Committed to Racial Justice

An important part of our mission here at the YWCA Central Massachusetts is eliminating racism. As an organization, we have advocated for racial and social justice on national, state, and local levels. Members of our Board of Directors regularly receive racial and social justice training, and stand as representatives of our mission.

Joyce McNickles, EdD has devoted most of her adult life to social and racial justice work. As a member of the Board of Directors she felt it was important to expand on our mission, and together with board member Etel Capacchione, she founded the Racial Justice Task Force.

How did you first become interested in social justice work?

On a personal level, my husband and I have been married for 22 years, so when we first were married, I was bothered by the reactions some people had because we were different races. It became a mission for me to understand these people. I wanted to peel back their reactions – I knew there was more to these ideas than whether blacks and whites should marry – but I wanted to get to the root of that.

I ended up having this personal interest, and wanting to know how people’s experiences were shaping their perspectives. I wanted to know more about bias, prejudice, and discrimination.

How has your education helped you to understand the area of social and racial justice?

While studying at UMass we looked at discrimination from the perspective that you can’t eradicate one inequity without eradicating all of them. If you’re interested in fighting oppression, you need to be equally concerned with all of them because they all overlap: racism intersects with sexism, classism, and heterosexism.

I worked towards my Master’s Degree at UMass and started working at the National Conference for Community and Justice (NCCJ) as their program coordinator, doing training curriculum for workplace diversity. I did that for a number of years, before I moved into teaching social justice classes in higher education. While I was teaching I went back to get my doctorate degree.

How did you become involved with the YWCA?

I first started working with the board while training them on racial justice as an employee of the NCCJ. After I left NCCJ, I began teaching courses in social justice at Anna Maria College, before eventually founding my own consulting firm, which specializes in individualized coaching and training around social justice work. McNickles and Associates allows me to continue my social justice work, and through this I often crossed paths with the YWCA.

This is now my second year on the board. I was proud of the work that we do here at the YWCA, but myself and Board Member Etel Cappaccione wanted to form the new task force to make the YW more visible in the community around racial justice work.

Why did you feel it was important to form the Racial Justice Task Force?

People know that the YWCA is here, and they know that it’s a woman’s organization, but we wanted to be seen in the community as a leader in racial justice as well. I think that sometimes people do not know the work that we do around racial justice here. There is a lot of policy and advocacy work we do behind the scenes as members of the board, but those aren’t necessarily what people in the community see.

I feel it’s important for people to see us doing tangible things which promote racial justice. The policy work and advocacy work are important, but Etel and I both felt that we wanted to do something to organize our message, and organize around our mission. Initially we’re focused on bringing one event to the community, which will center around increasing people’s awareness about how racism functions in society.

What kind of event are you looking to put on?

We are still in the planning process, but our plan is to show a film from SPIT-IT, a program that allows Worcester youth to create social documentaries. The screenings will show the community how young people use media to tell their stories, while addressing issues on social justice. We hope to have the film producers serve on a panel to discuss, and encourage community participation.

What do you hope the Racial Justice Task Force will achieve?

I want the people from our community to feel as if they had a hand in producing something that they can benefit from. I want the YWCA to become a venue for educating and awareness-building. I feel the task force will help the community because it will give them a forum to talk about racism. We want to continue to bring events to the community so together we can continue the dialogue, and build a presence, while continuing to build awareness and educate.


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