YWCA wants to engage younger generation with 'Activists and Agitators'

Brittany Moseley
The YWCA team behind Activists & Agitators, from left: program coordinator Lauren James, program director Caroline Woliver, CEO Christie Angel and events manager Adria Hall

Christie Angel talks a lot about moving the needle forward. In the case of the YWCA Columbus, the organization Angel began leading in 2017 as CEO, the needle represents its mission: eliminating racism and empowering women.

And what moves it forward? Everything from the YWCA’s emergency shelter and residency program to its advocacy agenda and community talks to its leadership programs and year-round child care.

So when the YWCA realized that one of its signature events — “Woman to Woman” — was no longer moving the needle forward, the organization created “Activists and Agitators.” Now in its second year, the event aims to create dialogue among attendees and encourage them to tackle issues of inclusion and empowerment in their own communities. The goal is to give people the resources and practical knowledge they need to create change.

The event will also feature a networking portion, a marketplace of women and minority-owned businesses, and a speech from local mental health advocate Achea Redd. Funds raised from the event will go to support the YWCA’s two leadership programs: Bright Futures, which is for middle school girls, and Leadership for Social Change, which is for young women at the beginning of their careers.

Angel and the other event organizers also see “Activists and Agitators” as a way to introduce a new generation of women to the YWCA, an organization with a rich history that some might not be aware of.

“We were founded in 1886 by five women who, I tell people all the time, I don't think they were self-described activists at that time, but they had to be activists, because they pulled their own resources together to found YWCA Columbus, and then they financed this building, although they could not take out a loan in their own name,” Angel said. “We’re founded on activist roots.”

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“We said, ‘Let’s get back to some of our roots,’” she continued. “We have so many amazing activists in this community, but also nationally. We also found it's a great way to connect people and to continue to build community and to give our attendees an opportunity to find their tribe, but also to learn ways in which they can express their activism, or agitation if that’s what it is.”

One of those local activists is Achea Redd, the featured speaker at this year’s event. Redd is a mental health advocate, author and the founder of Real Girls F.A.R.T. (Fearless. Authentic. Rescuer. Trailblazer), a website she started in 2016 as a way to document her mental health journey after she was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder.

With the death of local activists Amber Evans earlier this year and MarShawn McCarrel in 2016, the connection between activism and mental health — and the toll one can take on the other — became a talking point in the city. For Redd, her activism began with advocating for herself.

“My advocacy work has spun into being an activist and really speaking for other people and getting out there in the community and pounding my fist and saying, ‘This has got to change. We have got to do better,’” Redd said. “While we’re advocating for other people, we have got to learn how to advocate for ourselves. And it starts with putting our own oxygen mask on first, like they tell you on the airplane. Secure your oxygen mask first, and then you can help somebody else. And so I think if I can have a room full of people understand the importance of that, that’s going to make them better people for their communities.”

YWCA events manager Adria Hall, who discovered Redd via Instagram and sought her out for “Activists and Agitators,” said she was drawn to Redd’s “honesty and her fearless openness about mental health.”

“Mental health, we know, plays a big role in why people end up in shelter. So there is that piece of housing insecurity and how mental health plays into that and the people that come and seek our services,” Hall said. “And there is also, just in general, this stigma around mental health that I think is important [to discuss]. We were talking yesterday about the connection between mental health and our organization. We would be so remiss if at some point we did not address, as a women’s organization, something that impacts one in every four women.”

“Activists and Agitators” only happens once a year, but Angel and Hall hope it encourages people to get involved — with YWCA and their communities — on a long-term basis in a way that moves the needle.

“What matters to us is eliminating racism and empowering women [and] creating … a more prosperous Columbus,” Angel said. “There’s a lot of work to do, and we need more people in that work, wherever they are in their life.”

5 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 17

Greater Columbus Convention Center

400 N. High St., Downtown


Activists and Agitators