Arizona, we need to talk.

It is time for us to have the hard conversation about the many and various ways racism tarnishes our history, distorts our relationships, infects our systems and harms each and every one of us.

The past few months have been filled with harsh reminders.

A recent report shows Phoenix had the third most reported hate crimes in the United States last year, four times more than Chicago and 20 times more than Houston, even though those are much larger cities. These crimes targeted the whole range of marginalized communities, but African-Americans were attacked most often, at a rate 20 percent higher than anti-gay and anti-Jewish attacks combined.

The Arizona Town Hall is highlighting the structural racism that exists in our state’s criminal-justice system. We have the fourth-highest incarceration rate in the nation, even though crime rates have been dropping for the past 18 years, and people of color are disproportionately impacted. For example, although whites are the majority in Arizona and use marijuana at higher rates than Latinos or African-Americans, the majority of Arizonans sent to prison for marijuana possession are Latino, and black people in Arizona are given 50 percent longer sentences for drug possession charges than white people.

Racism played an overt role in this last election. The picture of unarmed and vulnerable migrant families and children fleeing violence and extreme poverty in Central America, and the unprecedented deployment of U.S. troops to our border, were used to frighten voters. We were bombarded for months by television ads painting the Latino candidate for Arizona governor, his face unnaturally darkened, as a threat to white families. One Arizona state legislator was re-elected in spite of making racially derogatory comments and he continues to make them. These things heighten the distrust and fear that divides our communities. This hurts all of us.

There are a growing number of organizations in Pima County that are willing to have this conversation about the pervasive reality and impact of racism. YWCA is launching a New Millennium Leadership Center to help aid our community in addressing these impacts.

Our team leads diversity and inclusion training in businesses, nonprofits and government agencies. We help people identify and take steps to end unconscious bias and microaggressions within their organizations, and we help leaders understand how structural bias works, so they can move toward undoing the inequity and damage it causes. The fact that so many organizations have already begun this work is a sign of hope in the middle of these troubled times.

We know these are hard conversations to have because we are having them ourselves at the YWCA.

Striving to be an organization that is wholly aligned with our mission of “eliminating racism, empowering women and promoting peace, justice, freedom and dignity for all,” we are doing the deep, hard work of evaluating our policies and culture within the context of a racial justice framework. We readily admit our imperfections and believe that acknowledging the influence of patriarchy and white supremacy on every system and structure in our world, including our own, is critical for learning and change. Our aim is to be a learning organization, where transparency, accountability and growth are valued.

Some days are better than others. So, we approach this work with a deep sense of humility and know that this will be an ongoing process.

We are boldly committed to becoming what we hope to create in our community and in our world. We share our story in hopes that you will be inspired to take your own journey.

Sonia Valencia Economou is president of the board and Kelly Fryer is CEO of YWCA Southern Arizona.