by Bob Geary
The good news, if there be such in the debacle of the Raleigh YWCA closing, is that the Southeast Raleigh community is rising strongly to insist that the facility and its programs be saved. That was apparent tonight as 200 people gathered — not at the YWCA, but as it turned out at the Martin Street Baptist Church a few blocks away — to voice their feelings and start to organize. "We were going in different directions," said Wake County Commissioner James West, talking about how hard times brought the community down. But with the news about the YW, West said, "We are coming together."
Said Rukiya Dillahunt, a retired school vice principal and activist in Black Workers for Justice: "The people united will never be defeated." After leading a chant with those words, Dillahunt vowed: "And we are going to save the YWCA on Hargett Street."
Those who came expecting to hear a plan to save the YWCA were disappointed, however. No board members of the YWCA of the Greater Triangle, the governing body that closed the building and terminated 14 employees on less than a day's notice Wednesday, attended the meeting. That fact ticked off the displaced workers. One, Omisade Burney-Scott, read aloud the outraged letter they directed at the board on Friday. Another, Crystal Hayes, called them "cowards."
Board members did meet privately with a small group of community leaders in a conference room at Martin Street Baptist before the public session began.
According to several people who were there, board members said they closed the YW abruptly after being warned by their "legal counsel" that they risked criminal charges if they continued to employ people knowing they didn't have any money to pay them. The lawyers also advised board members not to attend the open meeting last night and not to allow it to be held at the YWCA, as the workers and community leaders planned.
So, at the last minute, the open meeting was moved to the church, with organizers directing folks there as they arrived at the YW.
Because the board members did not address issues in public, the people who attended the meeting came away without any information about how deep the financial troubles of the YWCA go. I was told by a knowledgeable person that the organization's debt is $500,000 in round numbers. I can't quote the name.
Board members said in private that they intend to meet with the displaced workers as soon as possible, probably this week, and are working hard to find the money to pay them their back wages they're owed.
If details about the organization's debts were scant, though, organizing to get the details and begin to address them is moving ahead.
The Rev. Earl Johnson, pastor at Martin Street and the new president of the RWCA (Raleigh Wake Citizens Association), Southeast Raleigh's political arm, is among the leaders along with members of his church and members of First Baptist Church downtown.
City Councilor Eugene Weeks said he's talked with Council members, City Manager Russell Allen and Mayor Nancy McFarlane and they're "listening" for ways the city can help.
Keith Sutton, the district's representative on the Wake County Board of Education, said school leaders are working as a team to find after-school programs for the kids who were in such programs at the YW.
Several organizations have volunteered to host the YW's senior group, the Golden Oaks.
And Bishop M.S. Nesbitt of Deliverance Cathedral of Love got a big round of applause when she spoke toward the end of the meeting and promised that her church will write checks to each of the 14 displaced workers for $1,000 each.
Organizers are raising money to support the 14 employees who were terminated and who continue to be owed back wages. Those wishing to contribute should direct checks to ACRE (Action for Community in Raleigh), a nonprofit 501(c)3 group which has agreed to handle the donations and pass them through to the workers. The mailing address is:
331 W. Main St.
Durham, N 27701.
Write YWCA on the check. Contributions will be tax-deductible.