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a photo of two african american ymca staff members with the text "I See You: The YMCA's African American ERG"

Our African American Employee Resource Group (AA ERG) kickoff event went off without a hitch as we celebrated Black History Month, with guest speakers Dr. Kiah Nyame and Ronnie Pollack, as well as a fireside chat with new President & CEO Ernie Lamour — the second African American to assume that role for our Association.

Leading the way were co-chairs of our AA ERG, Aries Jordan and Dorie Cottman. They are looking to bring staff together throughout the Association to assist African American employees throughout our branches.

For those who may be wondering, an Employee Resource Group is an employee-led Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion-based group that is designed to support employees in specific demographics throughout an organization. The YMCA of Greater Rochester has three such groups today — African American, Women, and PRIDE — with the hopes of more to come.

Preparing for the kickoff event allowed Jordan to dive into Black History Month and the Y. One nugget that amazed her was that Carter G. Woodson — who created Negro History Week, the precursor to Black History Month — was at Chicago’s Wabash Avenue YMCA when he organized the Association for the Study of Negro Life and History.

“I do stand on the shoulders of people that have organized [events], formally, informally, [for] African American employees,” said Jordan, who made her way to our Y last year as our Philanthropy Coordinator. “So, I do want to acknowledge the work that’s been done prior to me stepping into this role. I’m excited and I pay homage to the work that they’ve done before I even came here.”

While Cottman agrees, she said the thing she likes most about the AA ERG is that it feels like a grassroots effort. ‘I See You ’ is the group’s mantra for 2023, as they hope to mend the gap for those who have felt unseen in their personal and professional journeys.

“We are now like an extension of the YMCA, which is awesome,” said Cottman, who has worked at our Y as a Group Exercise Instructor since 2005. “We’re going to be very intentional about our mission.”

Jordan also added that ‘I See You’ is about acknowledging the nuances of culture. Whether it’s a subtle head nod in the hallway, or the food and music picked for an event, she wants African Americans throughout our Y to feel accepted — and seen.

“The Y is for all, but for all recognizes there are different experiences,” Jordan said. “‘I See You’ is about us seeing each other as African American employees, for us to see each other.”

Jordan and Cottman were thankful to hear Lamour’s story of how he got to be with us here in Rochester. A Haitian-born immigrant and the youngest of six children, he fought through adverse situations to get to the point he has today. Also knowing the struggles that may be presented for men of color in the working world, Cottman noted how thankful she was to have his story shared at the group’s kickoff event.

“We [wanted] him to acknowledge each and every one of us in the room,” Cottman said. “He sees us; he understands the importance of the ERG and how important our mission is to the YMCA.”

We see you, Dorie and Aries.