Photography by Callie Cranford
By Caroline Fossi
Djuanna Brockington aims to help women make positive change in their lives, whether it’s learning to speak up for themselves or gaining financial freedom. In her new role as women’s empowerment coordinator for YWCA Greater Charleston, she’s eager to build on the nonprofit’s many programs for women and girls.
“The Y is small, but man do they get stuff done,” says Djuanna, who joined the staff in November. “You can’t help but get excited.”
Founded more than a century ago in 1907, the YWCA’s main missions include eliminating racism and empowering women across the Charleston region. Ironically, the local Y began as a segregated institution, with separate black and white branches in downtown Charleston, according to College of Charleston’s Avery Research Center. The group integrated after the civil rights movement of the 1960s.
Now based in West Ashley and led by LaVanda Brown, the modern-day YWCA Greater Charleston boasts a diverse membership of more than 500 women from across the tri-county area. An affiliate of YWCA USA, the local group’s programs help women and girls advance their careers, improve their health and learn high-demand (and well-paying) technology skills, among other initiatives. The group also leads the annual MLK celebration, a 10-day event in January honoring the legacy of slain civil rights leader Martin Luther King Jr.
As Djuanna settles into her new role, she says she plans to continue developing the Y’s women’s programs. She’ll also hold focus groups with past participants and other community members to learn how else the organization can serve them.
From what she’s learned so far, economic security is one of the most pressing issues local women face.
“Charleston’s cost of living and lack of affordable housing are barriers to economic stability for many, especially women of color,” she explains. “Pay equity is definitely important, but it is just one piece of the puzzle.”
The Lowcountry native brings a long career in community service to her new position. Her professional background includes leadership roles with Meals on Wheels Summerville, Trident United Way and East Cooper Community Outreach.
The eldest of five kids, Djuanna, 52, credits her parents and stepdad for her long-standing commitment to social work and giving back to the community. They’ve always lived by the words: “You are your brother’s keeper,” she says.
One incident in particular sticks out in Djuanna’s mind. It happened on a trip to visit her family during a break from college at the University of South Carolina. Traffic was bad, and she was feeling irritated when she arrived home from Columbia. Her frustration mounted when she learned one of her brother’s friends would be joining them for dinner.
“Doesn’t this kid have a home of his own?” she remembers asking, in a less-than-friendly tone.
Her mom immediately escorted her to another room for a calm, but firm, talking to.
“You don’t know what this kid goes home to, or doesn’t go home to,” Djuanna recalls her mom telling her. “Anyone can sit at my table.”
Djuanna never forgot those words. “It gets in your blood,” she says of helping others.
Today, Djuanna also draws inspiration from Christine O. Jackson, the Y’s well-known former executive director, celebrated for her role as a civil rights leader and a strong supporter of local women in business.
“I want to build on her foundation and use that as a launching pad to continue to serve and grow,” Djuanna says.
Mission: Female empowerment
Here’s a sampling of YWCA Greater Charleston’s programs and events for women and girls:
Career Success series: Aimed at helping women succeed in the workplace and as entrepreneurs, this series includes career workshops on topics such as networking and salary negotiation and public speaking workshops for women and high school girls.
What Women Bring: A conference celebrating women’s leadership in business, community and culture. This year’s event takes place May 21.
Y Girls Code: An after-school club that teaches computer coding and technology skills to girls in elementary and middle school.
Indaba series: Roundtable discussions with an expert and up to 10 participants at each table, allowing for intimate conversations on topics such as women’s health and increasing the role of women of color in politics.
Choose Well: A women’s health initiative designed to reduce unintended pregnancies by offering women affordable access to contraception.
Lowcountry residents can get involved in the YWCA Greater Charleston by becoming a member, volunteering or providing financial support. Get more details here: