by Susan Fried
As the sound the Maya Soleil Drummers beat in the background, the attendees arriving for the 100-Year celebration of the YWCA in the Central District on Tuesday afternoon milled around looking at photographs showing the history of the Y and reconnecting with old friends. They gathered to return the East Cherry Branch of the YWCA back to its initial name, the Phillis Wheatley Branch.
The branch was founded in 1919 under its original name, but after moving to its current location at 2820 E. Cherry Street in 1952 was rechristened the East Side Branch and then the East Cherry Branch. Returning the Central District YW to its original name in memory of Phillis Wheatley, a formerly enslaved person who became the first African-American woman to publish a book of poetry in 1773.
Tuesday’s celebration marked not only the YWCA’s 100-year presence in the Central District but also the national recognition of the 400 year Anniversary of the arrival of enslaved Africans to the United States in 1619.
The celebration also included naming the large meeting room in the facility after Bertha Pitts-Campbell, the four-term chair of the East Cherry Branch and a founding member of the Delta Sigma Theta Sorority.
In her invocation, poet Dr. Mona Lake Jones said that the reason all had assembled was to remember, celebrate, and honor the history of the Cherry Street facility and recommit to the future.
“Today our prayers are simply that in this re-dedication we recommit to racial and gender equity and that we renew our efforts to ensure that the women and their families who come through these doors will be given the skills to be wise enough to become who they ought to be and caring enough to turn and help someone else find their way. Let us count the many blessings this YWCA has given to the community and let us continue to beat the drum, setting the cadence as we march into the future.”
Leslie Jones, a YWCA Board member recounted her experiences as a frightened, pregnant 14-year-old African-American girl, who found help through the YWCA. She described walking through the doors and being embraced by a community that said, “Baby, it’s going to be alright.”
The YWCA gave her a sense of belonging, a place where no one judged her. The folks at the Y helped her learn how to be a parent and encouraged her to complete her education. Ms. Jones described how five decades earlier she had received help from the women whose photographs now adorned the back wall of the Bertha Pitts-Campbell room.
“I know we’re going to be changing the name, but I want you to know that there will never be a change in the level of dedication and commitment that this organization will continue to have going forward,” she said.
The event ended with the unveiling of a sign on the outside of the building, with the name YWCA, Phillis Wheatley Branch, rededicating the YWCA to another century of providing services to black women and the community of the Central District.
Featured image: LueRachelle Brim-Atkins claps after the sign bearing the YWCA new name, the Phillis Wheatley Branch is unveiled during the 100 Year Celebration of the YWCA in the Central District on November 12. (Photo: Susan Fried)