15.November. 2020. Greenwich Time. Tatiana Flowers. GREENWICH — Erin O. Crosby was already engaged in racial justice work when an event in her childhood hometown spurred her to imagine a future where gender and racial equality were the norm and to take a more strategic mindset of her role.
In July 2016, Crosby’s friends and colleagues attended a downtown Dallas march to protest the police shootings of Black men. The march was peaceful, but a sniper intruded and began shooting indiscriminately, killing five police officers and injuring others. Officials said the shooter had no ties to the protest and he died after an hours-long standoff with police.
The shootings rocked the city, where Crosby was raised, and for many, the centuries-long conversation about racial inequality also began to change.
“In many ways, it brought Dallas together, to recognize and to deal with its own history of racial violence,” Crosby said.
“We just had, throughout the city, a more robust and honest conversation happening. And we saw people (and) organizations, starting to be very intentional about the ways in which they understood race, racism and racial equity — and then also starting to put in some (strategies and policies) that moved us closer toward racial equity,” she said.
The Dallas incident occurred more than four years ago, but it will inform and shape the way in which Crosby promotes women’s empowerment and racial equality in her new role in Greenwich.
On Friday, leaders at the YWCA Greenwich announced Crosby’s appointment to a new role there as the first director of Women’s Empowerment and Racial Justice. Crosby, who starts on Dec. 21, will help launch a new Center for Equity and Justice at the organization.
The nonprofit’s mission, for more than 100 years, has centered on those two themes: eliminating racism and empowering women, “to promote peace, justice and dignity for all,” said Mary Lee Kiernan, CEO of the YWCA Greenwich. Hiring Crosby was an extension of that work, Kiernan said.
“There has been work in women’s empowerment and racial justice here for many, many decades,” she said. “That has shifted over time in response to what has been going on in our society and what needs, and issues have emerged.”
Greenwich and Dallas are two starkly different communities, so Crosby doesn’t plan to replicate the work she did in her home city.
When she arrives in Greenwich, Crosby said she’ll host listening sessions, where residents and town leaders can share their own stories, histories and visions for the community’s future.
What’s first and foremost on her list, she said, is understanding through research, the Greenwich community, the lower Fairfield County area and the context of both from a historical, geographical and sociopolitical standpoint, as it relates to the issues of women’s empowerment and racial justice.
“It would be hard for me to do this work with the kind of intention and integrity that is needed, without spending time doing that work first,” Crosby said.
“It’s really about finding opportunities for us to have a common vision around the work, and I believe that we’re in a unique time in this country, where people are doing really intentional work around women’s empowerment and racial justice that moves us forward in this kind of way,” she said. “Finding and developing a common agenda to do that will get us there.”
Longer-term goals include engaging in activities, initiatives, policy and legislation around empowering women and girls and rethinking the ways in which local leaders can help dismantle and eliminate racism and “more importantly” create an anti-racist future, Crosby said.
Once Crosby starts, the women’s empowerment and racial equality initiatives will exist under the umbrella of the Center for Equity and Justice.
In its latest event in examining systemic racism, the YWCA Greenwich is hosting a panel discussion on Zoom at 7 p.m. Tuesday on “Emanuel: Atrocity, Forgiveness and Action,” which centers on the Emanuel AME Church shooting in 2015 in Charleston, S.C.
The Rev. Ted Pardoe of St. Barnabas Church in Greenwich will moderate the discussion. The panel will feature four experts in racial equity, including Polly Sheppard, the lone survivor of the shooting, and Crosby.
“The city of Charleston reacted to this killing very differently than other cities have, who have experienced very similar events, and we’re going to examine that,” Kiernan said.
“We’re going to look at the fact that that well of forgiveness within the African-American community is not limitless and that we need to focus on the steps and the actions that we can take to address systemic racism,” she added.
As a Black woman, Crosby said she understands what it means to be minoritized, she said, and from that experience she brings an added level of empathy into her work.
Many minoritized groups are living in a constant state of struggle to survive and advance, she said, and that’s “incredibly taxing.”
“I want to be a part of creating a world in which those groups, and there are many, get to exist fully in who they are and get to experience the promises that this country has said that it offered to them,” Crosby said.
“If I get an opportunity, which I have had, and will have here to engage in that work, then I’m really honored to be able to do that and to do it alongside people who feel similarly,” she said.
To register for Tuesday’s event, visit www.ywcagrn.org/emanuel.