Look At What Blooms

I was standing over my kitchen sink rinsing dishes when I noticed it. I have a terrarium hanging off the latch of that window with a succulent that is spiky but the skin looks velvety to the touch. Something colorful snagged my attention. It had bloomed.

I have never had a succulent bloom under my care but there it was. One perfect purple and yellow flower. My favorite colors. I picked it up and immediately started smiling and celebrating. It was so pretty.

And then it got me thinking about all of the ways I’ve been practicing Militant Self-Care and all of the ways I’ve been blooming because of it.

Here’s a short list.

Literally, all of my flowers. Even my succulents are blooming.

These are Black Magic Hollyhocks. You’re welcome.

I am watching hollyhocks, lavender, yucca, and sweet peas bloom. I am cutting back my lamb’s ear and making wreaths. We are harvesting raspberries and turnips for making jam and pickles. I’m pulling up dill and chamomile for drying. And because of the healthy boundaries I’ve created around work, I’ve had the time to plant seeds and nurture them as they grow.

I been werkin’ on my fitness like Lizzo.

I am walking 8,000 steps a day. When I take conference calls, I am walking. When my husband gets home, I am walking with him to check in about his day, mine, and what’s happening for the kids. I am making time for meals and counting down the 6-8 fruits and veggies recommended daily. I am drinking water all day too. I’ve even been on a few bike rides.

A healthy breakfast sans my phone.

My hearth and home is my central focus.

I’ve been paying closer attention to what’s going on right in front of my face. I’m not saying that I am not aware of the world’s problems. I still read the news and check in on local organizations and organizers. I am just making plans for the little hearts in my home before I take on any(more) tasks related to saving pieces and parts of the world. I won’t say I don’t ever feel guilty feelings about it but it’s like I tell the kids sometimes…

Mommy is often on the frontlines in ways that aren’t always visible and so when I say no, it is giving someone else the opportunity to say yes because I am not the only answer.

Everyone is pitching in more. Everyone is learning how to tend to our home.

Nothing blooms without care and attention. If you’re ever wondering how you’re Militant Self-care practice is going, look at what’s blooming or, sometimes even more importantly, what’s not.

Here’s to even more blossoms in my heart, my home, and my garden this summer. And maybe in yours too.

Always tending,

PS – Need some help practicing #militantselfcare? Join my group on Facebook for regular prompts, ideas, and a supportive community.

5 Tips for a Restorative Staff Retreat

While I know that The Firecracker Foundation is a workplace full of purpose, inspiration, and healing, I am also aware that the potential for staff burnout is high. It is work that is demanding, taxing, and often doesn’t have a satisfying and clear end. Burnout can negatively impact the physical and mental health of our entire staff team.

A diverse group of women pose for a photo together in front of wine bar. They are all smiling and one of them is holding a crying baby.
The Firecracker Foundation staff team from left to right. Erica Dziedzic, Carolyn Abide, Me, Baby Otis, Jasmine Doss, and Ayanna Spencer. And yes, we have a staff baby.

As the Executive Director and someone who preaches about #militantselfcare, I want to be intentional about creating a healthy work environment for the people doing the important work of offering healing to children who have experience sexual trauma and their families. One of the strategies I employ to fight burnout is through staff retreats. I have hosted 2 so far, thanks to a self-care grant from Just Beginnings Collaborative.

Hi. Hello, Funders. If you want to transform the way you fund the work of a team that experiences a lot of vicarious trauma, I would recommend self-care funds. You will lower turnover and increase productivity for your funded organizations. This will improve the success of any project you’re funding. Everybody wins.

Here are 5 things you definitely want to include in your next staff retreat:

Cook Together. Before we left, we created a shopping list of what we planned to eat during the retreat. We considered allergies and aversions (like my deep hatred of olives). We planned for low maintenance meals that were easy to make together. We cooked some beautiful food together and then sat down to share it. Meals felt luxurious and intimate.

A white woman in a jean jacket shucks corn into a trash can. She is looking down and focused on the work. She is standing in a kitchen and shucked corn is in a pile on the counter in front of her.
Erica, the newest member of our team, stepped right up during mealtimes.

Put Rest on the Agenda. We napped. Yep. You heard me. We took naps. We read books. We gazed out at the lake. You can’t call it a retreat if no one gets to rest because your agenda is too full. I literally put REST on the agenda so that we wouldn’t forget and then we even rested some more!

Share Affirmations. Per a suggestion from Ayanna, our Peer Support Specialist, we all wrote a notecard of positive affirmations for each member of our team – including our selves. Happy tears and kind words were shared. It felt good to read such encouraging sweetness from colleagues and it felt good to write them to myself.

As a side note, I keep these notes in my office just in case I need a rainy day pick me up.

Share Unofficial bios. I asked everyone to write an unofficial bio to share with the team. They were each asked to read them and participate in asking each other questions about their bios. It was a wonderful exercise in building community and learning more about the people serving right alongside us. H/T to Joan Garry for this idea.

A Meaningful Project. Make sure you have at least one meaningful project that you can work on together. We worked on our values, principles and agreements as inspired by Mia Mingus and the Bay Area Transformative Justice Collective. It was dreamy. We talked about how important it is that every move we make is in service of healing for our community and ourselves.

Your retreat should be customized to match the team you work with. These were not the only things we did but these were the things we benefited from and loved the most.

Pssst…if you want to see what else we did, check out my stories on Instagram here.

Oh and here’s a bonus item.

A person is holding a baby who is reaching out to another person who is touching the baby's hand. They are silhouettes in the open doorway of a barn marketplace. There are various shelves around them.
Carolyn, Otis, and Sarah share a moment at The Fox Barn Marketplace & Winery.

Provide Childcare. We brought Sarah (the nanny) along with us so Carolyn’s baby, Otis, could attend and be cared for when we were doing things that required all of our focus. Not just for the winery. :)

A check in with my staff on the road trip home found them feeling relaxed, full, held, and encouraged. I could’nt have asked for a better outcome.

This funding source will end at the end of this year but I fully intend to keep this line item in the budget.

I hope you have the chance to provide big and small moments of restoration for those in the trenches serving alongside you.

A brown woman stands in a bathroom mirror shaped like a window and snaps a selfie. She is wearing reflective sunglasses and a blue dress with white polka dots.
I

In honor of all you do,

PS – Need more guidance? Check out this article by Joan Garry. She has some really great ideas!

Accidental Summer Solstice

I woke up on the first day of summer barely aware that it was the Summer Solstice. Year after year, I am vaguely aware but I miss the planned celebrations happening all around me.

On this week, every year, we spend time up at Fisherman’s Island State Campground. While a rustic campground is not for everyone, we love it for a few reasons;

  • We have an RV that with the help of a generator and advanced planning can carry electricity, running water (including a toilet and shower), and a warm, waterproof space to sleep.
  • My work involves using all of my empathetic, connective superpowers on a daily basis so isolation with minimal risk of running into anyone I might know is seriously, like heaven.
  • My children, my entire family actually, are just better humans in the wild. We connect more. Spend more time looking in each other’s eyes. We show each other tiny things like leopard slugs, blue pieces of sea glass, baby asparagus plants – all of these things were on the list during this trip.

However, in our 5th year visiting the same area, we were all feeling restless with some of our favorite spots. We love all of our old haunts but we all felt a bit dissatisfied this year and none of us were sure why. So I started researching new things for us to do in the Charlevoix area.

I found that we were 25 minutes away from Michigan’s largest lavender farm. I’m not sure how I managed to never discover that in the previous 4 years of visits to this area.

We headed over with a cooler of drinks, a beach bag with our suits and towels, and some chairs. I was hoping for a beach stop at some point. So far, Lake Michigan was for real, uncooperative. Beaches are under water and the breeze chilly.

As we arrived, I cautioned my children,

Please be patient with momma. I know this may not be your thing but I love lavender, farms, and all things made there.

They obliged. Probably because of the chill breezes of lavender.

We walked the labrynth breathing it all in. We read the names of different kinds and I ran my fingers through them to see if I could smell the difference between them.

We walked the farm holding hands and talking. We guessed about the reasons for flags in the ground and the names of plants in the fields. We bickered. Because we’re a real family and not perfect. None of us remember what we bickered about.

We visited the gift shop where I got lots of ideas for new ways to use the 3 plants I planted in my own garden.

We ate delicious Michigan-made ice cream flavored with lavender. My favorite was the Lemon Lavender but everyone else agreed that Levi chose the best one, Blueberry Lavender.

I stand by my choice.

Oh, and we got shortbread cookies. They were delicious. Especially after dipping them into the ice cream. I left daydreaming about what a lemon-lavendar soda poured over vanilla ice cream would taste like.

Then we went to Boyne State Park and attempted yet another beach. I started giggling about how desperate all the beach goers were in Michigan. Sunning ourselves in chilly breezes on tiny ribbons of sand next to ice cold water. Beaches of desperation.


Later, Paul built an enormous fire. I had to scoot my chair back to avoid sparks and scalded skin. With my face warmed by the fire, I thought about how every year, we spend our Summer Solstice in nature. We stand in the water, build fires, hike or bike in the sunshine, and breath in air that smells like the sea. All while holding a vague awareness that this season is the welcoming in of summer. Longer days inch into the longest day while we love each other and the earth we belong to.

At some point during the day, I caught myself thinking that we didn’t set intentions, practice fancy rituals, or say the right prayers but didn’t we?

We breathed in and then dined on peace and tranquility for ourselves and our family at a lavender farm.

We set intentions for flexibility and resourcefulness at the beaches of desperation where we kept trying to make sunbathing happen.

We set intentions for focus and conjured rewards by seeking and finding sea glass over and over.

We set intentions for generosity when we chose not to take from nature, leaving beachwood and seashells where they laid. We conjured satisfaction without greed by whispering, we have enough.

We sat in a circle and burned it all into place with a fire big enough to warm all our sides.

We choose ourselves and each other in communal acts of #militantselfcare.

We fell asleep full. Full of one another (for better or for worse), full of food, full of mischief, full of love, and full of hope.

And this is how we accidentally celebrate the Summer Solstice year after year.

I think we may be magic.

PS – What’s your biggest prayer, intention, or goal for this summer of long, warm days?

Survivor-Led Training

For the past 4 years, I have had the benefit of belonging to the Just Beginnings Collaborative inaugural cohort with other survivors of color and/or other marginalized identities working to end child sexual abuse. It has been challenging and transformational.

A diverse group of people gather in front of a sign that says Possibility Map. They are all smiling and looking into the camera together.

Like all transformational things, it has been disruptive and it has reshaped who I am and how I approach my work.

Recently, several members of my cohort were invited by Kimber Nicoletti-Martinez, Director of the Multicultural Efforts to end Sexual Assault (MESA), to participate in a series of PreventConnect webinars on our collective work. I always try to clear my calendar for an opportunity to work with my cohort so I said, “YES.”

Here’s what happened:

First, I participated in a webinar called Changing the Culture of Schools, Churches, and Communities to Prevent Child Sexual Abuse where we discuss how shifting culture within the heart of organizations and communities can lead to great impacts on preventing child sexual abuse.

Participants included Linda Crockett, Samaritan Safe Church, Ahmad Greene-Hayes, Children of Combahee, and Meg Stone, IMPACT Boston.

Oh and here are my deets if you still need them – Tashmica Torok, The Firecracker Foundation.

Full disclosure.  There are technical difficulties at the beginning and they’re all my fault. Just fast forward past those and the whole thing is full of great things.

5 people of color stand with their arms around each others shoulders smiling at the camera.
Luz Marquez, Tarana Burke, Aishah Shahidah Simmons, me, and Ignacio Rivera

Adult Survivors as Movement Leaders: Lessons Learned from the Just Beginnings Collaborative where you can learn what it looks like to move toward a culture of healing and survivor-centered accountability by centering survivor leadership.

This webinar featured the illustrious Aishah Shahidah Simmons, #LoveWITHAccountability, Amita Swadhin, Mirror Memoirs, and Sonya Shah, The Ahimsa Collective.

Reflecting on our community’s experiences of MSU’s leadership and their unwillingness to listen to survivors on campus, I feel like this webinar might be the one you slide into their DMs.

9 people of color share a table. They're all smiling at the camera and the table is full of glasses and menus.
Celebrating our 2nd anniversary as a cohort together!

The final webinar was Mobilizing and Organizing Communities to End Child Sexual Abuse where you can hear more about community-centered approaches for mobilizing and organizing to end child sexual abuse.

Participants included Ignacio Rivera, The HEAL Project , Strong Oak Lefebvre, Visioning B.E.A.R. Circle Intertribal Coalition, and Suguet Lopez, Lideres Campesinas.

All of these webinars were kicked-off by our Interim Program Coordinator Eb Brown, Just Beginnings Collaborative who is also currently fundraising for the Black Love Convergence. Check it out!

We all have so much to learn so take some time to learn from some of the people I love and respect the most.

Best,

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What to do when you feel powerless.

Last month I was given the opportunity to spend 2 days with the Michigan Disability Rights Coalition (MDRC). Some of my favorite peoples work there and I love, not just their mission, but the way they move in the world.

The training was meant to be a conversation about how the staff at the MDRC could practice Militant Self-Care while shifting into work with the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW) and experiencing an increase in the number of times they may encounter sexual violence while serving their clients.

Feelings of overwhelm and powerlessness are common when working on the front lines of any move to end violence because, frankly, there’s so much we simply cannot control. We often know the intimate ways that people are being harmed, their unique vulnerabilities, and how the system is not set up to protect them, heal them, or offer them justice. And, on top of it all, we don’t always have the power to change any of that.

In preparation for this workshop, I googled ‘what to do when you feel powerless.’

Seriously. I did. Google is my favorite consultant.

And guess what I found?

If the goal that is important to people is control, then in situations in which people do not have power, they should seek situations that give them more choices. In situations in which people have limited choices, they should seek power.

Initially, I had suggested that they create a parking lot in their office for gaps in services that they identify to help them decided where to shift their programs or their funding asks in the future. Sometimes a response plan can help us keep moving. Choices.

What we did next was the real game changer because it helped the team focus on where they did have power.

I facilitated an activity where we discussed all of the things they could control. It was beautiful. Maybe someday they’ll share it with you. I encouraged them to hang it up somewhere visible in a nice frame.

It included things like;

  • having control over the messages they share and boosting the signal of voices that are made invisible by ableism and white supremacy
  • not replicating the harm of systems of oppression in their work
  • pushing back on funding restrictions that are not in the best interest of their clients.

In the end, we all stood back, took a deep breath, and smiled. I told them,

Look at how you do this work. There are things you don’t have control over but never forget this list. Hang it up somewhere so that you can remember that you are powerful. Not everyone is doing the work like this and I think that’s so special.

Power. Let’s not shy away from using it for good where we have it. Power can manifest as a boot on someone’s neck or the hand that throws it off.

A group of 6 people that are intergenerational and racially diverse. There are 4 people in the back of the group. From left to right, a black woman smiles and is wearing a black sweater and grey patterned shirt, one white women wearing glasses and her dark brown hair in a bun smiles, another white woman smiles with her brown hair up in a bun, and a white older man in a button down shirt and jeans. In the front is an older woman with white hair and glasses. She's wearing a turquoise shirt and glasses. A brown skinned woman wears a flowered sun dress, jean jacket and gold jewelry with curly hair smiles.

Maybe your office could benefit from this exercise. How good would it feel to focus on what you do have control over and why the way you work is so powerful? Or maybe this could be a conversation about the way you want to be doing this work. Maybe you need to spend time together thinking about your values and the way they are or are not showing up in your organizational moves.

Call me, maybe.

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PS – While I have you here, check out the Disability Visibility Project here and while you’re there, get your Ableism is Trash coffee mug, tote or t-shirt. Winter is coming so I opted for the mug but you do you.

TW: I see you.

To all of the survivors who are not safe enough to speak up, I see you. I know that you are raising your children in a body that you constantly have to remind to relax. I know you are loving others and going to work every day with a secret like a pin caught in the back of your throat. I believe you.

To the survivors who have decided to be outspoken and are feeling the burn of the constant media cycle and social media chatter, I see you. I am you. I am so grateful to be in the trenches with you. Please remember to eat, drink water, rest, and exercise. You deserve the same love and care that you give to so many. I believe you.

To all of the survivors who are suffering layers and layers of abuse, I see you. I know that sometimes the sexual assaults are not trumped by the fists flying at your face or the way your partner keeps threatening your kids, your dog, and your family. I believe you.

To all of the survivors who are incarcerated or institutionalized, I know that sometimes what you are condemned for is rooted in days and days, histories and histories of trauma. Some of which started before you were born. I see you. I believe you.

To all of the survivors who have spoken and were not believed, I believe you. To all of the survivors who have spoken, and told, and shared, and reported, and went to court, and called the police, and told a coworker, and called Human Resources, and told a teacher, and told a pastor, and whispered it to a friend, and tried to tell your parents and still were not believed – I believe you.

To all of the survivors who were hurt by a doctor, a police officer, a coach, a therapist, a caretaker, or anyone meant to protect, teach, or care for you, I see you. I know you exist and I believe you.

To all of the trans survivors who have tried to report only to be beaten back by a crushing wave of transphobia, I am so sorry and I believe you. You deserve safety, protection, and justice.

To all of the people of color who have to report their stories to white people who judge your language, your accent, your style of dress, your education, and whether you belong here as a priority over protecting you from the person who hurt you, you deserve better and I believe you. You belong among us and when I fight, I am fighting for you too.

To all of the survivors who have a disability and have had that disability used against you, I am outraged with you. Your body deserves to be treated with dignity and respect. No one has the right to take your ability to consent away from you. I believe you.

To all of the native women and trans women who have disappeared or who have been murdered, I think of you often. I say your names, I light candles, and I pray for you. I see you. To you who are surviving, I believe you.

To all of the Deaf survivors who struggle to find a safe, accessible, and confidential space to come forward with your stories, I see you. I have learned about the isolation you face and I will continue to learn and grow my organization in a way that centers your needs because it’s the right way to be in this movement. I believe you.

To all of the survivors who are men and young boys, you are not alone. I know that there is an expectation of silence and you bear it heavily. I will listen to you because your story is important to me. I believe you.

To all survivors who are refugees and immigrants in this country threatening to deport you or place you in detention, I see you. I know that this country has placed you firmly between the choice of being a victim of a sexual perpetrator and being the victim of unjust immigration policies. This is no choice. I am sorry and I see you. I believe you.

To all of the children incarcerated with adults being violently sexually assaulted as a common occurrence, I know you exist. You are not forgotten. Your government may not be concerned for you but many others are. I wish I could offer more. I believe you.

To all of the survivors whose stories will never be covered by the media or see their day in court, your pain is valid. You are not disposable. You are not less important for being less honored. I believe you.

To every survivor, regardless of the details, I think of you during this time. You are who I refer to when I say ALL survivors. I know that the work we will never end sexual violence if we are not placing your name at the center of our calls for justice, healing, and accountability. When I fight, I am thinking of you. I try to influence my community to see you too. I am attentive to laws, policies, events, and spaces where you are not included and I call it out because I know you are there and I see you. I believe you.

And to the many, many children and teens witnessing adults go out of their way to cover up for famous and powerful perpetrators, I want you to listen to me.

I will believe you. This is important. Even if every person you know would choose your perpetrator over you, I will choose you. There are so many people in the world like me. I know it doesn’t seem that way from where you’re sitting but it’s true. I am friends with so many of them. They are real and they are so ready to help.

If you are a teen that wants to reach out for help but doesn’t quite know how you can call The Firecracker Foundation at 517-742-7224. If you are in immediate danger, please call 911. If you want an advocate to support you, you can call 517-242-5467 and one of our volunteers will come to help.

If you cannot ask for help right now but you need to talk, we have a new statewide sexual assault hotline where compassionate people can support you. Call 1-855-VOICES4.

 

Teen-Led Program Training with GGE

I had the pleasure of visiting Girls for Gender Equity and facilitating a training on Teen-led Programming.

Girls for Gender Equity is in Brooklyn and as soon as I hit the door, the energy of the place lifted me. I was traveling soon after the death of a beloved family member and feeling a little frayed at all ends. I also fell on the sidewalk before I got there.

It was a 4-minute walk. Life happens to all of us, folx.

But as soon as I got there the team bandaged me up and the views from inside the office and outside the windows inspired me to rally. As you can see, they intentionally lift of women of color and it felt good to be in a space with powerful elder activists on the wall.

Their Executive Director Joann is everything. As important as this training was to their goals, she pulled me aside and assured me that everything could happen at the pace that I needed. They were ready to skip it all to make room for my grief. You don’t find that kind of community everywhere, people.

We moved into the training space listening to Janelle Monae and eating fresh fruit and quiche.

As I started to facilitate the training, it became very clear that Girls for Gender Equity is fully equipped with what they need to make the shifts in programming that they want to. Each staff member shared concerns from a space of first wanting to do no harm. They also shared openly times in the past where they felt ill-equipped to deal with a situation but managed to rise to the occasion.

This training was a skill share and the beginning of a collaborative relationship between The Firecracker Foundation and GGE.

One of the things they wanted me to bring to the table is a conversation about the kind of #militantselfcare required to sustain working with teen survivors of sexual violence. Not only are the team at GGE practicing lots of healthy self-care personally but they practice collectively.

Important: They have a DAILY DANCE PARTY.  If you want to dance with them, it happens at 3:45 p.m. every day. Synchronize your watches.

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I left the GGE team sending them best wishes as they step into their power and their well-honed insights as empathetic humans bringing their best to the movement.

Follow them on Instagram @ggenyc!

Bless,

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PS – Did you know that The Firecracker Foundation is hiring? We totally are! Click here for details and please share it with your family and friends.

PPS – Did you know that we are hosting a Healthy Sex(uality) Workshop on September, 29th?! Well. Now you do. Click here for more info.