By Samantha Skidmore
Darcy Morales was born and raised in the South Bronx. A true New York native, she has her foot in many doors. Having attended Pratt for her undergrad, Darcy is an artist and an avid illustrator. However, she had always been interested in creating programs, young people, and the injustices in the New York City school system, so Darcy took her creativity to the world of education.
She worked for years constructing curriculums and establishing programs at organizations such as Prep for Prep and the Harlem Educational Activities Fund. Her main goal always to be working with the people, and for the people.
When her friend suggested she apply to Harvard for graduate school she laughed it off. ‘I thought, yeah right’ says Darcy, ‘I ended up applying sort of as an experiment. Just to prove that I would never get in’. As a surprise to Darcy, but of no surprise to those around her, she got in.
Equipped with a master’s degree in Learning and Teaching from Harvard, loads of experience, a bad ass attitude, and a work ethic that can only be observed in a true New Yorker, Darcy is an inspiring woman.
Darcy now works at the YWCA in NYC, one of the oldest and largest non profit organizations for women in the United States. She is the Senior Director of Girls Initiatives and runs programs such as YW Geek Girls: a weekly gathering that includes hands-on workshops, training, networking with women experts and leaders, trips to technology hubs, labs, and more. She strives to give girls and women from all backgrounds a platform to hear and be heard.
I got a chance to catch up with Darcy and talk feminism, art, the YW and the Potential of Power Girls Symposium- an amazing event she started from the ground up.
“Schools like Harvard do a good job at diversifying but they don’t do a great job at integrating.”
– Darcy Morales
FOR I AM MARIE
Can you tell us a little more about the YWCA and their mission?
The mission is to empower women, eliminate racism and create peace justice and equality for all. The YW in NYC is an anti-racism organization fighting for social justice. A lot of the work we are doing now is youth based work. It is an international organization but the NYC YW is the oldest in the US.
What exactly are the Girls Initiatives programs and what do they aim to do?
The Girls Initiatives at the YW reflect our core belief that empowered girls become empowered women. Designed to inform, engage and inspire girls in New York City to become self- advocates, the goal of our Girls Initiatives is to ensure that every girl gains the skills, knowledge and confidence to pursue the education, career and life options of her choice. We offer programs like Gaming 101, leadership workshops and STEAAM centered classes (Science, technology, engineering, art activism and math).
What types of girls does the YWCA/Girls Initiatives reach out to or focus on?
ALL self identified girls and women. The Girls Initiatives is open to all high school girls. Doesn’t matter if you come from public or private school. We unite diverse girls in a safe environment.
Can you tell me more about the Potential to Power Girls Symposium?
We are in our third year. It is taking place May 23rd 2016 at Microsoft in Time Square. It is an event that brings together intergenerational women to talk about gender and equity. The main attraction is a dialogue between girls and women that focuses on and is centered around the girls. The idea is that the influential women will take what they have learned from the girls and magnify it however they can. Whether that be offering internship opportunities, becoming a mentor or even thinking about their work in a different way. The women really listen to what the girls have to say. In the past we have had a number of notable attendees such as Christy Turlington, Melissa Harris Perry, the cast of Orange is the New Black and Janet Mock. We even had some video support from Kirsten Gillibrand and Chelsea Clinton. It is a very exciting event!
How does the Symposium give young girls a voice?
The girls are literally the keynotes and the dialogue is centered on the girls. There are girl panels as well; this event is about the girls not the women. Girls are also a part of our planning committee. We want them to structure the event as well as be a part of it.
How can women in New York potentially get involved with the work you do at the YW?
They can email the YW and reach out. We try to always make it happen if it is the right fit. We love to have women speak or offer workshops! It is important to think about what you can learn from the girls and how our mission speaks to you. If you are going to talk about something, be candid. Talk about the struggle- say the things that are often left out.
What can older women do to promote the idea of feminism to young girls?
Actually admit that they are a feminist. If more women claim that term, then more girls will too. The more women that girls look up to who claim the word, the better.
What is something women do that unknowingly or inadvertently oppresses young girls?
Tell them they are too young to understand or have an opinion. Also women can definitely become com-petitive. Instead of bringing other women up, they want to be the only one at the top. We need to open doors for other women, not close them.
Why do you think “Feminism” is such a scary word for so many people?
For older people I think there is a negative connotation with the word. People think it means not shaving and being anti-men. It is a complicated word that many don’t understand. People might be wary to label themselves a feminist because they like music that is degrading or because of something else they like or are involved in that they view as “not feminist”. However the most important thing is to have a critical eye.
Why do we need empowered women in today’s society, and how do we create empowered women?
Self advocacy. Girls who can self advocate, become empowered. Empowered girls become empowered women. It is important to have empowered women because we need women leaders. We need a diversity of opinion and thought in society and in the workplace.
Who is an influential woman you think we should all know about?
Kat Lazo. She is great. Amandla Stenberg. As far as young people go they are pretty impressive. Elizabeth Warren I love because she walks the walk. You don’t see that a lot in politics. I love Janet Mock too.
What do you think are the biggest challenges facing women and girls today?
I hear a lot about street harassment. Also being seen as a leader can be difficult for women and girls because people don’t want to acknowledge them as such. A lot of people also victim shame. For example, telling women to DO something instead of telling perpetrators NOT to do something.
Have you ever faced challenges in your field because you are a woman?
Yes. Most definitely. I think it can be even harder for women of color. I used to look really young when coordinating with programs at a previous job, and people would doubt my qualification and leadership. It can be really hard being a young professional woman.
So you were reluctant to attend Harvard. Can you tell me why this is and how your experience there was?
I never thought I was smart enough to get in, I kept having imposter syndrome. Which is when you think you are not worthy of an opportunity. Women tend to have that. It is often assumed that at a “smart school” people are going to be socially conscious. In reality, schools are gate keepers. They keep folks out and keep the same thinking prevalent. And unfortunately that was sometimes my experience at Harvard. Harvard did not do a whole lot to combat this. Schools like Harvard do a good job at diversifying but they don’t do a great job at integrating. They leave it up to the people of color to work around the institution. Education can be very class based- built around white middle class ways of thinking and doing. When you don’t grow up in that community, school can be scary.
What are your goals for the Girls Initiatives and your empowerment work in general, in 2016?
Honestly I want the girls to feel confident enough to make a difference in their community. Whatever that means to them. That is really important to me. Whether it is bringing knowledge about feminism, equity or just opening the minds of their peers. I want women and young people to feel like they can do it!
All images courtesy of YWCA
March 18, 2016