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.



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.


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.


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!



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.

Not quite right.

I arrived wearing yoga pants covered in dog hair and my slippers. The yoga studio is 2 minutes from my house and I was 2 minutes late. I was thirsty and rushed as I unclasped my watch, dropped it into my purse and headed in to select a mat. I grabbed a pink one, took a step forward and stopped. Definitely not pink today. Where’s that black yoga mat?

Yes. Black like my soul.

giphy (1).gif

I’ve been having trouble getting my feet underneath me since Soulfire 2016. I’ve felt sluggish, disconnected and turned inward. Invitations are lost on me. Pajamas are all I want on my body and my bed is the only place I want to be.

I’m not depressed, I’m emptied out. My charge is depleted. I’m exhausted.

I’ve been trying to do the bare minimum with the hope that my come back is on its way.

Do you hear the upbeat music kicking in? Here it comes! It’s almost…Nope. I’m going back to bed.

I’m laying on my deeply dramatic emo black yoga mat thinking;

I’m just not feeling okay. I’m just not okay with how I’m feeling. I’m not okay with working right now. I’m not feeling quite right. Why can’t I get my mojo back? I’m not feeling okay enough to do much these days.

My thoughts distilled: I am not okay.

I usually take a week off after big time events but this week went awry. I made some commitments that I shouldn’t have and then one of my children had to stay home from school sick. A come back is not in the cards for this week.

Things are not quite where they should be in my soul.

I’m invoking a Do Over for next week that will include auto responses, critical tasks only and loads of leisure time with the people I love the best.

I’m not okay right now but I will be.image



PS – This is helping.

Happy to help!

I want my children to grow up to live a life that fills their spirit with bliss. I want them to walk with purpose and offer compassion in their own unique way. I want them to wake up every morning with a fire in their belly for social justice.

I’m not going to lie to you. I want my children to be activists.

You wanna be a lawyer? Oooh, how about immigration law or The Innocence Project.

You wanna be a doctor? I hear there are kids with cleft palates who could use someone like you. Have you ever heard of Patch Adams?

You wanna be a fireman? Do it. Saving lives, protecting families is an honorable gig. Be safe. Bring me stories.

This probably doesn’t surprise you. It shouldn’t. Conversations in our home revolve around the celebration of their interests and guidance towards how they might use their day job to serve others.

I will admit that I’ve also told them to make it so mommy doesn’t have to work. I recognize that these are conflicting instructions but I figure either way, I CAN’T LOSE!

Real talk. Nobody saving the world is rolling in bank but they are rolling deep in the good.

My kids watch me. As they all do. They 11136651_10152893200734022_8788192720637140555_ncome to the events, they sit through the meetings, they help their momma empty the car after the latest event. They know my elation and exhaustion. They know my successes and my frustrations. They get to witness it all.

Should make for a great book someday.

Lord, help me.

I often worry that it’s all too much. That I do too much. I worry, like mothers do.

And then, I get an email like this:


Have any brochures coming up that I can help with? If so, let me know.

He ends his email in the same way I do.

Happy to help!

It’s never too early to learn grassroots organizing. #amiright

As a side note: that’s my best friend’s face making a cameo appearance. Hey girl, hey!

So, my son is sitting on the Teen Yoga Committee for my foundation. He is the brother of the founder of the Dog Olympics. I’m thinking, he will be learning some communications this summer. And the best part?

It’s all because he’s happy to help.

My children will be who they are meant to be. I enjoy watching them change, grow and become more and more independent of me. Different than each other and bringing their own brand of amazing into my life and the lives of others. It is a remarkable privilege to give my children the room they need to be who they are and then watch the magic happen.

Wouldn’t you agree?

May the life I give my sons now, lead them towards their own bliss. Amen.



Release the Trap

Standing in the kitchen with my husband at the end of the day has become one of my favorite times. We talk about our day as we gather our late night snack or glass of wine. We joke about something silly said by one of our boys or pass on information not appropriate for the waking hours or little ears. Last night was interrupted by a loud snap and then a scream.

At first, I was relieved that we had finally caught the mouse that dared seek shelter in my kitchen uninvited. Then the scraping noises began and I realized that he was not dead. My weak, weepy little heart began to break. Our aforementioned uninvited thief was now trapped and desperately dragging the mouse trap around trying to break free.

Ten minutes of moving our stove and using a broom to coax the mouse out ended in a bewildered housewife walking quickly away from her own hearth with a mouse trap clenched tightly in between tongs. I hope no one heard me begging him to be still before he pulled his little leg off. Lucky for me, it was night time and I was able to put the trap down in the grass in front of my neighbor’s house and release the mouse. Our enemy scrambled into a bed of leaves. No one called the asylum.

I am not a crazy animal lover. I tell the kids all vermin may live in peace until they enter my home and then all deals are off. I occasionally will relocate a beetle, spider or ladybug outside to avoid killing them. I have never thought twice about eating meat. Sorry PETA.

I am, however, a person that cannot bear suffering. It eats at my bones. It makes my heart ache. Watching someone suffer is like suffering myself. This mouse, in a strange way, reminded me of why I became involved with the Darfur movement.

I had never heard of Darfur, Sudan before. The Lost Boys were the beautifully dark young men that worked at Meijer when I first moved to Lansing. Genocide happened in Europe and stayed there as far as I knew. The moment I heard otherwise my bones began to ache. I began to dream about their children with the faces of my children. I worried for the women, who like me, were pregnant. Unlike me, they were hunted like animals.

The stupid mouse that was eating my bread is nothing like the human beings in Darfur that are suffering daily. Fortunately for the mouse, in the safety of my kitchen, I can release the trap.