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Shiquita Yarbrough of YWCA Boulder County: “Take action”

Take action — once you have asked what need to be done, you listen wholeheartedly, made space for change and someone representative of the population your serve, you educated yourself of struggles and then realized that there may be some policies that need to be changed, some books that need to be taught in the classrooms, some […]

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Take action — once you have asked what need to be done, you listen wholeheartedly, made space for change and someone representative of the population your serve, you educated yourself of struggles and then realized that there may be some policies that need to be changed, some books that need to be taught in the classrooms, some statues that need to come down in your neighborhood — then do it! Act and stop shaking your head and saying that is a shame what’s happening to THOSE people and do something to change the situation.


As part of our series about ‘5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society’ I had the pleasure to interview Shiquita Yarbrough Director, Community Engagement and Equity, YWCA Boulder County.

Before joining YWCA Boulder County, Shiquita worked for Community Foundation Boulder County, The Austin Housing Authority, and was a Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) case manager for Hurricane Katrina evacuees and a property manager for Austin Housing Authority. In her role at the YWCA, Shiquita manages core programs like Reading to End Racism (RER), Latina Achievement Support (LAS), and STEM, as well as managing and recruiting volunteers for all three programs. Shiquita serves on the Board of Trustees for The League of Women Voters; is an EFFA Program Committee member; and is the host of KGNU ‘s radio show, “Victorious Single Parents”. Additionally, she co-founded Families of Color Colorado, and served as a YWCA Boulder County board member.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to ‘get to know you’. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

Growing up on University Street on the South Side of Chicago with my single mom was my first exposure to a multicultural neighborhood. All the kids would play together, and skin color didn’t matter. Our next door neighbors were a German family who would buy ice cream for me when the ice cream truck would drive down the street, a Puerto Rican family who lived on the block and shared their freshly made tortillas, an elderly Jewish couple who gave out candy to the kids when they came back from school, and a white family with a girl the same age as me. The list goes on and this was just one street on the South Side of Chicago. I miss those days.

My mom got married when I was seven years old, and we moved to the West Side of Chicago. The neighborhood wasn’t too much different, but I missed my friends. I attended the same high school as Hugh Hefner and again was immersed in a multicultural environment. I had Polish, Armenian, Puerto Rican, Black, and Pakistani friends … just to name a few! In hindsight, I was so fortunate to have had that opportunity.

I love to cook. I sold my cakes in high school to students and teachers, as well as employees at Popeyes chicken (where I worked at age 15). I wish I would have gone to culinary school and not pursued traditional higher ed. I went to school in a little town called Bolivar, MO. Bolivar was the first time I learned of a thing called cultural shock, because I had it! What an experience Bolivar was for me — there I was called the “n” word for the first time (in church no less). Also, for the first time I was followed in a grocery store. It was also the first time I felt judged by the color of my skin, and the first time a white child approached me to touch black skin. Yes, it all happened in Bolivar. I became a nurse assistant taking care of children and adults with mental health issues, I became a hospice CAN, I worked in nursing homes and a hospital on several units but neurology and ER were my favorites, I also met my ex-husband in Bolivar. We moved to Memphis, TN, bought a house had three children and adopted one. After years of marriage, separation was inevitable. I prayed and decided to move to Austin, TX. I started fresh and new. I wanted my kids to know that they can start over no matter how the circumstances may look like, I actually was preaching that to myself more than them.

My oldest attended HBCU and ultimately graduated with her Masters and where she met her husband who is a doctor about to start residency. My oldest son, graduated from CU Boulder as second Black student government president, joined Teach for America, in his second year of law school while in a masters program and own two daycares while married. My second son is pursuing business and real estate, and my youngest daughter is in her second year at University of Denver.

Is there a particular book that made a significant impact on you? Can you share a story or explain why it resonated with you so much?

There are many books that I love and are impactful, but I think the first book that resonated me was Queen by Alex Haley. I watched Roots but to read about how enslaved people missed out on so many opportunities and made to believe they would be nobody because they were not smart. I guess the main impact is how I will never know who my ancestors were, I will never know the land the tilled, the village they resided in, the skills inherited. My people were not only physically stolen but also stolen from ancestry.

Do you have a favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Do you have a story about how that was relevant in your life or your work?

There are many wonderful life lesson quote out in the universe but I will have to say the one that stick with me the most is the one from my father, “Always be yourself, don’t try to be someone you’re not because you will fail.” Often time we try to fit in into situations that are not meant for us, so we alter who are then we end up not being our true selves.

How do you define “Leadership”? Can you explain what you mean or give an example?

Leadership = is one who listens to all voices, understand what the needs or requests are then communicate the plan on all levels. A leader does not just tell people what to do but instead train and develop them on how to be the best on how to do it.

In my work, I often talk about how to release and relieve stress. As a busy leader, what do you do to prepare your mind and body before a stressful or high stakes meeting, talk, or decision? Can you share a story or some examples?

This is a great question because I am guilty of not having a release and relieve stress routine/method. I need to work on being consistent with doing breathing exercises before stressful meetings. I will get better soon.

Ok, thank you for all that. Now let’s move to the main focus of our interview. The United States is currently facing a very important self-reckoning about race, diversity, equality and inclusion. This is of course a huge topic. But briefly, can you share your view on how this crisis inexorably evolved to the boiling point that it’s at now?

This so-called crisis has always been here, it is just more explicit through instant access of media. This country has always been discussing race, inclusion, equity, equality issues but only to lay upon deafening ears and harden hearts. The pandemic has forced Americans to see reality in the moment while quarantining in front of their televisions, iPad, and mobile devices. I believe watching the news and while the world was in a stand still motion, made them feel that they have been duped in some way, how could they have not known that these injustices have been going on right in my city, state, country? This crisis has always been here since its inception!

Can you tell our readers a bit about your experience working with initiatives to promote Diversity and Inclusion? Can you share a story with us?

At YWCA Boulder County we have several programs that promote diversity and inclusion in our community. Reading to End Racism provide and introduction of racial inequities, lack diversity and cultural awareness along with bullying conversations to the classrooms. Volunteers read age-appropriate books that discuss racism, diversity and inclusion topics to students and then have a discussion about them understanding what was read to them. We also have a program called Latina Achievement Support where Latina college students who are advocates, are support persons for high school Latinas. We have meetings every other week, college tours, financial aid education, emotional support and just an outlet during stressful times. STEMe3 is another program where we introduce middle school girls of color to coding using Curated Pathways Innovation. Our first introduction is when we get girls together and meet with other women of color that careers are in STEM and then we introduce them to coding. If the girls are interested in pursuing more coding, we then invite them to participate in our seven-week cohort group where the learning is more advance. We are so happy to be able to provide these opportunities to our community.

This may be obvious to you, but it will be helpful to spell this out. Can you articulate to our readers a few reasons why it is so important for a business or organization to have a diverse executive team?

The importance of an organization or business to have a diverse executive team is crucial, How can a business or organization have consumers that are diverse but have no one on their executive team that can represent the consumer they serve? It is important for youth to see diverse executives in all organizations and businesses across the nation. Plus they people that are served would feel more like the execs will have their best interest in mind since they can relate in some form. It is important for the growth of our country and for the development of our youth’s future.

Ok. Here is the main question of our discussion. You are an influential business leader. Can you please share your “5 Steps We Must Take To Truly Create An Inclusive, Representative, and Equitable Society”? Kindly share a story or example for each.

Five steps business leaders must take to truly create an inclusive, representative and equitable society are:

  1. Ask — ask what your customers what they want, do not assume that you would know what they want by what you would want if you were them — you’re not them!
  2. Listen — if someone is provided with the opportunity to be heard, please listen without judgement, criticism or attitude. Listening is the greatest form of communication and the best to learn about someone.
  3. Make space — if you are on a board of directors and there isn’t anyone who is representative of the population you claim to serve, then make space for someone that can share their perspectives and give insight where others may not have.
  4. Educate yourself — please don’t think that because you have a doctorate degree that you are smarter than the people who live the life of a person who has been dished our inequitable opportunities most of their life. Read up on communities that claim they are being mistreated, over looked for promotions when qualified. Find out for yourself by immersing yourself in the community your serve and learning their struggles and culture.
  5. Take action — once you have asked what need to be done, you listen wholeheartedly, made space for change and someone representative of the population your serve, you educated yourself of struggles and then realized that there may be some policies that need to be changed, some books that need to be taught in the classrooms, some statues that need to come down in your neighborhood — then do it! Act and stop shaking your head and saying that is a shame what’s happening to THOSE people and do something to change the situation.

We are going through a rough period now. Are you optimistic that this issue can eventually be resolved? Can you explain?

I am hopeful that this crisis will be resolved but I don’t believe it will be resolved during my lifetime and I am 50 years old. There is so much dismantling of systems, hearts and structures that needs to happen before we can think about rebuilding. This country has never uniformly apologized for all the harm that was placed on enslaved people and their descendants. There was such a loss that has been recognized but there has not been a time of grievance. After grieving comes restoration and healing. After recognizing the harm, apologizing for the harm, grievance must happen then healing will allow for restoration, then and only then will there be resolve.

Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂

There are so many people I would love to have a private meeting with, original thought has always been Oprah Winfrey but the more I think of people who I have many questions for, Tyler Perry is that person the one I wish to have a private breakfast or lunch with. I want to meet and discuss how he was able to manifest his visions and keep all of his ideas in order and not allow the background noise of naysayers to dominate his thinking.

How can our readers follow you online?

Your readers can email me at [email protected] and they can also check out my website where I also provide consulting and Racial Equity retreats at www.voiceourpower.com.

This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!

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