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Last month we hosted Model United Nations conferences for middle schoolers from North and South Carolina. Model UN is one of the Y’s most influential youth development initiatives, designed to promote leadership and character development through the discussion and debate of important global issues.

In the classroom and within their local Y branches, students work year-round in groups to study a specific country’s culture, customs, language and history. All activities are guided and directed by YMCA professionals, social studies teachers, and passionate YMCA volunteers. Typically these are mentorships from local high school and college students who are alumni of the Y’s Youth in Government programs!

These programs are helping to create the next generation of good citizens. By allowing youth to work within a framework of state, national, and international governmental systems, tomorrow’s leaders will understand their role within a global society.

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Together we are not only impacting lives and communities…we are changing the world!

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The Model UN program culminates in a two-day trip to YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly where students represent their chosen country at a mock United Nations Assembly. During the conference they simulate the operation and structure of the UN in an atmosphere that promotes respect, unity and cross-cultural understanding.

Here students actively participate in proposal writing, public speaking, and coalition-building on behalf of their nation.

Advisory Council meeting in Heaton Hall

Advisory Council meeting in Heaton Hall

Through the Model UN program  students gain:

  • Exposure to new ideas
  • Real world experience
  • Cultural understanding
  • Civic engagment
  • Ethics training
  • Preparation for academic success
  • Lifelong friendships
Festival of Nations, where students dress in native attire and enjoy an expo of countries customs, language, food and more.

Festival of Nations, where students dress in native attire and enjoy an expo of countries customs, language, food and more.

Click here to read about a group of local students Model UN experience through the YWNC’s 21st Century Program!

Many Model UN participants will return to the mountain later this summer with other national youth conferences such as:

Blue Ridge Leaders’ School :June 15-22

Conference on National Affairs :June 29 – July 5

Christian Values Conference July 12-14 ( Jr.) & July 15-19 (High School)

Achievers (July 19-21) 

Our beautiful facilities provide the ideal location to unite the YMCA triad of spirit, mind, and body. Here memories are made to last a lifetime, and this summer is sure to be more memorable than ever!

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“This work has brought me into many very delicate and difficult positions. It has caused its full share of criticism and heartache. Some of my white friends have berated me for going too fast; some of my colored friends have called me names because I would not go faster.”   -Dr. Weatherford

The Controversy

Residents of the surrounding area did not always approve of the Assembly’s progressive racial practices. Blue Ridge sometimes received anonymous threats when area residents learned that African American speakers would be guests at the center. For example, in August 1919, a black YMCA secretary came to Blue Ridge, and a “disgruntled white man in the neighborhood made his disapproval of this integration known.” Several weeks later, the laundry building near Robert E. Lee Hall burned. Weatherford believed this man set the fire that destroyed the building.

Beyond these physical threats, Blue Ridge also had to consider the reactions of its supporters and take care not to alienate or offend them. At the time, many Southern whites did not want forced integration. Weatherford feared that by welcoming African American guests to Blue Ridge, it might stir up controversy among its long-term friends and family, southern leaders, parents of young conferees, and worst of all, the Assembly’s generous donors. If Blue Ridge were to be perceived as a radical place that fostered “dangerous ideas”, it would undoubtedly lose its mainstream appeal and support.

These funding issues in particular limited Blue Ridge’s activities, but furthermore, by allowing blacks to eat and sleep side by side with whites, Blue Ridge would be violating the law. To go against both social and legal norms would enable authorities to revoke the Assembly’s operating license. Weatherford believed the racial stances that Blue Ridge took at this time were as liberal as the institution could make and still keep its doors open.

Changing Perceptions

From 1912 to 1930, Blue Ridge was primarily an all-white conference center. In those years it did not openly dispute segregation, argue explicitly for social equality between blacks and whites, or condone interracial dating or marriage. Instead, Blue Ridge served as a place where whites and blacks could meet and discuss racial problems and where African American leaders could come to speak and offer their views on a variety of subjects. This alone dramatically influenced how white attendees perceived and treated African Americans.

The impact of Weatherford’s subtle, grassroots effort was profound.  Blue Ridge helped to influence the attitudes of the young college men and women it served, thereby changing how people interacted with one another in day-to-day life. This moderate approach would eventually help whittle away at the racist structure of southern society over the years. And because these conferences were held primarily for young people, the future leaders of America and those most open to new ideas, the movement touched countless lives over the course of history.

While perceptions cannot be quantified, it is clear that white students in particular were affected by what they saw, heard, and experienced at Blue Ridge. It influenced how many of them chose to spend their lives, inspiring bold action to stand up to racism. For instance, it is noted that one leader of the Louisiana delegation, who previously had threatened to walk out on Carver’s 1924 Blue Ridge speech, later tried to prevent a lynching in his hometown.

Reflecting on the impact of the center later in life, Weatherford proudly wrote, “Blue Ridge has probably done more than any other single institution to make the white people of the South conscious of their responsibility to serve this largest minority group in America. . . . The spirit of cooperation developed there has sent thousands of the choicest college students back to their respective colleges or out into the world as advocates of better racial understanding.”

Meanwhile, many strides were being made at the national level. In 1931, delegates from the National Council vowed to “work steadfastly toward the goal of eliminating all racial discriminations.” Later in 1946 Y-USA urged local branches to formally desegregate. Finally, in 1951, the color bar was broken at Blue Ridge.

1956 staff photo

1956 staff photo

The Legacy

Weatherford’s interest in race relations directly influenced the five principles upon which Blue Ridge was founded:

  1. There is a dignity in all human labor. Anything ministering to human need is a God-given responsibility.
  2. The study of religion must be intellectually respectable.
  3. Religion is indispensable in building life values.
  4. All people are created in the image of God and worthy of love and respect.
  5. In the beauty of Blue Ridge’s natural setting, guests and staff should spend time in reflection/introspection through quiet time, prayer, Bible study or meditation.

Weatherford believed that the ethics of Christianity required Southerners to address the treatment of African Americans and work to improve the social and economic problems faced by black people. As a Christian, it was an obligation of each person to find the value in others, especially those different from oneself, and love them as equals.

“Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him.” John 13:16

Furthermore, Weatherford strongly believed in the value of manual labor. He wrote “the experience of slavery had left a deep psychological scar on the South and its attitude toward work. He reasoned that “the slave hated labor because it branded him as inferior, and the white man shunned labor because he thought it was the slave’s province.” Weatherford wanted to change these attitudes and instill the idea “that any task which added richness to human existence was a sacred task.”  Each summer he used the college-aged men and women who worked at Blue Ridge to help manifest this vision.  The conference center also employed a small number of African American workers who assisted with providing food and laundry services. Some of these employees commuted daily from Black Mountain, while others resided in Booker T. Washington Hall (later demolished in the 1970s).

Martha Washington Hall

Martha Washington Hall

In Weatherford’s opinion these men and women, white and black, represented the South’s future and would help transform the lives of many others. Because he viewed them as potential leaders, Weatherford hoped that a summer program of work and study would encourage them to contribute to their schools and communities. Blue Ridge Assembly promoted the philosophy that race relations would improve by broadening bright young students’ perspectives on race, and they, in turn, would change the world through their future work. These collegiate were held to high standards in speech and behavior. Racist language in particular was not permitted among the staff. For example, it is said that on one occasion, after a white member of the staff complained about the nature of manual labor, Weatherford responded, “You had better change your attitude toward both work and Negroes—or leave Blue Ridge. We respect both here”, reflected the founding principle that everyone should be treated equally.

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Weatherford’s attitudes on race and equality continue to be a part of our heritage, preserved in the five founding principles that our staff still follow to today. We are proud to have been a part of this civil rights movement in the South, influencing a generation of young leaders, united under the Y values of caring, honesty, respect and responsibility.Today YMCA B lue Ridge Assembly is just as committed to the principles of diversity and inclusion. Each day, we work to ensure everyone, regardless of gender, income, faith or cultural background, has the opportunity to experience our life-changing programs.

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YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly continues to adapt to needs of the changing times as we build healthier communities and strengthen mind, body, and spirit- for ALL.

Resources:

https://www.lib.umn.edu/ymca/guide-afam-milestones

http://www.aaregistry.org/historic_events/view/black-ymca-community-and-home

“The Limits to Improving Race Relations in the South: The YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly in Black Mountain, North Carolina, 1906–1930” by Andrew McNeill Canady, 2009

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When the YMCA movement began in America in 1851, African Americans were excluded from membership based on legally mandated practices of segregation. Just a few years later,  the first YMCA for African Americans was founded in Washington DC. Over a decade later the onset of the Civil War and the abolishment of slavery created new opportunities for black people, especially students, in the Y.

Anthony Bowen, founder of the first YMCA chapter for African Americans in 1853

Anthony Bowen, founder of the first YMCA chapter for African Americans in 1853

Finally in 1915, Carter Woodson organized the “Association for the Study of Negro Life and History” at the Wabash Avenue YMCA in Chicago. This was the beginning of Negro History Week, the forerunner of today’s annual celebration of Black History Month.

Carter Woodson establishes Black History Month, 1915

Carter Woodson establishes Black History Month, 1915

Black History Month is particularly close to our hearts here at YMCA Blue Ridge. Our founder Dr. Willis D. Weatherford, Sr. was an outspoken activist for race equality throughout his career. In turn, Blue Ridge served as a hub for these progressive ideas and marked us a modern institution for the civil rights movement in the south.

Dr. Willis D. Weatherford, founder of Blue Ridge Assembly.

Dr. Willis D. Weatherford, founder of Blue Ridge Assembly in 1906.

Prior to the founding of Blue Ridge, Weatherford served as the Student Secretary of the International Committee for the YMCA. Under this position he traveled throughout the country, delivering speeches and providing mentorships to passionate young college students. At these campuses Weatherford found himself establishing friendships with “Negro waiters and janitors” despite the social and legal implications of the South’s Jim Crow policies. He developed an intellectual curiosity for the plight of African Americans and from these experiences, became increasingly focused on improving race relations between whites and blacks. Most notably, he desired to work on this problem at the local level.

It was during this tumultuous time, in the wake of widespread racial hostility and prejudice that Weatherford set out to establish Blue Ridge. He dreamed of a permanent meeting place where young people, of all races, could gather in an inspirational setting to discuss new ideas and strengthen their faith. And so it came to be in 1906- a southern conference and training center founded on the principles of the dignity in labor, the value of religion, the beauty of nature, and respect for all mankind.

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Weatherford’s interests in improving race relations eventually gave rise to the five principles upon which Blue Ridge was founded. In 1908, he sought to publicly address these problems. He and six other southern religious and educational leaders—four of whom were African American men—gathered for an open dialogue about “the present race question, with special reference to what the college men of the South might do to better conditions.” This conversation, extremely uncommon at the time, would inspire Weatherford to write a book about African Americans in the South, the first of many of nationally-recognized publications that would be used in YMCA study groups and even as text books in college courses.

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The Conferences: Unity & Action

When Blue Ridge hosted its first conference in 1912, the South had long been a racially divided region. The Assembly became a unique isolated place where social and religious issues could be confronted, examined, and challenged. It was unlike any institution of its time, one of the few southern places where progressive and liberal subjects were not off limits. Here, Southern white leaders and college students would meet and discuss the subject of race and eventually, welcome black speakers and participants to join them. While their presence was limited, even a small number of African Americans guest speakers was significant in the context of the segregated and racially hostile South.

1917:  A meeting of 48 southern Christian leaders, “educators, ministers, social workers, clubwomen, church workers, doctors, judges, public officials, and YMCA/YWCA personnel” who represented “nearly every state in the South . . . [and] included twelve women and several blacks.” The conference focused on the problem of lynching but also discussed the migration of southern blacks, legal measures to prevent mob violence, and “the role of religion in racial reform.” During this time the United States entered World War I and the YMCA established the Colored Work Department under the War Work Council to organize African American troops.

1919: Training program for the Commission on Interracial Cooperation. This committee, organized by Weatherford, was one of the first of its kind in the South to bring the races together on a local level and foster communication and understanding. The interracial programs of the CIC also sought to help reintegrate black soldiers back into America and eliminate the resurgence of racial tension and violence.

1920: Conference for religious leaders to discuss the “relationship of the church to race problems.” Over seventy-five southern ministers and  college presidents, including Robert Russa Moton, Tuskegee Institute principal and successor to Booker T. Washington,  attended.  Participants voiced their support for the CIC and other local interracial organizations, called for better schools and housing for blacks, and urged white southerners to live up to the “equal” element of the “separate but equal” creed. Moton in particular spoke on the subjects of lynching, social equality, disfranchisement of African Americans, and Jim Crow transportation.

Robert Russa Moton and Dr. Weatherford.

1923: The Southern Student Conference (held annually at Blue Ridge since 1913) welcomes George Washington Carver as a guest speaker. Carver was a well-known African American horticulturist and faculty member at the black Tuskegee Institute in Alabama, most known for his scientific research with the peanut. Carver’s experience at Blue Ridge was significant and student interest in his leadership was immense. Carver’s appearance at Blue Ridge proved to be the start of several friendships and mentorships with a number of white YMCA students, showing them that African Americans were capable of high achievement. Carver would return again in 1924, arguably making an even greater impact. As a “guest of the Virginia Delegation” during his time there he was treated as such- invited to eat and sleep among the all-white group. Since the conference center still segregated the dining of blacks and whites, Carver’s stay, in effect, was the first recorded racial integration of Blue Ridge Assembly.

George Washington Carver

George Washington Carver’s stay becomes the first known racial integration at Blue Ridge.

1925: Southern Student conference welcomes the African American educator Mary McLeod Bethune as a guest speaker. She is the first known African American woman to visit the Assembly.

Mary McLeod Bethune , the first  African American woman guest speaker at Blue Ridge Assembly

Mary McLeod Bethune , the first African American woman guest speaker at Blue Ridge Assembly

1926: Southern Student Conference welcomes Mordecai Johnson of Howard University. Johnson’s speech said, “I don’t advise you to start out putting your hand on this political measure, and putting your hand on this institution trying to change it around. This is not where you begin. You start out with John Jones when you meet him tomorrow morning—the individual toward the individual—acting radically upon the principles of creative love.”

1928: Southern Student Conference welcomes John Hope of Morehouse College as a guest speaker.

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“Blue Ridge was the first place in the South where outstanding colored leaders could come to present to the leadership of the white South in large numbers, the needs and problems of the Negro people and the ways of meeting the same.”   

-Dr. Weatherford

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In September, we hosted the LIVESTRONG Wellness Retreat. This was the third LIVESTRONG weekend retreat to be held at YMCA Blue Ridge as part of the collaboration between the LIVESTRONG Foundation and the YMCA of the USA. You can read about our successful springtime event here!

Do you LIVESTRONG?

This fall we welcomed 20 cancer survivors to experience relaxation and renewal in our peaceful mountain setting. Participants were able to share and reflect with other survivors on their personal experiences in battling the disease. The retreat offered spiritual encouragement in the form of art, laughter, and prayer, as well as educational opportunities, including guest speakers and workshops.  The weekend emphasized a holistic approach to wellness, addressing the spirit, mind, and body.  Crafts encouraged self expression and reflection, while hiking allowed guests to be active and experience the inspirational beauty of God’s creation. There was also plenty of time to celebrate life and laughter with fun icebreakers, healing massages, and delicious refreshments.

THANK YOU to all of the participants, staff, and guest speakers who made this event possible!  YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly is thankful to be part of this nationwide movement that helps cancer survivors reach their health and well-being goals. For more information on the life-changing impact of “LIVESTRONG at the YMCA”, check out this  video.

Want to join us next year? Contact YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly Campus Life Director, Owen Lovejoy, at olovejoy@ymcabra.org to register.

SPRING 2013: Saturday, April 6 – Sunday, April 7, 2013
FALL 2013: Saturday, September 14 – Sunday, September 15, 2013

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October 1-7, communities nationwide will come together to honor The Y Arts Week – an annual celebration to promote the power of art to EDUCATE, INSPIRE, AND CONNECT. Celebrated every October during National Arts and Humanities Month, Arts Week strives to showcase the unique talents of artists of all ages and to bring together youth, families, and entire communities.

Arts Week is an initiative of the YMCA. At the Y, we believe the arts have the power to:

  • UNITE communities and e­­­­ncourage fellowship
  • CONNECT kids and teens to themselves and their peers as they share their enjoyment and passion with each other
  • PROVIDE new challenges and opportunities for hands-on learning and growth
  • ENCOURAGE families to develop traditions of arts and crafts that can be passed down for generations
  • IMPROVE creative and tactical skills, helping kids and adults reach their God-given potential
  • SUPPORT youth in the ability to express themselves, develop confidence and greater self-esteem

The Arts at YMCA Blue Ridge Assembly
The arts have a special place at Blue Ridge. Not only are they part of our longstanding Appalachian heritage, but they are also an integral part of our ministry to serve guests and help strengthen spirit, mind, and body.

The Craft Shop

For generations, the Blue Ridge Craft Shop has provided opportunities for those who wish to create a tangible reminder of their time and experience on the mountain. There are a variety of projects for all skill levels and interests including working with clay and ceramics, candle-making, acrylic painting on wood, leather stamping, jewelry making, and fiber arts of weaving, felting, tie-dye.These activities allow our guests to experience heritage crafts of the Appalachian mountains, to express the inspirational beauty of God’s creation, and to find pleasure and peace in working together in community.

Through arts programming at Blue Ridge, we are able to reach kids who are otherwise not being reached. For instance, in collaboration with the YMCA of Western North Carolina Day Camp  youth came each week over the summer to experience our Craft Shop. Campers, ages 6-12, made felted soap, clay pots, woven oven mitt, and other creations in our Craft Shop that they were able to take home.

As we extend our services to others in the community, our ability to support the YMCA mission stretches even further. Are you an arts organization looking to gather and create? Contact Danielle Tocaben, Sales Director to plan a mountain retreat for your group. We look forward to seeing you soon and sharing in the spirited creativity and artistic expression that Blue Ridge inspires!

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The Hunger Games movie

The Hunger Games mania has taken over YMCA Blue Ridge!

The Hunger Games is a young-adult action/drama film directed by Gary Ross. The film, released in March 2012, is based on the novel of the same name by Suzanne Collins. Filming sites for the movie were locations around Asheville and Black Mountain, including Dupont National Forest and the Burnett Reservoir, just a few miles from the Assembly. Many local residents and even some Blue Ridge staff members were featured as extras in the film!

In honor of this literary heritage, several area middle schools are reading the book as part of their curriculum. Even more exciting is that many of them have booked class field trips this spring with a Hunger Games theme…and have discovered YMCA Blue Ridge to be the perfect site for this thrilling occasion! The youth are scheduled to participate in various adventure programs which mirror the plot of the book: archery, wilderness survival, and team-building high among the trees on the Odyssey Course.

Archery

Nature Exploration

Odyssey Course

Here are some great testimonials from our young participants so far!

“I felt as if I was training for the games with an ally.”  -Anana
“The survival activity taught me what is valuable in the wilderness.”- Taylor
“The Odyssey taught me that I can do anything if I try.”  -Kyle
“I felt like Katniss shooting, and then missing the squirrel. I experienced/endured so much I actually felt like was in an actual Hunger Games training session.”  -Jessica
“It was one of the best field trips I have ever been on.”  –Andrew
“I had a great time and I actually learned a lot.”  -Mackenzie

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On the weekend of April 12, the Program Staff had a nice surprise from a group of youth climbing the Alpine Tower. The group, ages 9-17, were part of the Apex/Cary Rope Skippers, who include many members of the Cary YMCA Super Skippers from Cary, North Carolina. Last year the Cary Super Skippers won 2nd Place in Overall Freestyle and tied for 2nd Overall Team at the 2011 USA Jump Rope National Championship in Galveston, Texas!

The Rope Skippers were visiting as part of the Spring Physical Education Leadership Training conference,  sponsored by the North Carolina Alliance for Health, Athletics, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance. SPELT  is one of the premier K-12 physical education forums in the country and this year celebrated their 40 anniversary at Blue Ridge!

The energetic and athletic youth also visited several local elementary schools to perform their award-winning jump rope routines, and after their climb treated our staff to a private showing. Here are some great photos from the field:

To see the young skippers in action, visit their YouTube page!

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On April 14-15, 2012 we welcomed 13 local cancer survivors for a weekend of relaxation and spiritual renewal in partnership with Lance Armstrong’s LIVESTRONG Foundation.

During the retreat there were many opportunities to experience fun and fellowship in our peaceful mountain setting. It was our goal to encourage the hearts and restore the souls of these special guests. Participants were able to share and reflect with other survivors on their personal experiences in the battle with cancer.

In addition to spiritual encouragement in the form of prayer and  meditation, there were several guest speakers, workshops and recreational activities: We reflected on our journies by making healing collages with Katie Warren, we were moved to laughter and tears by the drama of Jim and Carol Shores, and wandered the paths of the Assembly and took in the inspirational beauty of God’s creation. Also…

We laughed with Kelly Gibson and learned from Dr. Williams of the Hope Center

We indulged our taste buds with a “high tea,” British-style

We enjoyed s’mores and the company of new friends at the evening campfire

Here is a recent Devotional from our Chaplain, Owen Lovejoy, the Project Manager of the LIVESTRONG initiative at Blue Ridge Assembly:

“Behold, two disciples were going that very day (Easter Sunday) to a village named Emmaus.” Luke 24:13

Prior to the retreat, our staff joined together in prayer asking that God would do for our LIVESTRONG guests what He did for the two disciples on the road to Emmaus: walk by their side, encourage their hearts and renew their hope. I am thrilled to testify that God answered our prayers! Although we expectantly planned activities for a meaningful weekend, they would have profited nothing if God had not come among us to love and bless us.

A few comments quoted from participant evaluations will attest to God’s activity in our midst.

    • “I feel much better after this weekend . . . a real blessing for us all.”
    • “Great fellowship with God and others!”
    • “(This weekend) left us all recognizing the power of God’s love and forgiveness.”
    • “(The weekend) helped us on our journey of survivorship and reminded us of the importance of God’s love in all our lives.”
    • “It was a time of spiritual healing, physical rest and rejuvenation, and a message of hope!”

People other than cancer survivors travel difficult roads. Times of sorrow and loss burden most of us at some point in our lives. If you find yourself on a journey filled with despair, I pray that the discovery of Jesus’ abiding presence will fill you with inexpressible joy and everlasting hope. Amen!

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