Melanie Herrmann: Presentations of Impact 2020

Melanie Herrmann: Presentations of Impact 2020

Growing up, I knew I had passion and creativity and the drive to support those around me. I’ve never been one to shy away from helping, even if it’s dirty, hard work. From building care packages for homeless youth with my Girl Scout troop to weeding pet cemeteries with my church’s youth group, I’ve done a lot, and walked away everytime feeling fulfilled. Satisfied. It’s something like a high when I serve my community that I’ve been chasing from a young age. But as I got older I realized that while all the things I had been doing were good and necessary, I wasn’t building anything lasting. They’ve all been one-off events. And that didn’t feel right. And I was doing it out of a point of selfishness when I really came down to it. That’s a lot of the community service world. Doing good for others one or two times so you feel better about yourself when you return to your privileged life. I was guilty of this.

I had been raised to think that you get a job to make money, you use that money to donate to good things, and then you get to use proof of that donation to pay less taxes. I don’t know about anyone else, but to me that sounds horribly boring and horribly selfish.

When I found Public Allies I saw it as an opportunity to pursue a career in creating sustainable change, by helping organizations doing necessary work build capacity to do even more necessary work. The nonprofit world is tough, because, if you’re doing it right, your job is to make your job obsolete. Maybe that sounds weird, so let me expand. If an organization is dedicated to ending world hunger, everyone in the organization knows they have succeeded when nobody goes to sleep hungry, and this organization’s employees no longer have jobs. If you end world hunger there’s no more need for an organization dedicated to ending it.

YWCA is a global organization doing really necessary work. Like, it’s kind of depressing how necessary it is even in the 21st century. Dedicated to empowering women and eliminating racism. Two really tall orders. And when I was placed with YWCA Metropolitan Phoenix, the local association here in the valley, I learned that while they were doing really well in the empowering women realm, the organization wasn’t really sure where to even start on eliminating racism. That’s where I came in. While I’m by no means an expert in racial justice, I’ve been pursuing a degree in religious studies with a minor in psychology. And that helped me form the approach I took when developing YWCA Metropolitan Phoenix’s first ever Racial Equity and Inclusivity staff training. I came at keeping the psychological factors of racism and changing viewpoints in the forefront of my mind at all times. And through religious studies, I’ve learned a lot about what it means to build bridges between “opposing” groups, Islam and Christianity for instance. While not actually opposing, each religion having the same god and the same end goal of peace on each, because how they practice is different some groups within both religions think they are so different that they simply cannot coexist or better yet, respect and support one another.

I built my REI trainings with the goal in mind of creating cohesion between the staff, volunteers, and board members of YWCA Metropolitan Phoenix when it comes to thinking and talking about race and racism in the US. Cohesion means a stronger movement and even stronger impact. That is what YWCA Metropolitan Phoenix needs and wants to be more than ever. This cohesion is secured by having a shared language and knowledge base. And while there is so much to race and so much to learn about racism in the US, I started the staff off with six must-know topics to get them started off on the right foot. As well, with the help of State Farm’s Learning and Development Team, I developed curriculum on the See-Do-Get Model about how to have successful race-related conversations; which is the first step to creating change: just talking about it, bringing the issue up every day to ensure it’s always on other people’s radars just like it is on yours.

I learned a lot about the topics I was teaching on and a lot about myself. I knew what privilege was but I’ve come out of this program knowing how it behaves in my day-to-day life. I knew what a microaggression is but I never knew how to call other people out on it in a way that doesn’t prompt them to build a wall between them and I on the subject, until now. I had always thought meritocracy was a good thing until I was so deep into learning about how our system has gotten this bad and in one of the many papers I was reading blamed part of it on the myth of meritocracy. So much of my world has shifted further than I thought it could that I’m so much more annoying at family reunions now. But I can now actually confidently hold my front in arguments with the conservative side of my family, and without raising my voice or shrieking at them, but instead keeping my cool and calmly having a thoughtful and educational discussion about issues we may differ on.

It’s a whole new world for me that I didn’t even think was an option until I found Public Allies. I’m excited to take what I’ve learned and who I’ve developed into further into the world and make even bigger waves. It’s exciting and exhilarating. And now I can confidently say that I made a change that is going to last. YWCA Metropolitan Phoenix has built so many bridges and partnerships through the REI work and there’s nowhere to go but up. I am leaving in their hands materials for them to recreate the success of the first ten trainings that they can use to develop staff competency, but also to be able to take out and offer to the community. Because everyone will benefit when racism is good and gone. And there’s no limit to what you can learn when it comes to being an ally.