YW Boston’s Beth Chandler leads by example to combat racism and sexism
By Ling-Mei Wong 黃靈美 – Sampan Newspaper
Beth Chandler joined YW Boston in November 2012 and was promoted to be the organization’s president and CEO in August 2018. She leads an organization founded in 1866 to support the welfare of women across the city of Boston, then called the Young Women’s Christian Association. Today, YW Boston provides education and support to nonprofits, corporations, schools and government organizations so individuals can be change agents for racial and gender equality.
“YW had a lot of firsts to empower women in particular. Early on in the organization, women across race and ethnicity would come together,” Chandler said. “We want to do the same work, but from a systemic perspective. We seek to address systems in place that reinforce racism.”
YW Boston’s mission of “Eliminating racism | Empowering women” is conducted through three initiatives: Dialogues on Race and Ethnicity, the Youth Leadership Initiative “InIt” and LeadBoston. Dialogues on Race and Ethnicity look at how racism impact individuals, how it impacts others and how participants can build an action plan to address it. The LeadBoston program is for leaders in Boston who want to develop a greater understanding of how their organization both impacts and influences overarching systems in the city and the importance of advancing greater racial and gender equity. Finally, the Youth Leadership Initiative fosters civic engagement and social justice leadership in high school students.
Becky Schuster, Boston Public Schools assistant superintendent of equity, was among the founders of the Citywide Dialogues on Boston’s Ethnic and Racial Diversity in 2003. Originally conceived as a short-term project, it was adopted and expanded by YW Boston, reaching thousands of Bostonians.
“I love that YW Boston has prioritized backing women of color in leadership,” Schuster said. “I can’t imagine a better person to spearhead that work than Beth.”
Chandler replaces Sylvia Ferrell-Jones, who led the agency for nearly 11 years, until she retired in September 2017 and passed away in November 2017. Before being named CEO, Chandler was YW’s chief operating officer and served as interim CEO.
“Sylvia understood this work required patience, to not be content but patient,” Chandler said. “The building of cathedrals in Europe took generations before people would know what they were building toward.”
April English, assistant attorney general and organization development and diversity chief for the Office of Attorney General Maura Healey, met Chandler through LeadBoston and is on the YW board of directors. She felt Chandler was a great leader who inspired her staff.
“She truly understands the idea of how bias permeates through every facet of our lives,” English said. “How negatively it impacts people of color, especially her being a person of color. It’s personal.”
Chandler has two children, who motivate her to continue her work. To encourage dialogue, she offered three tips: Be informed, get to know people and be aware of issues keeping people apart.
“It’s hard to advocate for something if you don’t understand it,” Chandler said. “The more you understand somebody, you think less about difference.”
Jennifer Aronson, associate vice president of programs for The Boston Foundation, has worked with YW as a grant recipient.
“I’ve been doing this work for some time and it’s been challenging to find allies that both offer curriculum and effective approaches that move the needle on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), and who are also able to meet organizations where they are in their own development and DEI journey,” Aronson said. “This work is head work and heart work. Practitioners need to help people be reflective and emotionally vulnerable, but also to translate those lessons into tools that lead to progress and impact.”