Sharon Shelton is a mediator and passionate advocate for the elimination of racism and the empowerment of women. For the past twenty-nine years, she has been working to fulfill this mission through her work with the YWCA, Greater Los Angeles.
Growing up in a predominantly black, African American community, Sharon explains that while she remembers this time fondly, there were also racial tensions which marked her upbringing. During her undergraduate years at California State University, Long Beach, Sharon enjoyed taking both black studies classes and women’s studies classes. However, after an African American Professor told her “not to get hung up on all that women’s lib stuff,” Sharon became conflicted about the road ahead. She asked herself, “should I be working on racial justice issues, or should I be working on gender based issues?”
During this time, Sharon met Rosa Parks, the “mother of the civil rights movement,” whom Sharon told about her conflict. Parks told her, “it’s not a conflict, they go together. You don’t separate them.” It was this conversation which ultimately led Sharon to work at the YWCA GLA. Drawn to their mission of eliminating racism and empowering women, Sharon has spent the past twenty-nine years following her passion. Beginning as the Director of the Sexual Assault Crisis Program, Sharon has climbed her way through the ranks to become the Chief Operating Officer and Interim Chief Executive Officer. Beyond her duties as Interim CEO, Shelton oversees the YWCA GLA’s sexual assault services and racial justice initiatives. This includes managing rape crisis centers, designing consent education, and facilitating support groups focused on racial trauma, healing and community-building across divides.
Finding her passion
Sharon’s journey into mediation, which she describes as her “true passion,” began in 1996 when she completed a 40-hour training through the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office. While she initially took the course as part of her workplace professional development, it sparked a growing interest in mediation, which ultimately led Sharon to embark on the path to earning her Masters degree in Negotiation and Conflict Management from California State University, Dominguez Hills.
Throughout her time at the YWCA GLA, Sharon has used her skills as a mediator to facilitate racial dialogues in partnership with the Institute of Non Violence, as well as volunteering her time as a mediator. Sharon sees mediation as a cornerstone of the organization’s mission, engaging the community on pressing social issues. Stemming from the belief that “racism is a health crisis,” Sharon recognizes that racism causes deep trauma. This belief has led her to incorporate “healing circles” when moderating sensitive conversations, making space for reflection, storytelling, and mutual support.
This has been especially pertinent over the last couple of years, where the pandemic highlighted and exacerbated existing tensions within our society. She explains that the pandemic especially illuminated existing “racial inequities, particularly after the murder of George Floyd. We found it helpful to have racial dialogues, and to have mediators be present at those dialogues.” These issues were once again brought to the fore in October 2022, when leaked recordings of Los Angeles City Council revealed the use of discriminatory language about African American communities. Partnering with the City Council, Sharon hosted “days of dialogue” which functioned as a platform to constructively discuss the issue of racism.
Towards a more just and equitable society
Looking ahead, Sharon aims to connect her involvement with MBBI more deeply to her professional work at the YWCA GLA. She strives to contribute her insights and expertise to MBBI committees, drawing from her decades of experience guiding meaningful dialogues addressing injustice. Sharon also hopes to highlight mediation as a tool for wellbeing that deserves greater mainstream recognition for its mental, emotional and physical health benefits. In her view, mediation has remarkable power to resolve conflicts constructively while promoting mental, emotional, and physical health benefits across all sectors of society.
For those exploring careers in mediation, Sharon advises identifying your specialty area that aligns with your values and interests. She sees great potential for mediation in fields like labor relations, family disputes, education, community development and environmental conflicts. Sharon urges all mediators to proudly share the benefits of mediation as the field progresses and evolves. In her perspective, mediation has the ability to empower people, heal communities, and build a more just and equitable society.
After nearly three decades at the YWCA GLA, Sharon Shelton remains a passionate advocate for the elimination of racism and the empowerment of women, bridging divides through mediation. Her tireless efforts exemplify how mediation can be applied to transform deep-rooted societal issues and create positive systemic change.
Article by Natalie Dewar, MBBI Writer