Empower Women, Eliminate Racism

May 12, 2022 | Features, Photo Essay

[Recorded on International Women’s Day, March 8th, 2022]

Craig Martin – Co-Host The Good Road
We haven’t known each other long but everything about you inspires me. Tell me about the passion you have for your music and your community, why am I so inspired?

Rupa Murthy, Chief Advancement and Advocacy Officer, Richmond YWCA 

We’re at the YWCA Richmond. The mission here is to empower women and eliminate racism. And it’s truly a passion. Gender and racial equity is something that I feel deeply passionate about because we just need so much more work in this area.

The work we do here is really hard. It’s around domestic violence and sexual violence. But the organization, this building, it’s been around for 135 years and that work of eliminating racism and empowering women has been in existence for 135 years in this building.

I always say, if these walls could talk who would tell those stories?The women that have sat here before us making decisions about how to overcome adversity, bring things that we all need,whether that’s a safe place for your child to be so we can work and raise our income and wealth building. Or whether that’s just other women to create a circle and become empowered by each other and each other’s experiences.So that’s where we are. And that’s why I’m here, is because I’m incredibly passionate about the work we do.

Craig Martin
So,135 years, what do you think has changed and what do you think hasn’t changed?

Rupa Murthy

I really wouldn’t be here if things were the same. The only reason that me, as an Indian-American immigrant, I’m here because of the 1960s and the civil rights revolution that happened. I would not have been able to come to America and have sort of the same equity issues that we all face today, which are, quite frankly, much better than what I would have faced in India as a woman.

And so, without a doubt things are better. There’s a place for women at the table to be able to work. There’s a place for women to be able to get out of the house and leave their children in safe places to be able to both build and be in communion together.

Things are still really tough? There’s still incredible amounts of family violence and violence in homes that really are created because we live in a misogynistic world that is also built on racist systems. If you think about why America 400 years ago was started, it was white men coming here to establish wealth and build community.- They needed white women to help them do that, build their families, get their land.

And then, of course, as black people came here as their slaves they increased wealth.[White people] were able to farm their land and do the things that were really important for themselves.

The civil rights movement changed that for people like me that were coming globally to this country that look different than the white men and the white women and their nuclear family. But certainly the work in terms of gender and racial equity, there’s just still so much of it that needs to be done.


Craig Martin
We’ve planned all this around the fact that today is International Women’s Day. But, as I think about -specifically Richmond and even where we are now -there are, on the one hand, so many existing inequities, especially based around race and gender.But, it feels like we’re moving towards an aspirational step in the right direction.I’m saying that as the guy who isn’t in the minority.But, what do you think about that in terms of the city and the progress?

Rupa Murthy
Yeah, I think you’re absolutely right. I mean, there’s a lot of hope and there’s a lot of opportunity.I think with the right systems in place with people really thinking deeply about creating policy that makes sense for all of us, that takes into account the history of this city alone -this city that really represents so much of what our nation was built on.

There’s a lot that is very hopeful moving forward and the progress that we see is coming to fruition. The next generation of leaders, the new organizations that are coming into town and doing incredible things in the art space or in the nonprofit space or in the business space for workforce development.

Without a doubt, there’s a lot of hope, there’s a lot of progress happening. And I think that’s because so many people have been working for that for a very long time.

Craig Martin
There’s layers that you personally have that being South Asian of South Asian heritage as an American, being a woman, being younger, probably there are people who would be ageist in that way.

(Rupa interjects “Thank you. Thank you so much….” and both laugh about the age comment)

So, I asked this of our mutual friend Nupa, and I was genuinely curious, as I am with you as well -what are the things that I may not be noticing as an older white male in the city?What are the microaggressions or the things that I don’t really understand or are even aware I’m saying or doing? What are the things that still exist?

Rupa Murthy
I think there’s a whole lot going on around what I want my city to look like,how I want to integrate my city, like to make sure that we’re dispersing poverty and making sure that there aren’t creating new pockets of people that don’t have accessd that have to live togetherthrough more flawed policy.

What we forget is that those kinds of communities -the community that we live in -really is based on things that we all want and that is: a strong community, a strong sense of home, a place where kids can get educated to be not just the best in their school, but quite frankly, the best in the world from a global perspective.

Oftentimes we think about, “this is what my neighborhood looks like and this is what I need.” But, we forget that this is not what everybody wants. We want to feel comfortable wherewe are.

So, dispersing poverty and gentrification and bringing white people into historically black spaces is something that’s been happening in our city for a long time, and I’m hopeful that we can find a real way to integrate that. S

Specifically, we run here at the YWCA a school called the Sprout School. We sit children from different funding streams Head Start or the Virginia Preschool Initiative next to full pay and full scholarship children. And the reason we do that is because itintegrates families specifically around racial and economic lines.They integrate at the table where they’re learning.

And inherently, all of those parents want the same thing. They want what’s best for their kid. They want their kid to have the best opportunity, similar to what we want for our kids and what we share as our values and our values as friends.

Craig Martin

How do you actually action making change? How does that happen?

Rupa Murthy

We need to create programming for women specifically, even more specifically, women of color, who can understand what leadership looks like, what management can feel like, and then really push past some of these barriers that have been set in our region for a really long time.

How does that work in the space of domestic and sexual violence? It’s about empowering that person who’s been in that tragic situation that has lived their life in a cycle, oftentimes in poverty and racism and violence.

We can give lots of choices and opportunities to people and let them take the ones that suit them. So action items for every single situation, for all of these ways that we need to change policy or pathways, I think look different for each individual.And so I love the fact that we can figure out how to motivate people along the way.

Image Credits:
Kimberly Frost with the exception of:
Former Lee Monument (The Good Road)
Martin Luther King, Jr. epaking at the March on Washington on the Lincoln Memorial steps ~ courtesey of the National Archives

Related Posts

Two Visionaries: Pepper Fluke and Stephen Barefoot

Pepper Fluke and Stephen Barefoot created the Connie and Monte Moses Fund at Triangle Community Foundation to support local projects in the performing and literary arts, cinema and filmmaking, and historic preservation.