A Chance in the World

Early intervention and resiliency are two of the best ways to improve the chances of youth growing up to succeed as best they can and to have the best possible chance in life.

But, in the face of all that our youth are up against today, including ever growing racial tensions, how do we re-weave the fabric of family and community to focus on the needs of our youth?

This is a question I sometimes struggle with as a parent and as a youth advocate. I am often frustrated with the multitude of youth serving programs and initiatives aimed at inventing new ways to help youth navigate their world and the social issues that exist.  These programs fail to address racial inequities and fail to provide space for youth who are directly impacted to have a seat at the table. Almost no one is talking to black youth (or youth of other races) about racial issues in meaningful ways.

Zora Neale Hurston

As a mother of black daughters, I can’t afford not to talk to them about the racial realities they undoubtedly face every day. By having these conversations, I am provided with opportunities to identify and offer ways to counter racism. By having these conversations in consistent, meaningful and relevant ways, I am also challenging the denial of African Americans’ lived experiences.

Regardless of race, youth need the opportunity to build the skills necessary to resist racism. Not by ignoring it when it surfaces, withdrawing from conversations, or minimizing experiences, but by being thoughtful and responsible. It starts within by considering their own moral beliefs about justice and caring for others. To be effective, youth need programs that will help them build both the social and emotional strength and social knowledge to understand what is happening in their community and how to counteract racism.

Youth need caring and responsible adults to guide them and help them understand what they’re up against. Adults who will not only support and listen to them, but will also share their own stories of resistance and teach them practical skills of resilience. These adults are willing to take the time to talk about racial matters in appropriate ways no matter how difficult, painful or uncomfortable the task may be.

By actively taking a position against racism, sexism and social class bias, these adults will pass along the tools necessary for youth to develop a source of strength and purpose to succeed. Both are critical components of healthy resilience and both will allow youth, despite where they start, to have a chance in this world to “jump at the sun”, and live out their dreams. And though they are to be encouraged to follow their own path, they must also be reminded of their awesome responsibility to the next generation.

Mahatma Gandhi

The social change our world so desperately needs will come about when, and only when we are willing to work to make it happen.

Leslie Conway is the Youth Resilience Coordinator at the Action Alliance. A self-proclaimed ambassador of love and resistor to hate, Leslie believes her life work is to help communities “sow seeds of resistance” and build social supports youth need to thrive in a racist reality and to create ineradicable change. Embracing her ancestors’ history of resiliency, she also recognizes the responsibility she has to pass along these stories to youth in honest and relevant ways. She believes our youth can be confident, competent and ready to take on the challenges of adulthood despite the social systems meant to disillusion and disempower them and that our experiences can serve as a road map towards healthy resistance.

Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call 804.377.0335

Act. Honor. Hope.

Each year, the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance hosts an event to honor fierce advocacy and extraordinary action that has moved Virginia forward toward eliminating sexual and domestic violence. This event, Act. Honor. Hope., has historically recognized groups and individuals who have gone the extra mile to create a safer Commonwealth for all of us.

This year, we will be honoring Charlottesville High School students, the Sexual Assault Resource Agency in Charlottesville, Senator Jennifer McClellan, and Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn for their combined efforts to incorporate an essential health promotion concept into Virginia’s Family Life Education curricula: consent.

In 2017, ground-breaking legislation was passed incorporating the concept of consent into healthy relationship education in Virginia’s public schools. Senate Bill 1475 and House Bill 2257 re-framed the conversation about sexual assault prevention, lifting responsibility off the shoulders of survivors and shifting it towards potential perpetrators. These laws laid the foundation for meaningful prevention education by incorporating age-appropriate education on the law and recognizing consent as a prerequisite to sexual activity.

This legislation would not have existed had it not been for the tireless efforts of a dedicated group of Charlottesville High School students and advocates at the Sexual Assault Resource Agency (SARA) in Charlottesville. When members of a SARA-sponsored peer education and advocacy club at the school reviewed the Virginia Family Life Education Standards of Learning in 2015, they realized that the information about consent in the curricula was inaccurate and potentially harmful to survivors of sexual violence. Over the course of several months, this group worked with law students, lobbyists, and community activists to help draft legislation that would change the Family Life Education curricula.

Senator Jennifer McClellan and Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn collaborated with the students and advocates over the course of several months, and in December of 2016, proposed bills in the Senate and House, respectively. Without their steadfast leadership, these bills may never have made it out of committee. Without the compelling personal statements written by the students at Charlottesville High who were deeply impacted by these issues, the bill may not have received the overwhelming support it did. In March of 2017, after each law had passed through the General Assembly, HB 2257 and SB 1475 were approved and signed into law by Governor Terry McAuliffe.

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Act. Honor. Hope. is an opportunity to celebrate the incredible work that has been accomplished this year by the honorees, join together with advocates and allies from across the state, and raise the necessary funds to continue this critical work.

Please join us in HONORing these leaders who have taken extraordinary ACTION to bring about the change necessary to end sexual and domestic violence. Their leadership offers HOPE for a better tomorrow.

Act. Honor. Hope. will be held on December 8th from 11:30am to 2:30pm at the John Marshall Ballrooms and will include lunch as well as a silent auction, the proceeds of which will go towards the policy, prevention, and advocacy efforts of the Action Alliance. We hope you will join us! Purchase your tickets here.


Laurel Winsor is the Special Events Coordinator at the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance. She received her Bachelor of Arts in Social Justice at James Madison University in December, 2016.


Love wins

Love wasn’t on the ballot yesterday in Virginia, or anywhere in the nation. But love was present in our polling places and showed up in the ballot box.

We the people collectively made history yesterday, radiating love as we delivered an emphatic NO to hate, to violence, to racism and misogyny.

Make no mistake: this was not a victory for a party. It was not a victory for politics. Pundits who have been focused on what this means for Democrats and Republicans, who have been counting wins and forecasting seats and talking about how power is going to be divided still don’t get it. There was something else going on.

A new energy is emerging amongst us. It was an outrage to wake up just one year ago to the prospect of a national leader who had been transparent and unabashed about his racism, his sexism, his elitism, and the violence he had perpetrated against women. It was, and still is, untenable that such a person should be embraced by establishment politics and by the majority of white men (and many white women) in this nation as the best possible choice for the highest policy position in the land. It was an outrage; and it was also a clarion call.

We the people answered that call. In particular, people of color, young people, LGBTQ people and women, answered that call. Over this past year we channeled our anger into record numbers of marches, into organizing within faith communities and civic communities, and into educating ourselves.

We fought to restore faith in democracy and the power of the vote. We stepped up in record numbers to run for local and statewide office—because we wanted change, because we wanted incumbents to know that “politics as usual” was not acceptable, because we wanted others in our communities to have a choice.

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Many candidates persevered in the face of personal attacks based on racism, homophobia, transphobia, and anti-immigrant sentiments. Most candidates were running for the first time, most didn’t follow the usual scripts for preparing to run for office successfully—and every single one of them was a part of history yesterday, whether they won their particular race or not.

Their candidacies are testaments to their personal resilience and to the resonance of their platforms of justice, fairness, inclusion, equity, and caring for the long-term interests for all of us. In short, love.

We have been acting out of love for ourselves and each other as we organized over this past year, as we encouraged each other to step up and run for office, as we funded campaigns and promoted candidates and filled social media platforms with messages about the importance of voting.

Yesterday love won, and this is just the beginning. We will continue to fight for compassion and justice, for fairness and equity, for abundance and joy, for inclusion and community, and liberation and kindness…because we the people know that all of us deserve nothing less.

Kristi VanAudenhove is the Executive Director of the Virginia Sexual & Domestic Violence Action Alliance. 

Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call 804.377.0335.