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.

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.