Glendale through discriminatory language in property deeds and covenants. Additionally, people of color were made to feel unsafe due to the presence of the Ku Klux Klan and the American Nazi Party, who maintained active chapters and headquarters in Glendale.

Given this context, I was doubtful that as a Black woman, I may be the right person to lead in this community; especially when I could take my talents a few miles down the 405 freeway to a more diverse and accepting city. As I began to settle in my position and learn the lay of the land in Glendale, I knew that every day I was going to have to navigate my experience of privilege in some areas and oppression in others. I began looking for opportunities to exercise my responsibility as an agent of change and started forming relationships with individuals and organizations from our relatively small Black community that felt unseen and unheard.

In the summer of 2020, after the murder of George Floyd and in the wake of the calls for justice, our Black community looked to YWCA Glendale and demanded that we stand in solidarity during this moment of racial reckoning. As a Black member of this community, I too felt the outrage, but I was still uncertain about moving YWCA Glendale beyond its comfort zone of providing direct services. Standing in solidarity to advance racial justice requires us to be bold and consistent and, to complete this work, we need to uncover anti-racist policies as well as recognize and confront intrinsic biases every day. To create effective and lasting change, we need to support each other in radical ways and step out of our comfort zones to seek intentional resolution and learn deliberately.

I accepted the opportunity to move this organization forward in advancing our mission by using my position within the community as a leader and my power and authority as the CEO to move YWCA Glendale from supporting communities to standing in solidarity with people who look like me. In partnership with the founders of the Black in Glendale community group, we created the Coalition for an Anti-Racist Glendale. Rather than back down from the fight, this group of diverse organizations came together to stand in solidarity with our Black community and move the city to not only commit to exploring anti-racist policies and practices, but to first reckon with its own history of anti-Blackness as a former sundown town. The creation of the Coalition for an Anti-Racist Glendale and the Sundown Town Resolution passage became vehicles that allowed YWCA Glendale to foster new partnerships, forge cross movement alliances, and move towards building a culture of solidarity amongst a community previously tormented by racial violence and discrimination.