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Meet Debbie Esparza of YWCA Metropolitan Phoenix in Central Phoenix

Today we’d like to introduce you to Debbie Esparza.

Debbie, please share your story with us. How did you get to where you are today?
My story with YWCA’s mission to eliminate racism and empower women began over 20 years ago. Back then, I was living in the Los Angeles area as an out 30-something, Latina lesbian with a passion for making a difference and bringing innovation to small business entrepreneurship. While I was concerned about the state of women, girls, and people of color, the extent of my advocacy usually extended to write checks to nonprofits I supported.

A friend of mine was on the board of YWCA USA and challenged me to get off the sidelines and really become an advocate for the issues that I care about. She invited me to join the board of YWCA USA. Through my board service, I was able to develop my own understanding of the state of women, girls and people of color through interactions and dialogue with so many others on the same path – advocates on a mission to create equality and inclusion in their neighborhoods, communities, and countries.

Ultimately this experience inspired me to transition from small business consulting into the nonprofit sector – making the world safer and more just for women and girls. Prior to becoming the CEO for YWCA Metropolitan Phoenix, I served in executive leadership for over 15 years with the Girl Scouts.

Has it been a smooth road?
As a woman of color and an out lesbian, it would be insincere to say I haven’t bumped up against power structures and barriers designed to exclude me, which meant I had to learn about inequality early.

I began my career in banking when I was still in high school and when I became a bank manager in my 20’s, all of my male colleagues had the title and compensation of Vice President. I, however, was an Assistant Vice President, a stark difference between my colleagues who were doing the exact same work. Thankfully, I also learned how to use my voice and advocate for myself to receive parity. It’s experiences like this one that make me so passionate about the mission of YWCA – eliminating racism and empowering women – to ensure that future generations of women and people of color don’t have fight the same fights I did.

We’d love to hear more about your organization.
Our mission lives in the heart of employees, volunteers and partners and demands a world of equity and human decency. We envision a world of opportunity. We commit ourselves to the work of justice. Every day, we get up and do the work. Across the valley, we turn on our lights and open our doors to answer the cry for justice. We offer safe rides, meals, and community center activities for seniors enabling them to age in place. We teach women and their families financial independence. We dismantle systemic racism and misogyny because the future needs all of us.

Our power comes from the women and girls we serve. We are thought, leaders. We are fearless movers. We are innovative shakers. We move justice out of our doors and into the power structures that determine the future. Our voices rise together to do the work. Here, a senior discovers her own power to advocate for her independence. Here, people of color learn to navigate the systems designed to hold them back. Here, a young woman cracks the glass ceiling to achieve the promotion she’s earned. Their victories make our eyes shine brighter. They keep our commitment to justice strong because we know first-hand how much more work we must get up and do.

YWCA’s mission is to eliminate racism and empower women. We will get up and do the work until injustice is rooted out until institutions are transformed until the world sees women, girls, and people of color the way we do: Equal. Powerful. Unstoppable.

Is our city a good place to do what you do?
I feel like Phoenix is trying very hard to be inclusive and is making good strides in that direction. With our strong tech and academia sectors and our infrastructure, we are well-poised to attract more people and companies who are committed to equity and inclusion.

Philosophies and cultural attitudes coming from California are requiring Phoenix and our surrounding communities to adapt and emerge in ways that encourage collaboration and broader insight. If we don’t create a safe space to have critical and crucial dialogues on race and gender equity, we risk missing out on further growth and job creation. Within this space, I believe that nonprofits also have a responsibility to ensure that our work is dismantling and transforming power structures, not re-enforcing them.

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Image Credit:

Images with YWCA Step and Repeat – photo credit is Marion Rhoades

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