When YWCA Metropolitan Chicago established the Center for Racial Justice and Activism, CEO Laura Thrall said she came across a plethora of qualified applicants to head the program.
After reviewing several "pioneers of racial justice issues" from all over the nation, Thrall said the new director ended up being under their nose all along.
After appointing Vickie Sides as associate director of racial justice and activism, Thrall said the center will be run by an enormous champion of the anti-racism work YWCA Chicago represents.
"At the end of the day she had the enthusiasm, the passion, the heart and the track record to show that this is not only where her professional track lies, but where her personal passion lies," Thrall said.
Sides, who has been working at YWCA Chicago's Rape Crisis Hotline for more than 11 years, has many ambitious programs to head at her new post.
While fine-tuning the association's activist role, establishing a multimedia resource library and supervising the Racial Justice Scholars program, Sides said she seeks to help YWCA Chicago become more than just a recognized leader in the racial justice field, but a valued source and model for other organizations.
While training various interns and volunteers, Sides tells a story to help convey YWCA's mission of being more than just a bandage to the wounded, but an advocate in correcting injustices and inequity as well.
She describes a hypothetical scene where two people are standing on the banks of a river as someone in distress washes down. After fishing the victim out, other bodies begin to wash down as well. Eventually it occurs to one of them to go upstream to see what's going on.
"That's the way I conceive this work," Sides said. "While we are fishing people out in distress and helping them, it is as equally important to look upstream"to see what's happening there."
The Racial Justice Scholars Program will offer young people internships where they will learn to operate workshops to people of their communities on racial justice issues, Sides said. The goal is to provide opportunities to form grassroots, action coalitions as an advocacy for policy change.
"The community needs to be empowered so that when they experience a traumatizing event locally or nationally, they will have the tools to respond," Sides said. "Having conversations with people in their community and being able to articulate their position well [ is important ] ."
Sides, with her anti-violence experience preceding her, said she came to understand violence as a symptom of oppression, which needs to be curbed in order to correct injustices.
"Instead of waiting for the experts to be the ones to respond, the people who are most impacted should develop these tools," she said.
Sides, a Chicago native, is also the director of Resources for Sexual Violence Prevention ( RSVP ) at the University of Chicago, a campus anti-violence program whose mission is to promote gender relations through education and dialog while supporting victims of sexual violence.
While actively involved in the Black feminist network, Incite! Chicago, Sides said she strives to be active in Pillar of Love Fellowship Church in Summit, Ill, where her partner of 10 years, the Rev. Phyllis V. Pennese, is the pastor.
YWCA Chicago is the oldest women-focused social service organization in Chicago and one of the first organizations to have racial integration. Founded in 1876, the organization was a major power-player in the civil rights movement, said Thrall, and focuses in areas of employment, health and housing.
Today, the three core programmatic areas are economic empowerment services, sexual violence and support services, and early childhood services. With a staff of more than 120 employees located in various offices throughout Chicagoland, YWCA Chicago serves more than 138,000 women, children and families, according to its Web site.
For more information about the Center of Racial Justice and Activism and the YWCA Chicago, go to: www.ywcachicago.org .