Make Equitable Spaces For Youth to Lead

Goldie Patrick with YWAC Fellows Kiran Waqar and Alicia Butler during Declare Equity for Girls Panel
Goldie Patrick with YWAC Fellows Kiran Waqar and Alicia Butler during Declare Equity for Girls Panel

Last month I had the honor of speaking as a panelist at the “Declare Equity for Girls: Power & Policy Luncheon” by Crittenton Services of Greater Washington. As a poet, I am used to speaking on stages, navigating green rooms, and gauging audiences but something about this experience felt different. Not only was there a focus on amplifying the voices of the most marginalized, there was action behind the rhetoric.

From my experiences, the luncheon organizers and participants embodied the change needed. I felt this most clearly in the language used. Far too often, the same spaces focused on empowering youth, end up creating barriers to youth engagement. They hold events during the school day, don’t assist with transportation, and on top of all that, use jargon that most (without the expertise) don’t understand. This isn’t to say that young people aren’t intelligent or that they are incapable of participating in these discussions. On the contrary, youth often have the experience and input that adults need to create sustainable, long-term solutions.

Instead of using academic and industry-specific jargon, effective messages are rooted and phrased in youth’s lived experiences and expertise.

What I commend Crittenton Services for doing so well is mixing the two — bringing in academics, community leaders, and experts who use language you don’t need a PhD to understand. Incorporating slam poetry, an emcee who casually referenced “hot girl summer,” and a panel that ranged in age, I quickly realized that this event was unique. For once, I felt comfortable. I felt like I was in a space made for me, not one in which I was merely a guest. I didn’t feel the need to code-switch or censor myself. I knew I was in a place where I could talk about intersectionality and Muslim Twitter in the same breath; I knew I could be myself and still be heard.

Reflecting on my experience as a panelist with Crittenton Services of Greater Washington and my experiences with numerous other organizations, I am reminded again of the ways we show up in spaces. The ways we show up and the people we bring with us can either continue the status quo or make room for new, innovative, and necessary change.

As we engage with nonprofits, advocacy organizations, and organizers, we need to be mindful of what we are bringing to the table and what doors we are opening for others. Are we advancing ourselves and the communities we purport to serve? I think this is a question every good public servant needs to ask themselves constantly. For myself, I am reminded of the ways I can accidentally play into the “good Muslim” stereotype, furthering myself while simultaneously feeding into problematic vs. bad Muslim discourse. Even though my original intentions could have been innocent, the outcome is less so. To be an ethical changemaker, I must have both: the intention and the self-reflection required to secure the anticipated result.

Moving forward, I encourage all of us to take a critical look at ourselves and the organizations we engage in. It is far too easy to critique other organizations that you forget to take a look in the mirror. In what ways do we do perpetuate the same forces, whether it be gate-keeping, white supremacy, or sexism, that we purport to be fighting against? How can we identify these gaps? And most importantly, what solutions can we take to be more equitable, and inclusive, and not just in theory but also in practice.

Blueprint Recommendations to End and Prevent Homelessness

This post is the first of a two part-series focused on philanthropy’s role in ending homelessness in collaboration with Funders Together to End Homelessness.

On a given night, close to 7,000 people are living in shelters or on the streets in the District of Columbia. Many more are at high risk of experiencing homelessness, dependent upon others for temporary accommodation, or living one crisis away from housing instability.

Many factors can contribute to individuals and families experiencing homelessness such as job loss, family breakdown, eviction, and domestic violence. However, the root cause of homelessness is the lack of affordable housing and the failure of systems, not that of an individual, and is perpetuated by the historical and current structural racism that exists in those systems.

Young women of color who provided their time and expertise to shape our Blueprint for Action—the policy agenda of the Young Women’s Initiative—talked about experiencing homelessness and lacking access to affordable housing. Homelessness came up in every single policy issue we discussed, from education, to health and well-being, to the juvenile justice system and economic security. They recognized that without housing first, it is hard for young women of color to pursue personal goals, secure and maintain employment, and overall improve the quality of their life.

Based on the learnings and overarching recommendations of the Blueprint for Action, and the work many funders and non-profit organizations are doing in the Washington region to end homelessness, this post outlines four funding strategies to prevent and end youth homelessness in the District of Columbia.

Because homelessness is complex and happens at different levels, our recommendations focus not only on strategies that drive individual programs to success but also on systemic approaches to address the underlying causes.


Addressing Racial Inequity

Young women of color are overrepresented among the youth population experiencing homelessness and structural racism within larger systems perpetuate these disparities. By centering the communities most affected by racism and helping a wide range of stakeholders to understand the harms of implicit racial biases and racist policies, philanthropy can help dismantle one of the root causes of homelessness, advance opportunities for all, and achieve equitable systems. Philanthropy also has the opportunity to challenge and lead the field in ensuring policies and practices are actively anti-racist in their creation and implementation. If the solutions we advance are working under a “colorblind” approach, we will never achieve racial equity and instead perpetuate racial injustices.

Scaling Best Practices

Understanding the realities of young women of color experiencing homelessness and the extent to which gender, culture, trauma, age, gender identify, and sexual orientation, among other factors, shape these experiences is indispensable to help them move out of homelessness. Supporting programs and solutions that center the young women of color with lived expertise, recognize the solution’s unique strengths and barriers and then build on these strengths, is an effective way to scale best practices.

Enhancing Supportive Services

Supporting organizations that increase access to housing options and coordinated supportive services for young women of color experiencing homelessness makes a significant difference in young women’s ability to work to regain stability and to reduce the contributing factors that caused them to experiencing homelessness in the first place. Strong and coordinated support services that connect young women of color to the most appropriate level and type of assistance based on their strengths and needs is a critical first step to prevent and end homelessness.

Changing Public Policies

Supporting advocates and organizations working to end homelessness in our region to advance policies that directly affect people experiencing homelessness is one of the most powerful ways to create long-term, sustainable change. Through public-private partnerships, philanthropy’s engagement in advocacy and public policy efforts leverages the impact of available resources and is an effective strategy to bring about systemic change. Funders can support efforts through not only funding grassroots organizations, but also through their influence and use of voice to lift up or oppose policies that impact housing and homelessness programs.

Claudia Williams is Program Officer at Washington Area Women’s Foundation where she contributes to crafting and executing program strategy and manages the Young Women’s Initiative of Washington, DC.


Prioritizing equity and community engagement in contraceptive access work

A few weeks ago, Dr. Jamila Perritt and I represented Washington Area Women’s Foundation’s DC Family Planning Project (DCFPP) on a panel at the annual Society of Family Planning (SFP) Conference. The panel was about prioritizing equity and community engagement in contraceptive access work.  We told attendees that the progress of the DC initiative so far is as much about what we have decided not to do as it is about what we have decided to do here in DC.

Society of Family Planning (SFP) Conference Panel

Let me explain!  Our DC initiative is among a growing number of contraceptive access projects nationwide that have decided not to center our work or define our success based on increasing uptake of long-acting reversible contraceptives (methods of birth control that provide effective contraception for an extended period without requiring user action — including injections, intrauterine devices (IUDs) and subdermal contraceptive implants). Instead, we are trying to learn more about what DC residents want and need with respect to their reproductive health and then to define success around how we can contribute to adapting health care service delivery to meet those needs.

To provide some background regarding where the DCFPP started and where we are now …. the idea for a DC contraceptive access project came from an initiative in Colorado that was designed to improve access to LARCs. The Colorado project provided training, operational support, and low- or no-cost LARCs to low-income women statewide.  Colorado reported significant increases in LARC uptake and reductions in unintended pregnancy and abortion.  Many states followed suit with similar initiatives — focusing on LARCs, targeting low-income women, and measuring success by increases in LARC uptake and decreases in unintended pregnancy.

When a similar project was discussed in DC, concerns were raised about a “one size fits all” approach to contraceptive access.  So, The Women’s Foundation, in partnership with a coalition of local funders and providers,  commissioned a DC Family Planning Community Needs Assessment, which was conducted by the GW Milken Institute School of Public Health.

Through the needs assessment, we learned that reproductive health services and contraceptive methods (including LARC methods) actually already are widely available in DC; however, there is a disconnect between the availability/accessibility of these services and the utilization of them.  We also learned that a significant number of sexually active adolescents and young women in DC are not accessing health care services at all.  Additionally, the results showed low knowledge levels, negative perceptions, suspicions, mistrust and safety concerns about birth control methods (especially LARC methods) – particularly among young women of color from low-income households.

Given the study results, we realized that we needed to assess, understand and mitigate potential unintended harm to our community if we initiated a LARC-focused project directed at low-income households, which predominately include people of color in DC.  It became clear that there are many issues other than the ability to access highly effective birth control methods or a desire to reduce unintended pregnancy that are impacting contraceptive and reproductive health care decision making in our community.

There is a long history of reproductive coercion and abuse against African Americans in the U.S., including nonconsensual medical experiments, compulsory sterilization, the Tuskegee Untreated Syphilis Study, and — more recently, unconstitutional, coercive laws proposed to incentivize or require welfare recipients to use the contraceptive implant, Norplant; disproportionate marketing to Black women of the injectable contraceptive Depo-Provera; and judges offering inmates reduced sentences if they agree to be sterilized or use contraception.

As a result of the DC needs assessment findings, our reproductive health/racial equity research, and recognition of how historical injustices and resulting mistrust may affect reproductive health care decision making, we believe that:

  • method-effectiveness is not necessarily the main priority in all patient’s decision-making regarding contraception;
  • some patients do not want LARC methods for a variety of reasons;
  • access barriers are not necessarily as simple as method availability and having enough clinicians trained to provide them; and
  • unintended pregnancy is not universally viewed as a problem that needs to be prevented.

We also believe that the community the DC initiative is intended to serve should guide the identification of the problem(s) to be addressed, as well as the potential solutions that best fit the needs of the community.  Thus, we are focusing on whether people are able to access the services they need and want, and whether they experience those services positively, and ultimately whether their reproductive quality of life improves.

Admittedly, these outcomes are harder to quantify and thus, more difficult to fund. Yet, we believe this is the right approach for our community.

We currently are partnering with like-minded contraceptive access initiatives from Mississippi, Chicago, Boston and Utah, in collaboration with the UCSF Person Centered Reproductive Health Program, to form a national collaborative to develop shared evaluation measures for our contraceptive access work that do not focus solely on LARC devices and unintended pregnancy prevention. We hope to jointly develop shared language; to strengthen our messaging to funders regarding the value of investing in equity/justice/quality-focused contraceptive access initiatives that go beyond LARC access to tackle wider quality issues; and to better identify and articulate how we can define success with this work.

Circling back to a key takeaway from the SFP Conference, in order to move toward more equitable reproductive health care for all people, more philanthropic organizations must be willing to invest in people-centered contraceptive access initiatives that are built from the bottom up rather than the top down.  These endeavors require “thinking outside the box” and a willingness to fund projects that are lifted up by the communities meant to be served to solve problems identified by the communities meant to be served through promising interventions conceived and designed by the communities meant to be served.  In order to live our values regarding racial equity in reproductive health, we must be willing to change the systems and practices that hold racial inequities in place.

UCSF Person Centered Contraceptive Care Framework

At the Intersection of Immigrant Justice and Racial Equity

Every day, we see targeted efforts to limit the rights, diminish the dignity, and harm the lives of immigrants, in particular immigrants of color. Throughout American history, immigration laws have been rooted in anti-blackness to privilege some immigrant communities over others, a deliberate strategy to define the demographic makeup of who gets to become a U.S. citizen.

Most immigrants and refugees today are people of color impacted, implicitly and explicitly, by anti-black systems of oppression built up over centuries in this country. In an effort to shed light on how advancing immigration justice simultaneously moves forward racial equity, on October 21, WRAG’s Racial Equity Working Group (REWG) convened a briefing and community dialogue between immigrant leaders, funders, and non-profit practitioners to explore philanthropy’s role in redistributing power and resources to amplify efforts on the ground.

Whether or not immigration is a funding priority, it is a crosscutting experience and issue central to all funders interested in creating a cohesive, just, and inclusive society. Jeanné Lewis from the National Committee for Responsive Philanthropy (NCRP) framed the briefing by sharing key findings from NCRP’s Movement Investment Project related to the funding of pro-immigrant movements. She then facilitated a conversation that uncovered some essential practices for philanthropy to be a supportive partner of the pro-immigrant and racial equity movements:

  • Embracing an Intersectional Framework: The experiences of Black immigrant and refugee communities are largely absent from the dialogue and strategies of both immigrant rights funders and racial equity funders, leaving Black immigrants and Black-led immigrant organizations facing substantial barriers in securing resources. Something similar happens to Indigenous immigrants and Indigenous-led organizations. Gabrielle Jackson, Co-director of UndocuBlack Network, called on philanthropy to begin challenging dominant ideas regarding immigrants’ identities. She underscored the importance of embracing an intersectional framework that recognizes immigrants have multiple identities and can experience overlapping forms of discrimination.
  • Providing Unrestricted Multiyear Funding to Immigrant-Led Organizations: Immigrants and people of color often experience lack of trust in their leadership. In philanthropy, this translates as concerns about the sustainability and structure of the organizations they manage, and their ability to track outcomes or deliver results. Darakshan Raja, Co-director of Justice for Muslims Collective, urged funders to not only unpack their biases about people of color, but also about what successful organizations and leadership styles look like. Building a strong organizational infrastructure and achieving policy wins takes many years and resources to achieve. Emerging immigrant-led organizations at the forefront of bringing important issues to the table but without a “proven track” record of results, traditional governance structures, and funding, can significantly benefit from flexible funding strategies that trust and value their expertise.
  • Enhancing Integrated Supportive Services: Most philanthropy organizations provide funding for legal and policy organizations, but very few invest in integrated services for immigrants and refugees. Yet, immigrants and refugees require more than just legal support and have very few alternatives to obtain services that meet their needs. Hiwot Berihun, Legal Director of African Communities Together, stressed that philanthropy can play a critical role in channeling resources to support integrated legal services, in particular to facilitate access to mental health and healing justice programs.
  • Building Capacity and Leveraging Networks: Organizations need capacity-building support in order to build infrastructure and develop more immigrant leaders. Besides financial resources, philanthropy can support immigrant and social justice advocates by providing technical assistance, opportunities for learning, networking, and leadership opportunities. Edgar Aranda-Yanoc, Senior Lead Organizer at Legal Aid Justice Center, asserted that philanthropy can send a powerful message just by standing together with immigrant organizations during marches and demonstrations.
  • Shifting Narratives about Immigrant Communities: Negative stereotypes about immigrants are widespread and deep-rooted. Anti-immigration rhetoric portrays immigrants as rapists, violent criminals, terrorists, and murders. Julio Murillo, Government and Strategic Relations Specialist at CASA encouraged philanthropy to work towards centering the voices of immigrants to creating space for them to share their own story, and to shift the narrative about the value and contribution of immigrants. He also emphasized the importance of cooperation between communities, building cross-racial and ethnic alliances for immigrant rights and racial justice, and solidarity among people of color when organizing to advance policy change.

We hope REWG’s briefing and community dialogue spurs grantmakers in our region to explore ways to better support and integrate organizations advancing immigration justice and racial equity. We know that it takes commitment, collaboration, and innovation to put the recommendations above into practice, that we need to hold each other accountable to make them a reality, and that we need to move with urgency because the stakes are just too high if we do not act now.

Claudia Williams is Program Officer at Washington Area Women’s Foundation where she contributes to crafting and executing program strategy and manages the Young Women’s Initiative of Washington, DC. Claudia is also an active member of WRAG’s Racial Equity Working Group, and serves in the immigration subcommittee.

Centering the Voices of Young Women of Color to Inform Policy Decisions

Just a couple of weekends ago, I heard an episode of Bitch Media’s Popaganda podcast that sought to reframe sex work by exploring the legal and financial realities of the trade.

My ears perked up when this episode started; DC is in the middle of considering full decriminalization of the sex trade. I have been following some of the arguments for and against this proposed legislation, as a public hearing before the Council’s Judiciary Committee occurred last week. DC’s proposed legislation would fully decriminalize the sex trade in DC, including acts of pimping, purchasing sex, and operating brothels. If passed, DC would be the first jurisdiction in the U.S. to have full decriminalization, and advocates are hopeful of making a statement coming from the nation’s capital.

The podcast’s host started the episode by asking a sex worker simple questions, such as, how to pay taxes, maintain records, or do marketing. The host goes on to ask about barriers sex workers come up against when running their businesses and changes that would benefit them. The podcast guest shares her wish list, including what most sex workers are advocating for: full decriminalization—meaning all criminal penalties removed for all parties involved. However, she also shares there is a big gap between what she personally would like to have, versus what is best for the greatest number of people.

While all advocates agree on the decriminalization of the sale of sex as an effective way to center the rights of sex workers and sex-trafficked children—who endure most of the arrests and who represent some of the most marginalized members of our community—there is no agreement about decriminalizing the act of buying sex. For some sex workers, it is in their best interest to protect their clients, but for others, offering legal immunity to those who exploit and traffic them is a dangerous policy.

In DC, it is currently up to the DC City Council to identify what is best for the greatest number of people involved in DC’s sex industry and adopt corresponding policies. In particular, it is the responsibility of the Council to identify what is best for those most vulnerable of being exploited. The Council has the task of passing legislation that strikes a delicate balance between affirming the rights of sex workers, but also the rights of survivors and trafficked victims.

The Blueprint for Action of the Young Women’s Initiative outlines recommendations developed by young women of color with the objective to shift local policies and practices in the District of Columbia in support of young women’s ability to thrive. During 2017 and 2018, The Women’s Foundation facilitated conversations and conducted interviews with young women of color and community members to understand barriers to success and propose recommendations to improve the experience of black and brown girls.

(Click image to read report)

Many of the recommendations in the Blueprint continue to be insightful and relevant to current policy considerations, including the current discussion around the full decriminalization of the sex trade. The safety and violence prevention recommendations of the Blueprint for Action, listed on page 42, include actions and policies that ensure young women and non-binary youth of color feel safe and free from all forms of violence in private and public spaces.

It is important for young women of color to have a voice in the policy decisions that affect them.  As councilmembers consider proposed legislation to decriminalize DC’s sex industry, I urge them to use the Blueprint for Action of the Young Women’s Initiative to learn the recommendations young women and non-binary youth of color identified to alleviate some of the most pressing policy issues that affect them.

Claudia Williams is Program Officer at Washington Area Women’s Foundation where she contributes to crafting and executing program strategy and manages the Young Women’s Initiative of Washington, DC

¡Celebrando nuestra latinidad todo el año!

Celebrar nuestra latinidad, durante el mes de la herencia hispana, después del tiroteo de El Paso, se siente casi como un pequeño motín. Casi cómo rebelarse y decir “estamos aquí para quedarnos, somos increíbles, y hacemos de Estados Unidos un mejor país con nuestra alegría, nuestra risa sin censura, nuestra comida y nuestro color.” También es decepcionante que tengamos que leer sobre nuestras tradiciones, nuestro idioma y nuestra historia prácticamente sólo uno de los doce meses del año.

La falta de representación de los Latinxs en los principales medios de comunicación del país, por dar un ejemplo, es de considerarse. Pocos medios incluyen nuestras voces y nuestras historias, y cuando lo hacen, se enfocan casi exclusivamente en la experiencia de los Latinxs en un contexto de seguridad nacional, violencia, y conflicto en la frontera.

Cuando no es el mes de la herencia hispana, hay pocos artículos sobre nosotros, nuestra diversidad, nuestras contribuciones a la vida estadounidense, nuestro espíritu emprendedor y nuestro compromiso con la escuela y el trabajo. Si no nos esforzamos para cultivar un rango más representativo de nuestras experiencias y contribuciones, sólo estamos contribuyendo a perpetuar una narrativa despectiva y obsoleta sobre nosotros mismos.

No es de sorprenderse que, en el Distrito de Columbia, el 41 por ciento de las jóvenes latinas reportan tristeza o desesperanza a tal grado que dejaron de hacer algunas de sus actividades habituales, y alrededor del 23 por ciento consideró seriamente intentar suicidarse en el 2017. A veces, la retórica negativa que nos rodea impregna nuestro entendimiento sobre quiénes somos, cuáles son nuestras contribuciones, y qué somos capaces de hacer.


El plan de acción de nuestra iniciativa de mujeres jóvenes (YWI por sus siglas en inglés) plantea recomendaciones de mujeres jóvenes de color—incluyendo jóvenes Latinas—que viven en DC con el objetivo de cambiar prácticas y políticas públicas que obstaculizan su capacidad para prosperar. Durante el 2017 y el 2018, La fundación de las mujeres facilitó conversaciones y entrevistas con chicas de color y miembros de la comunidad para entender qué barreras enfrentan y conocer qué soluciones proponen.

Una de las recomendaciones del plan de acción de YWI que propusieron las jóvenes, es cambiar la narrativa que se escucha sobre las chicas de color hoy en día, y cultivar su sentido de pertenencia a la comunidad. ¡Esta es una de mis recomendaciones favoritas! A veces esperamos que la próxima generación de Latinxs sea exitosa, aun cuando los planes de estudio en el colegio no incluyen lecturas con las que puedan identificarse con los autores o los personajes, cuando poquísimos programas de televisión representan familias Latinas, o cuando los profesores están con frecuencia pidiéndoles que hablen, vistan y escriban de cierta manera. Hay una infinidad de mensajes alrededor de nuestra juventud que constantemente refuerzan la idea de que no pertenecen a esta sociedad.

Estados Unidos está experimentando un cambio demográfico importante y los Latinxs son ya la segunda etnicidad más grande en el país.  En menos de 25 años, más de un cuarto de la población será de origen hispano. Estamos en una encrucijada y es momento de dejar de centrar la cultura blanca para elevar quiénes somos, resaltar nuestros logros y celebrar nuestra latinidad todos los días del año. Hoy tenemos la oportunidad y responsabilidad de crear espacios en los que nuestra juventud—y nosotros mismos—pertenezcan, y en los que puedan sentirse identificados y validados.

Si la próxima generación de Latinxs escucha una nueva narrativa de quiénes son, si cultivamos su sentido de pertenencia a este país, si hay más y mejor representación en los medios de comunicación, será entonces tal vez cuando tengamos más Latinxs trabajando en la filantropía, siendo dueños de pequeños negocios, encabezando organizaciones sin fines de lucro, dirigiendo políticas públicas y administrando negocios. Esto es lo que yo espero para mi hijo, Alejandro, un pequeño mexicoamericano que nació aquí, y está aquí para quedarse.

Alex (Claudia Williams' Son)

Alex (el hijo de Claudia Williams)

Claudia Williams es orgullosamente Latina y oficial de programas en Washington Area Women’s Foundation, donde contribuye a la elaboración y ejecución de la estrategia de programas y gestiona la iniciativa de mujeres jóvenes de Washington, DC.


Celebrating Latinxs All Year Long!

Celebrating our Latinidad this year during #HispanicHeritageMonth, in the wake of the El Paso shooting feels almost like a little mutiny. Almost like an uprising in which we’re saying, “we are here to stay, we are awesome, and we make this country a better place with our joy, our unapologetic laughter, our foods, and our color”. It also feels disappointing that we have to read about our traditions, our language, and our history one out of the twelve months of the year.

The lack of representation of Latinxs on mainstream media, for example, is noteworthy. Few outlets include our voices and stories, and most of mainstream media focuses almost exclusively on Latinxs’ experiences against a backdrop of national security, violence, and border conflict.

When it is not #HispanicHeritageMonth, there are few features about us, our diversity, our contributions to the American life, our entrepreneurial spirit, or our engagement with school and work. Failing to advance a more representative range of stories about our experiences only contributes to perpetuating derogatory and inaccurate narratives about ourselves.

It is no wonder that in DC, 41 percent of young Latinas felt sad or hopeless so that they stopped doing some usual activities, and about 23 percent seriously considered attempting suicide in 2017. Sometimes, the false narratives permeate our own understanding of who we are, what we bring to the table, and what we are capable of achieving.

The Blueprint for Action of the Young Women’s Initiative outlines recommendations by young women of color with the objective to shift local policies and practices in the District of Columbia in support of young women’s ability to thrive. During 2017 and 2018, The Women’s Foundation facilitated conversations and conducted interviews with young women of color and community members to understand barriers to success and propose recommendations to improve the experience of young women of color.


One of the recommendations of the Blueprint for Action is to shift narratives and cultivate belonging. I love this recommendation! Somehow, we hope the next generation of Latinxs is successful even when the school curriculum excludes writings and teachings from Latinxs authors, when very few TV programs represent Latinxs families, and when professors with frequency ask them to dress or talk a “certain way.” There is a myriad of subtle messages about Latinxs that are constantly reinforcing the idea Latinxs do not belong to this society.

The US is undergoing a demographic shift, and Latinxs are now the second largest ethnic group in the country. In less than 25 years, we will be close to a quarter of the US population. We are at a crossroads where it could not be timelier to move away from centering whiteness and to lean in to who we Latinxs are, to highlight our achievements, to celebrate our Latinidad every day of the year. We have the opportunity and responsibility to create spaces and opportunities for our youth—and for ourselves—to belong, to feel validated, and to connect.

Alex (Claudia Williams' Son)
Alex (Claudia Williams’ Son)

If the next generation of Latinxs hears a new narrative of who they are, if we cultivate their belonging to this country, maybe then we will have more Latinxs working in philanthropy, owning business, running non-profits, and directing public policy. This is my hope for my son, Alejandro, a little Mexican American who was born here and is here to stay.

Claudia Williams is a proud Latina and a Program Officer at Washington Area Women’s Foundation where she contributes to crafting and executing program strategy and manages the Young Women’s Initiative of Washington, DC.

A Father’s Love & Resilience

My father came to the United States from India in 1961. Like many immigrants of the time, he saw America as the land of opportunity. If he worked hard, he’d make a life for himself.

In India, my father had been a refugee, his family displaced after the partition. He attended primary school in a tent, graduated early from high school, earned a bachelor’s degree, and started to work to help support his parents and younger siblings. He was doing well, but being successful in America was his dream.

So when the opportunity to move to the States arose, he took it. Never mind that no employer would accept his foreign degree. He’d earn a second one. Never mind that he didn’t have a wealthy family to support him. He’d work full time while taking a full course load to pay his own way through school. He went without meals regularly. He couldn’t afford a winter coat. In fact, he only had one suit that he wore daily and washed at night.

Never mind any of that – he was in America. His hard work would be recognized.

My mother was white, born in Connecticut. My parents met in college. Her parents disproved of their relationship. They went so far as to pull her out of school when my mother continued to see my father, a poor foreigner, despite their wishes. Consequently, my parents eloped. Without family support and with some cultural barriers, their marriage was difficult, but they had four daughters before my mother unexpectedly passed away, leaving my father as a single parent.


Mithu and Mary married in 1966

At that time, it was not unheard of for Indian fathers living abroad who found themselves widowers to send their kids to live with family back in India until they found a new wife. That was not an option for my father. He remembered that the India of his childhood was not kind to girls. He recalled the fear of his sisters when they first menstruated because no one had told them it was coming or what it was. They thought they were dying. He recalled how dependent women were on their husbands and that not all husbands were kind. He did not want his daughters to be fearful or dependent.

He kept us in the US and raised us, as best he could, as Americans because American women could be independent and free.

My father taught me many things, whether or not intentionally. But, one of the things he made sure I knew was that hard work and self-reliance led to independence. They led to freedom.

Right now, many women and girls in our country are, whether or not intentionally, taught a counter to that message – that hard work will not be recognized or rewarded, or that women should rely on men to dictate their rights and self-worth.

This Father’s Day, let’s take a moment to thank all of the dads out there who work against that narrative, not just for their daughters, but for all of their kids. Let’s appreciate the fathers who are raising hard working, independent Americans, regardless of their gender. And let’s stand with them against the notion that America is anything other than the land of the free.

Maryland Makes the Health of Women and Families a Priority

At Washington Area Women’s Foundation, we believe access to quality, affordable health care is essential for women to thrive. Access to contraception is a key component of overall health care. Family planning services, including both privately and publicly funded services, are critical to ensuring women and families have the ability to plan if and when to have children.

Federal Title X funding helps ensure that women are able to access reproductive health care services, regardless of race, income level, gender identity, location, or insurance status.

The Trump-Pence administration recently issued a new rule imposing harmful standards of care on patients by limiting what doctors in Title X clinics can say to their patients about contraception. Open conversations are essential to improving health outcomes. This “gag rule” not only prohibits doctors from giving women full information about their reproductive health care options, but it also redirects  funding from clinics with a range of options available onsite, toward ideologically motivated, single-method providers—or crisis pregnancy centers—thus diminishing access to affordable health care services for millions of women.

The rule will have devastating effects on populations that are already facing significant barriers to accessing health care services. Decades of systemic inequities and racism in the operation of programs and policies have imposed barriers on certain populations— young women, women of color, LGBTQ people, low-income women, and women in rural areas— limiting their access to health care. In our region, many women who rely on Title X funding to access contraception and other essential health care services are women of color who face overlapping barriers to accessing health care, education, and childcare. Without access to Title X funded clinics, they would be unable to afford these health services on their own.

There are several legal challenges to the rule pending, and it will most likely end up before the Supreme Court. Public health organizations and elected officials, including mayors, governors, and state legislators have come out in opposition to the rule and are actively urging the administration to reconsider its position.

In the meantime, Maryland has made the health of women and families a priority by being the first state in the nation to formally opt-out of Title X federal funding.  The state legislature approved preemptive legislation that guarantees funding, at the same level as the prior fiscal year, for all family planning centers in the state if the rule moves forward. With this provision, Maryland is leading the way for the nation to defend the integrity of the Title X program and ensure basic reproductive health provisions for the women who need it most.


Claudia Williams is Program Officer at Washington Area Women’s Foundation where she contributes to crafting and executing program strategy and manages the Young Women’s Initiative of Washington, DC

A Response to The Washington Post Editorial Board

When The Washington Post Editorial Board recently released its endorsements for the upcoming Fairfax County Board of Supervisors primary election, it was criticized for supporting all male candidates. Reporters from other local news outlets interviewed some of the candidates about the questions they were asked by the Editorial Board, and it was discovered that one of the questions that the Post asked all candidates who are parents was how they will manage the long hours and stress of an elected position.

Here at Washington Area Women’s Foundation, we are all about transparency, but we also know that not all questions are helpful. Here are the top five reasons why asking a parent if having kids will affect their job performance as an elected official is completely inappropriate and totally unnecessary:

Number 5 Elected office is just one of many demanding jobs that parents perform on a daily basis.

Parents are public school teachers, nurses, police officers, members of the armed forces. If we don’t question if a parent of young children can be deployed, we don’t need to question if a parent can handle local elected office.

Number 4 Childcare is a policy issue. Full stop.

While it is difficult to find and afford high-quality childcare in the DC metro region, we should discuss the issues from a policy perspective, not as a requirement an individual needs to have in place before securing political office.

Number 3 – Answers to this question are not helpful to voters.

There is no way that a candidate, in response to this question, is going to say, “Now that you mention it, that is a problem for me. I shouldn’t run after all.” Of course every candidate is going to say that they can handle the job. They wouldn’t have decided to run otherwise. Therefore, this question doesn’t actually provide any useful information to voters or to the interviewer who asked the question.

Number 2 – Asking this question demonstrates a gender bias.

This is not a question that would have been asked if all of the candidates were male. Now, that is an admittedly presumptuous statement, but we all know it’s true. If all of the candidates were men, no one would question that the dads would be able to do the job. We know this because there are a billion books and articles on “how women can have it all” but not one about how men can. It’s just expected that men can be parents and professionals simultaneously, but people still question if women can.

Number 1 – It is wrong to judge parents differently.

There is a federal law against employers asking potential job candidates about a number of personal things, including if they have kids. This is in place because, presumably, as a country we don’t want to discriminate against parents. True, it is not illegal to ask a political candidate about her family, but the same ethical principle should apply. Parents and non-parents should be considered fairly for a position, based on their merits.

Instances like this help make the case for our work at The Women’s Foundation, where we center the voices and experiences of women and open doors to opportunities. As more diverse voices and experiences are included in leadership conversations, we’ll all start to ask smarter and more appropriate questions.