Celebrating African American History Month at the Y - South Sound YMCA

Celebrating African American History Month at the Y

Happy Black History Month!

During Black History Month, we celebrate the rich contributions of African-Americans to the cultural fabric of our diverse nation. For more than 176 years, the Y has provided safe, welcoming spaces where people of diverse backgrounds can find resources and a supportive community to develop their talents and reach their full potential. For African-Americans living in New York City during segregation and through the Civil Rights Movement of the 20th century, the Harlem YMCA was one such place.


Established in 1901, the Harlem YMCA played an integral role in the Harlem Renaissance, a cultural, social and artistic movement in the 1920s and 1930s that brought African-American art, music, literature, theater and political thought into the forefront of American culture.

Sometimes called the “living room of the Harlem Renaissance,” the Harlem YMCA hosted African-American visitors to New York City who were denied access to segregated hotels, theaters and other public spaces. Literary giants such as Claude McKay, Ralph Ellison, Langston Hughes and James Baldwin lived and interacted at the Y during their peak creative years, while the Y’s “Little Theater” program would go on to launch the careers of actors such as Paul Robeson, Sidney Poitier, Cicely Tyson and James Earl Jones. Jackie Robinson, who in 1947 became the first African-American to break the color barrier in Major League Baseball, was a volunteer coach at the Harlem Y.

Today, the Harlem Y continues its legacy as a safe and welcoming space, helping families improve their health and well-being, serving thousands of children in afterschool and day camp, and helping new Americans assimilate through its New Americans Welcome Center.

At the Y, we believe that in a diverse world, we are stronger when we are inclusive and our doors are open to all. To learn more about the history of the Y and our impact on American culture, visit The Y: History.


 A 40 year YMCA professional, Kevin Washington is the 14th person and first African American to lead the Y in the United States. He came to YMCA of the USA (Y-USA) in February 2015 from the YMCA of Greater Boston, where as President and CEO from 2010 to 2014 he expanded membership and access by reducing rates, increased diversity and engagement among the Board of Directors to better reflect the community and implemented a childhood-education quality initiative that benefits thousands of children and families throughout eastern Massachusetts. Prior to Boston, Washington served as President and CEO of the YMCA of Greater Hartford from 2000 to 2010. Under his leadership the Hartford YMCA invested more than $60 million to develop or expand eight facilities and camps. He was Chief Operating Officer for the YMCA of Metropolitan Chicago from 1995 to 2000, and previously held other executive roles with the Chicago YMCA and the Philadelphia Freedom Valley YMCA. He got his start in the Y as Youth Program Director at the Philadelphia YMCA’s Christian Street branch in 1978. Washington earned a bachelor’s degree in history from Temple University We all have a Y story to tell. Kevin Washington’s begins as a 10-year-old in an afterschool program at the Christian Street YMCA in south Philadelphia. It continues today – as the 14th President and CEO of YMCA of the USA. Watch the video to hear Kevin’s story in his own words.. https://youtu.be/RrezcBdchcw


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