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.



I made it up.

When I was in 5th grade a new family moved into the rental house next door. Out of the four children who lived there, two were the exact age as my brother and I.

We were delighted.

Well, I was delighted because I was a born extrovert who loved making new friends. I’m probably projecting those feelings onto my brother. Nonetheless, we played together during the last summer before ‘playing together’ became ‘hanging out’ in 6th grade.

In their backyard, we were invited into an old, dilapidated greenhouse. The wooden structure was rotting from disuse and weeds grew up between the stepping stones. Some of the heavy windows were leaning in on themselves or littered on the ground.

The potential was enormous.

The next day we brought our offerings together. Leftover paint, discarded dishes, pillows and a few books all piled together to improve the livability of our new digs. We repainted the wood – complete with our own handprints – and the loose windows were pressed back into place. We even hung up some sheets like curtains.

Once we were done, we rested comfortably in the space we created from the best of what we could find to share with each other.

This weekend I hosted the first orientation and advocacy training workshop for volunteers of The Firecracker Foundation. We announced it’s existence about a month ago and the response surprised me. Out of 25 spots available, 21 people registered and 17 were able to participate.


That’s a lot more people than I expected.

They were each required to obtain a DHS Clearance as well as proof that they were not listed on either state or federal sex offender registries. They had to register for the training and give up 4 hours of their day on a Saturday and Sunday of the same weekend. The commitment was big.

They jumped through all of the hoops with a smile on their face and joy in their hearts. Again. I may be projecting.

Come Saturday morning, they were there and ready.


I was there and nervous.

I don’t know if you are aware but I have never done any of this before. I’m basically making this up as I go along. However, let me also reassure you that I am not flying by the seat of my pants. I’m humbly asking questions, seeking advice and asking for a lot of help.

There’s a little flight too. I dream and plan and hope for what this foundation can be in spare moments, notes, emails and phone calls to friends. I have high hopes.

I am then taking all of the best I can gather, piling it up and making it an offering to the community. I am not alone in my efforts.

Together we are learning how to protect children, how to serve their families and how to take care of ourselves through the process. As a team we are gathering the best of what we have to offer and laying it at the feet of a community of children who have been injured. We are helping them renovate and rehang the windows.

In my mind, that greenhouse is being fervently repaired and tiny buds are starting to sprout.

As most things do, it will flourish with love.image

Spring is certain.





I knew that I wanted Charlie from the moment I saw him in the arms of another woman. As she reached to touch his soft fur the child next to her gathered him up into a big hug and I knew that I had no chance. He rested safe in the arms of his family and I continued on with my own. Stealthily, I kept watching and waiting for them to leave him alone so I could find out more about him.

My sister and I began to read the tags on the cages that gave the age, rank and serial number of all of the other inmates. This dog was too old. The next one was cute but bigger than what we were looking for. We even spent some time with an older dog named Maggie that had no interest in Isaiah.

Eventually, I looked over and Charlie was being handed back. I slowly crept to his cage and not too eagerly asked if the family he was with had decided to adopt him. I was sure we had missed our chance to bring home the perfect puppy for our little family. The staff member told us that due to malnutrition, Charlie would probably have some deformities limiting his ability to walk. She went on to tell me that he was found starving on a construction site with his mother and his litter. Well, now I had to take him.

We brought Charlie in to play with us and before you know it the paperwork was complete and we were taking him home. On the way home Charlie, who was named for the dog in All Dogs Go To Heaven, peed in my van. I should have known then that we were in trouble. To be fair, most puppies are not potty trained and that is where Charlie excelled. He was potty trained in one weekend.

The real problems began the moment I decided that I did not want to crate train. No dog of mine would spend his day stuffed in some cage. Charlie, like me, was meant to be a free spirit. So, I cuddled him in bed with me, against the advice and condescending stares of my husband. I treated Charlie like a member of the family.

Turns out, when you treat a dog like a member of your family, he starts to act like one. He chews up your Bible, your favorite movie and shoes because when left alone his separation anxiety drives him to find anything of yours and eat it. He sleeps in your bed, on your favorite spot on the couch and refuses to come when called. Oh and don’t even get me started about walking on a leash.

When I had children my mother warned me that I did not want my children to voice their opinions too freely. She said that eventually I would have to reign in their tongues. Unfortunately, just like my dog, she was right. All things flapping in the wind have to be tied down or they blow away. My kids do not always know where the line is and it’s my job to teach them.

I recognize that I want to be unafraid to be myself and say exactly what’s on my mind. Strangely, that need in me has transferred on to my spouse, my children and even my wild, crayon eating dog. I feel great when my son says that he has had a fight with a friend and he doesn’t know what to do. I love that my dog sits next to me on the couch and watches the Bachelor – even if he deserves better. I am not such a big fan when my son tries to wrestle a piñata out of his aunt’s hand declaring that it’s not hers or when Charlie leaps over the fence and runs willy-nilly down the street. Pulling the reigns tighter, tying down the tarp and sit your fanny in time out!

The good news is that sometimes you can roll down your window and let your dog stick his head out of the window with his tongue hanging out. It’s your car and you can do what you want in it.