From May 2nd through 4th, in Glen Allen, Virginia, the Action Alliance hosted our Justice. Healing. Liberation. conference for 140 advocates, law enforcement, preventionists, attorneys, case managers, and more. We held 32 workshops presented by over 40 presenters, a panel of 5 incredible storytellers, and 3 inspiring keynotes. Our conference included daily yoga sessions, two passionate performances by the Latin Ballet of Virginia, and a fundraising paint night hosted by Lynn Black from Paint for Good.
“[The conference] opened my eyes to struggles our clients go through and how we can help them cope with it.” -Conference attendee
We began on Wednesday, May 2nd, with a Trauma 101 session that offered our attendees a base understanding of different types of trauma, how trauma manifests, and its impact on the brain and body. Then, we dove into the nitty gritty. Attendees could choose from five different workshops during any time slot throughout the course of the day. Workshops covered topics from supporting human trafficking survivors, to looking at the intersections of trauma, oppression, and racial justice, and walking through a case study of intimate partner violence from the perspective of a law enforcement officer.
In the evening, the Latin Ballet of Virginia put on a vibrant performance that brought us back together as a group and re-energized us after a long day of learning. Our keynote, Dr. Dawn O’Malley, Fellow at the Child Trauma Academy, taught us about the history of brain science, and how critical the last 20 years of research have been for our understanding of how trauma impacts the brain. We concluded our evening with a dinner reception with distinguished guests, including Attorney General Mark Herring, Secretary of Health and Human Services, Daniel Carey, Deputy Secretary of Health and Human Services, Gena Boyle, and Commissioner of the Department of Social Services, Duke Storen.
Thursday was focused on the power of storytelling, and how telling our stories can be a critical step in the healing process for survivors, as well as a source of inspiration and guidance for those who have experienced similar struggles. We started out with another performance by the Latin Ballet, whose movement and music told stories of hardship and joy. We even had some audience members and Action Alliance staff join them on stage. Then our keynote, John Richardson-Lauve from ChildSavers spoke to us about how telling one’s story after a traumatic event can foster resilience.
“I just LOVED it. The food was great, the workshops were very informative, the dancing entertainment was a breath of fresh air and the keynote speakers and panel discussion were inspiring.” -Conference attendee
Next, we hosted our “Storytelling as Transformative Justice” panel, with KJ Delgado from the Virginia Anti-Violence Project, Lieutenant Deuntay Diggs with the Stafford County Sheriff’s Office, Gaynell Sherrod from Virginia Commonwealth University, Rodney Lofton of Diversity Richmond, and Lisette Johnson, writer of Shameless Survivors. We were honored to hear these inspiring individuals share their stories, and learned about how stories can change hearts and move minds. The rest of the afternoon was dedicated to workshops focused on survivor stories, both heard and unheard. Participants had the opportunity to view and discuss the documentary Baltimore Rising, look at the intersections of sex education in the United States, and understand the process of fatality reviews in the state of Virginia.
“The best part of this conference were all the different workshop options and what they brought to the table for learning, growth and discussion.” -Conference attendee
The final day of our conference was focused on emerging trends in the field of sexual and domestic violence, and shifting the way we respond to and prevent violence. Our keynote, Tiffany Turner -Allen from Ujima: The National Center on Violence Against Women in the Black Community, started the day talking about promising practices in “allyship” and her role in life as a truth-teller. This led into our workshop sessions that included topics like “Restorative Justice as a Tool for Healing from Abuse” and “Policing in the 21st Century”. We ended the day with some words of wisdom from our fearless Executive Director, Kristi VanAudenhove, who also happened to be celebrating her birthday the same day. We sang her happy birthday, enjoyed lunch and cake, and said our goodbyes.
These three days provided an incredible opportunity to connect, share, and inspire. For everyone who joined us, thank you so much for your energy, stories, and wisdom. We hope that you are able to take these lessons and discussions back to your communities, and we’ll see you in 2019 for our Biennial Retreat!
Laurel Winsor is the 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.