Why I Stand Behind RISE For Youth

Did you know that the average annual cost of confinement in a state juvenile prison in Virginia is $137,000 per youth? Did you know youth as young as 11 years old can be confined to a state juvenile prison?

These are just a few quick facts you will learn after taking a look at the RISE (Re-Invest in Supportive Environments) For Youth Action Kit. RISE for Youth is a nonpartisan campaign that supports investing in youth in their communities, rather than youth in prison.

I encourage others to take a look at RISE for Youth’s Action Kit. Not only does it include great facts that everyone should know in order to help make a positive change in their community, but it also contains many helpful tips.

If you don’t know how to begin taking action in your community, the action kit gives you five intimidation-free ways that you can start today! Using these tips, it will be easy for you to begin voicing your opinion and sharing information with others to start a movement in your community.

Virginia’s length of stay for youth in juvenile prisons is over twice the national average: 18.2 months in Virginia compared to 8.4 months nationally.

                                                                                                                –RISE for Youth Action Kit

RISE for Youth encourages you to speak up about issues that you’re passionate about, which is why their action kit even lists some tips for writing your own opinion editorial. They list six simple tips that will give you the courage to write to your local newspaper, start a blog, or share your opinion on Facebook.

 

Make sure to check out RISE For Youth’s Action Kit. Also, be sure to head to their website for other resources, such as statistics, stories, and a letter than you can send to Virginia lawmakers.

About Rise For Youth

RISE for Youth is a nonpartisan campaign in support of community alternatives to youth incarceration.

Goals:

  • Increase the likelihood that youth will become law-abiding adults by investing in community-based alternatives to juvenile justice system involvement.
  • Reduce the number of youth arrested, referred, under the supervision of the Department of Juvenile Justice or committed to the Department of Juvenile Justice.
  • Close Virginia’s juvenile prisons and re-invest savings from their closure into evidence-informed, community-based alternatives that will keep youth at home with their families and communities and keep communities safer.
  • Build a true continuum of evidence-informed placements for youth that cannot safely remain in their homes.

Join RISE For Youth in their movement to transform Virginia’s juvenile justice system! Already joined the movement? Tell us about your experience and/or how you plan to take action in the comments!

Featured image Source: http://www.riseforyouth.org


Ki’ara Montgomery is a senior at Virginia Commonwealth University with plans to graduate in May 2017. She is obtaining a bachelor’s degree in public relations, and minors in business and gender, sexuality, and women’s studies. While in school, she has had opportunities with VCU AmeriCorps, Culture4MyKids, VCU School of Education, and the Richmond Raiders. She is currently interning with the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance with focuses in development, policy, and communication.


This article is part of the Action Alliance’s blog series on Virginia’s Trauma-to-Prison-Pipeline.

The Trauma-to-Prison-Pipeline (aka “School-to-Prison-Pipeline”) fails young trauma survivors and young people experiencing high levels of toxic stress by responding in overly punitive ways to youth who exhibit normal reactions to trauma.

Youth of color and youth with disabilities are particularly targeted for disproportionately high levels of heavy-handed, punitive responses to vague and subjective infractions in school, such as “being disrespectful”, or “acting out”. Viewed from a trauma-informed lens, these same behaviors may signal youth who are suffering and struggling with ongoing effects of trauma.

The Action Alliance believes that everyone deserves racially equitable responses that are compassionate and trauma-informed, and which build individual and community assets.


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

 

Mass Incarceration: Lessons Learned from Ava DuVernay’s 13th

As part of our efforts to deepen understanding and conversations around our racial justice work, the Action Alliance held a staff screening in November of Ava Duvernay’s documentary, “13th”. DuVernay, who directed the award-winning movie, “Selma”, created “13th” to examine the ways in which state control over African-Americans in the U.S. has changed shape since the 13th amendment was passed to abolished slavery. Action Alliance intern, Ki’ara Montgomery, shares her reflections on the film.

I was at my internship at the Action Alliance when I received the invitation: Join us for the showing of the documentary 13th. I heard about the film for the first time the night prior to receiving the invitation and I immediately knew that 13th was a film I didn’t want to miss.

As I watched 13th I was surrounded by troubling truths that I assumed true, but never had the information to fully believe because it was based on a history that wasn’t taught to us in school. Despite the feelings that were building up inside me as I continued to watch, I held myself together… until a little over halfway through the film.

I couldn’t control myself any longer. What started as a few tears falling down my face turned into uncontrollable sobbing and me fleeing the room in anger. It left me angry and confused. How could we let ourselves go back so far? Why are we accepting a new-age form of slavery? Why are we repeating the history that our ancestors and many of us have been fighting so hard to reform? I didn’t understand and honestly, I still don’t.

This film shows how the adoption of the 13th Amendment transitioned African-Americans from being enslaved in a historical context, to a new-age slavery due to a loophole that abolished slavery for everyone except criminals. This new-age form of slavery includes Jim Crow, lynching, and criminalization. Director Ava DuVernay gathered a unique group of people from various backgrounds to talk about these issues, including a representative from ALEC, a group that was heavily criticized in the film for their contributions toward laws that only worked to increase incarceration rates. That aspect is one that makes this documentary notable, in my opinion. Much like DuVernay’s use of words.

In 13th, not only do we hear the words that are used to criminalize black people in America, but DuVernay constantly shows us those words. The word CRIMINAL appears on the screen each time it is verbalized in the documentary. For me, each time this word was said and showcased, it invoked a deeper level of emotion than the time before. We hear and see the use of words such as super-predator, wolf pack, and gang on the news, in newspapers, and even from political figures. These words instantly lead your mind to the word CRIMINAL and some associate them all to the word Black.

History has played its part in this word association and the word choice. The documentary takes you back to 1915 and the release of The Birth of a Nation. This movie glorified the Ku Klux Klan, portraying them as heroes for ridding the nation of the ”black beasts.” These “beasts” would rape your wives and kill you if they weren’t tamed. These “beasts” were Black men. This was the beginning of criminalizing language and depictions of Black men.

Do you understand the architecture around an idea that you hold in your head? The design of it, the very construction of it is most likely not truly yours, but something that was given to you. The idea you have in your head was not built by you per se, but built by preconceived notions that were passed down generation after generation. – Ava DuVernay

Leon Neyfakh made a great point in his article covering 13th. “Ava DuVernay’s new documentary about mass incarceration made me feel ashamed[1],” the article began. “I thought about how much I’d gotten used to in just under two years of covering the criminal justice system.”

Neyfakh not only recognized his gradual blindness to mass incarceration, but he also tackled a communal ignorance to the situation. “How it could be that so many people could have ever grown used to the moral catastrophes that were slavery and Jim Crow,” he states. “How did they not wake up every morning, nauseated and panicked about what was happening? The same way people like me wake up in 2016 and take it as a given that there are 2.3 million people living in cages, a third of them Black.”

13th-infographic

Image source: Ki’ara Montgomery

Not being aware of these harsh realities and not taking the time to educate ourselves on the injustices that people in our society face daily, only makes us part of the issue. If more people were aware of the actual truth, would take advantage of the opportunity to view and analyze this information, and realize that we are living in a cycle that will never end until we end it ourselves, this film could be beneficial to most of our society. But if we don’t take the time to educate ourselves or we refuse to believe the truth that is constantly staring us in the face while stabbing our communities in the back, we will continue to be stuck in this vicious cycle.

Have you seen the documentary 13th? What are your thoughts on mass incarceration? Let us know in the comments!


Ki’ara Montgomery is a Senior at Virginia Commonwealth University with plans to graduate in May 2017. She is obtaining a bachelor’s degree in public relations, and minors in business and gender, sexuality, and women’s studies. While in school, she has had opportunities with VCU AmeriCorps, Culture4MyKids, VCU School of Education, and the Richmond Raiders. She is currently interning with the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance with a focus in development, policy, and communications.

Featured image source: http://www.thedailybeast.com/articles/2016/10/03/the-13th-ava-duvernay-s-damning-netflix-doc-finds-the-truth-about-mass-incarceration.html

[1] Neyfakh, Leon. “I’m a Criminal Justice Reporter, and Ava DuVernay’s New Doc About Mass Incarceration Shocked Me.” Slate Magazine, Slate, 6 Oct. 2016, www.slate.com/articles/arts/movies/2016/10/ava_duvernay_s_netflix_documentary_13th_reviewed.html.

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 This article is part of the Action Alliance’s blog series on Virginia’s Trauma-to-Prison-Pipeline.

The Trauma-to-Prison-Pipeline (aka “School-to-Prison-Pipeline”) fails young people who are experiencing high levels of toxic stress and/or trauma by responding in overly punitive ways to youth who exhibit normal reactions to trauma and toxic stress.

Youth of color and youth with disabilities are particularly targeted for disproportionately high levels of heavy-handed, punitive responses to vague and subjective infractions in school, such as “defiance of authority”, or “classroom disruption”. Viewed from a trauma-informed lens, these same behaviors may signal youth who are suffering and struggling with ongoing effects of trauma.

 The Action Alliance believes that everyone deserves racially equitable responses that are compassionate and trauma-informed, and which build individual and community assets.


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

Debtor’s Prisons for Kids: The High Cost of Fines and Fees in the Juvenile Justice System

 

A new report by the Juvenile Law Center, entitled “Debtor’s Prisons for Kids: The High Cost of Fines and Fees in the Juvenile Justice System” reveals that fines and fees levied in the juvenile justice system are forcing kids to be locked up longer when their families can’t pay—which could be unconstitutional.

In 1983, the Supreme Court made a ruling in the Bearden v Georgia case which held that a judge must first consider whether or not a defendant has the ability to pay court fines and restitution before revoking their probation. However, not only has this ruling seemed to become overlooked, but it has been taken to the extreme. Judges are now imprisoning minors for fines and restitution that they are not able to pay—essentially punishing them for their family’s poverty.

About one million youth must appear in juvenile court each year. These youth and their families are then faced with fees, fines, and restitution for the minor’s infraction. When juveniles and/or their families are not able to afford these fees, the consequences often include extended probation or even incarceration. Being faced with these options, families are often pushed even further into debt, while their child becomes entangled in the criminal legal system.

orange-kids1

Image source: http://voiceofdetroit.net/2012/07/02/nations-high-court-ends-mandatory-life-without-parole-sentences-for-youth/

Much like the Trauma-to-Prison Pipeline (aka School-to-Prison-Pipeline) these Juvenile Debtor’s Prisons lead to an increase in recidivism and a cycle of mass incarceration, ultimately eroding entire communities.

In the Commonwealth of Virginia, fines are levied on children’s families in the following ways:

  • Care, Treatment, Placement, and Support
    • Courts can charge a fee for any treatment, counseling, or rehabilitation that may be needed for the child, without requiring finding of guilt.
    • These fees can also include child support, costs of the child’s custody, detention, or placement in a facility, and the costs of their shelter, food, and clothing.
  • Evaluation and Testing
    • If examinations or assessments are required (such as mental health evaluations, drug and alcohol tests, tests for STIs, and DNA and blood tests), the child’s family is required to pay the costs.
  • Fines and Restitution
    • The child’s family is responsible for paying any fines and restitution that the child may incur, including $100 per day for failure to participate or comply with conditions and limitations set for the rehabilitation of a child engaged in truancy.

Though research is still being done on Juvenile Debtor’s Prisons, some studies suggest that the fees and fines that these families incur have a very limited benefit to the states and counties that they are paid to.

The Juvenile Law Center has released an accompanying “Toolkit for Eliminating Costs, Fines, and Fees in the Juvenile Justice System”, which offers recommendations for developmentally appropriate policies on costs, fines, and fees for youth.

What are your thoughts on the Juvenile Debtor’s Prison? How can Virginians help to make a change? Share your thoughts in the comments section below!


Ki’ara Montgomery is a Senior at Virginia Commonwealth University with plans to graduate in May 2017. She is obtaining a bachelor’s degree in public relations, and minors in business and gender, sexuality, and women’s studies. While in school, she has had opportunities with VCU AmeriCorps, Culture4MyKids, VCU School of Education, and the Richmond Raiders. She is currently interning with the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance with a focus in development, policy, and communications.

Featured image source: https://www.theatlantic.com/education/archive/2016/01/the-cost-of-keeping-juveniles-in-adult-prisons/423201/

_____________________________________________________________________

This article is part of the Action Alliance’s blog series on Virginia’s Trauma-to-Prison-Pipeline.

The Trauma-to-Prison-Pipeline (aka “School-to-Prison-Pipeline”) fails young people who are experiencing high levels of toxic stress and/or trauma by responding in overly punitive ways to youth who exhibit normal reactions to trauma and toxic stress.

Youth of color and youth with disabilities are particularly targeted for disproportionately high levels of heavy-handed, punitive responses to vague and subjective infractions in school, such as “defiance of authority”, or “classroom disruption”. Viewed from a trauma-informed lens, these same behaviors may signal youth who are suffering and struggling with ongoing effects of trauma.

 The Action Alliance believes that everyone deserves racially equitable responses that are compassionate and trauma-informed, and which build individual and community assets.


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

Trauma-to-Prison Pipeline: How Schools Are Reinforcing the Cycle of Mass Incarceration

Imagine this: your child goes to school, maybe they’re having a bad day and out of frustration talk back to a teacher, who sends them to the principal’s office where they’re suspended for three days. They become angry and get into a fight. Instead of another suspension, your child enters the juvenile justice system, drops out of school, and falls into a cycle of incarceration.

For many students, this is a reality. An episode of “acting out” as a child can lead to suspension, and eventually down a path of captivity. Students who are suspended more likely to encounter justice system involvement and are at a higher risk of  academic failure and dropping out of school altogether.

Title VI of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 prohibits discrimination based on race in Virginia public schools. However, during 2014-15, African American students were 3.6 times more likely than white students to be suspended. Additionally, Section 504 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 and Title II of the Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 prohibit discrimination based on disability in Virginia public schools, yet in 2014-15, students with disabilities were 2.4 times more likely than students without disabilities to be suspended.1

Part of the problem? Students of color are disproportionately disciplined for subjective offenses, such as “disrespect”, compared with white students. However, the rates at which African-American and white students “act out” are essentially equal. This disparity among Black and white students may also be a factor in the mass incarceration of Black people; being thrown into cells as juveniles, becoming a part of the criminal legal system, and increasing their chances of being arrested and convicted again in the future.

The US Department of Education suggests around 92,000 students were arrested during the 2011-2012 school year. This number has increased especially due to the use of School Resource Officers (SROs). Instead of being used to ensure the safety of students while in the school setting, more and more SROs are becoming part of the discipline system in schools.

Far too often, the root of the problematic disciplinary behavior is not addressed. What’s triggering the behavior: anxiety? Hunger? Problems at home? Trauma? Harsh disciplinary reactions to youth who are seeking attention and “acting out” may escalate and worsen the situation, creating a cycle of greater student distress and harsher and harsher disciplinary actions.

So how can we stop this cycle and create a new narrative? We can start by taking a lesson from Robert W. Coleman Elementary School in Baltimore, Maryland which has begun offering their students meditation as a way to address problematic behavior. The Mindful Moment Room encourages students to breathe, meditate, and talk through what happened, allowing the student an opportunity to calm and re-center themselves.

Combined with their after-school program, Holistic Me, which allows students to practice mindfulness and yoga, the elementary school has not had a single suspension since the start of the 2015-2016 school year.

child-meditatesImage source: http://www.publicnewsservice.org/2016-03-10/juvenile-justice/juvenile-justice-reform-group-wants-nd-youth-prisons-closed/a50763-1

Other ideas for change?

  • End suspension for children younger than second grade;
  • No referrals for children under 13 to police for minor offenses;
  • Focus on forming relationships between school staff, giving students an opportunity to resolve problems by talking about them;
  • Schools, not police, deal with students’ nonviolent infractions;
  • Allow opportunities for students to get involved in their communities;
  • Teach students to be co-teachers and let them run sessions such as meditation and yoga

Several bills to address Virginia’s School-to-Prison-Pipeline are currently being considered in the Virginia General Assembly, including the following bills supported by the Action Alliance. Contact your legislator today to ask them support these bills:

  • SB 997 (Sen. Stanley) & HB 1536 (Del. Richard Bell) –Prohibits students in preschool through grade five from being suspended or expelled except for drug offenses, firearm offenses, or certain criminal acts.
  • SB 995 (Sen. Stanley) & HB 1534 (Del. Richard Bell) – Reduces the maximum length of a long-term suspension from 364 calendar days to 45 school days. The bill prohibits a long-term suspension from extending beyond the current grading period unless aggravating circumstances exist and prohibits a long-term suspension from extending beyond the current school year.
  • SB 996 (Sen. Stanley) & HB 1535 (Del. Richard Bell) –Public schools; student discipline. Provides that no student shall receive a long-term suspension or expulsion for disruptive behavior unless such behavior involves intentional physical injury or credible threat of physical injury to another person.

Have more ideas to end the cycle? Make sure to add them in the comments below!


Ki’ara Montgomery is a Senior at Virginia Commonwealth University with plans to graduate in May 2017. She is obtaining a bachelor’s degree in public relations, and minors in business and gender, sexuality, and women’s studies. While in school, she has had opportunities with VCU AmeriCorps, Culture4MyKids, VCU School of Education, and the Richmond Raiders. She is currently interning with the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance with a focus in development, policy, and communications.

1 “Suspended Progress”, JustChildren Program Legal Aid Justice Center, May 2016. Retrieved 1/10/17 https://www.justice4all.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/05/Suspended-Progress-Report.pdf

Featured image source: http://www.publicnewsservice.org/2016-03-10/juvenile-justice/juvenile-justice-reform-group-wants-nd-youth-prisons-closed/a50763-1

_____________________________________________________________________

This article is part of the Action Alliance’s blog series on Virginia’s Trauma-to-Prison-Pipeline.

The Trauma-to-Prison-Pipeline (aka “School-to-Prison-Pipeline”) fails young people who are experiencing high levels of toxic stress and/or trauma by responding in overly punitive ways to youth who exhibit normal reactions to trauma and toxic stress.

Youth of color and youth with disabilities are particularly targeted for disproportionately high levels of heavy-handed, punitive responses to vague and subjective infractions in school, such as “defiance of authority”, or “classroom disruption”. Viewed from a trauma-informed lens, these same behaviors may signal youth who are suffering and struggling with ongoing effects of trauma.

 The Action Alliance believes that everyone deserves racially equitable responses that are compassionate and trauma-informed, and which build individual and community assets.


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

Yes, Hate Has Consequences

“My mom literally just texted me ‘don’t wear the Hijab please’ and she’s the most religious person in our family….”

When we must choose between our safety and the freedom to be who we are, there is a problem. Following the election of President-Elect Donald Trump, there has been a substantial rise in the number of hate crimes being reported in the United States. Over 800 cases have been reported since Election Day, November 8th.

When President-Elect Trump used his campaign to call for a “total and complete shutdown of all Muslims entering the United States,” many Muslim-Americans began to fear for their lives. When he spoke about the entire African American community synonymously with this country’s inner cities, many in Black America felt silenced. To generalize an entire group of people under statements like, “You’re living in your poverty, your schools are no good, you have no jobs, 58 percent of your youth is unemployed — what the hell do you have to lose?” not only gave those outside of this community a false sense of all Black American lives, but disregarded the accomplishments and contrasting lifestyles of so many African Americans. In the same way, the President-Elect’s comments on Mexican immigrants as well as promises of a physical wall to keep them out of America have painted a detrimentally false narrative of Mexican Americans and immigrants in general.

President-Elect Trump’s comments are not the only ones to make sweeping and harmful assertions about entire groups of Americans. Vice President-Elect, Mike Pence has openly opposed equal rights for the LGBTQ community and has fought for public funding of so-called “conversion therapy”, a practice that has been deemed harmful to LGBTQ persons and rejected for decades by every mainstream medical and mental health organization.

The targets of these generalizations are primarily people of color and people who already feel vulnerable and isolated in this country due to the systematic oppression that thrives in America. Accordingly, when Donald Trump won the election, some Americans felt it validated his portrayal of people of color in this country. Statistically, the amount of reported hate crimes soared. A few of these cases, both reported and unreported, are exemplified in the following online posts.

womenin-hijabs

Image Credit: mashable.com

car

Image Credit: facebook.com

whiteagain

Image Credit: facebook.com

 

twitterpost

Image Credit: Facebook.com

Even online, however, those sharing their stories are met with criticism. Still, there are online spaces that remain open and accepting. The victims of post-election hate crimes and allies have joined together to combat hatred through a variety of media from protests to online safe spaces. In these spaces, people have open discussions about how to deal with the increase in blatant racism, whether they are victims of it themselves or allies of these victims.

In a time that is leaving so many scared to merely exist as they are, advocates for survivors of trauma have extra work to do to provide trauma-informed help in this context. Two articles, listed below, are examples of helpful resources for survivors of trauma and their helpers.

“How to Cope With Post-Election Stress”

“I’m a therapist: Here’s how I help patients traumatized by the election.”

 

Dominique is a Hotline Crisis Services Specialist at the Action Alliance as well as an Intern for the Real Story journalism internship. She graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with a B.S. in Mass Communications and a B.A. in African American Studies. She is an aspiring filmmaker and loves to create as well as watch others’ creations on the big screen.

The Real Story Internship analyzes and rewrites news stories to reflect a trauma-informed, survivor-centered and racial justice lens.

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

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

Standing With Standing Rock

 

They say history repeats itself. Unfortunately, the blatant disregard for Native American life and culture is part of our nation’s history. With Thanksgiving quickly approaching, we are reminded of the brutal history behind the holiday through a present-day battle for Native land.

Around this time one year ago the Dakota Access Pipeline or DAPL was approved. It was to be a 1,134 mile-long pipeline to carry oil across multiple states. Originally set to cross through Bismarck, North Dakota, its initial path was rejected after an environmental assessment pointed out that it might endanger the water supply. Citizens of Bismarck, whose population is listed as 92% White on the U.S. census, rejected the pipeline and it was rerouted.

Fast forward to the DAPL’s new route, and a similar concern has been brought forth. This time, the pipeline could threaten the Missouri River, the sole water supply of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. In addition, the construction of the pipeline disrupts and has even destroyed lands sacred to the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. However, the rerouting of the pipeline is an option that has not been offered to the tribe. Activist Rev. Jesse Jackson calls the situation “the ripest case of environmental racism I’ve seen in a long time.”

Since the pipeline does not technically run through the reservation, the Sioux Tribe has been shut out of decision-making about the DAPL route. This act, however, is illegal. According to The Atlantic, “Regulations require Federal agencies to consult with Native American tribes when they attach religious and cultural significance to a historic property regardless of the location of that property.” Because Army Corps did not consult the tribe, they are also in danger of violating the Clean Water Act as well as the Environmental Policy Act if the water supply were to ever be contaminated by a break or leak in the pipeline.

Still, the Army Corps fails to hear out the concerns of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. They insist the pipeline is what is best, as it will create construction jobs that will benefit the economy. Just the same as their forefathers did centuries ago, they are attempting to silence indigenous people by projecting their own ideas of what is best for them.

Once again, non-Natives have decided how they will occupy land that remains sacred to Native Americans. Once again this is being done with no regard to the needs or wants of indigenous people. Once again, non-Natives have defended their actions with the assertion that they are doing what is right for the Native community, while neglecting input from the people, themselves, stating otherwise. Unquestionably, water is essential to life. A boost in the economy will mean nothing to a community without a reliable water source. With the tribe’s sole source of water being compromised, Native American tribes and non-Native advocates from all over the United States have gathered at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation to protest the pipeline.

heavy

Image credit: heavy.com/news

The peaceful protests began around April of this year and the number of protesters continues to grow. However, over the course of seven months, the peaceful protesters have become targets of militarized counter forces. Shortly after peaceful demonstrations began, the National Guard was sent out to Standing Rock in riot gear in massive numbers. Protestors tell the Huffington Post  “law enforcement is using pepper spray, tear gas and beanbag rounds on [us] and responding to peaceful demonstrations, pipe ceremonies and prayer circles with militarized force.”

cldc

Image credit: cldc.org

Mass numbers of arrests have been made. Some of the protestors who have been arrested report being kept in chained, netted enclosures similar to dog kennels, and having numbers drawn on their body parts by law enforcement officers.

The chairman of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, Dave Archambault Jr., spoke out on the damage being done by both the construction of the pipeline and the law enforcement protecting it, saying, “The oil companies and the government of the United States have failed to respect our sovereign rights. …[They have] knowingly destroyed sacred sites and our ancestral graves with bulldozers. [They have] also used attack dogs to harm individuals who tried to protect our water and sacred sites.”

Some media outlets are choosing to defend the dehumanizing actions of these officers. The New York Times recently published an article that attempted to evoke sympathy for the officers out in Standing Rock. It focused on one officer in particular, Jon Moll. The Times gave details completely unrelated to the pipeline or the protests. It mentioned how Moll grew up as the only White child in his classes and, as the son of farmers, “worked hard for everything [he has].” The irony lies in the fact that after growing up in a diverse environment and seemingly understanding the work that goes into building and keeping up with a community, he is now infringing  on that right of others as he takes away what they too worked hard for. Moll goes on to vilify activists, who he says, in their protesting, have trespassed on federal property. He omits law enforcement’s recent vehicular destruction of sacred Native American burial sites out of his trespassing rant.

Instead of publishing this article defending the initiators of this battle, the Times could have focused on alternatives to the current route of the DAPL.  One such alternative is an oil railway. Railways are already used for the majority of North Dakota’s oil shipment and one was used in the past as an alternative to the Keystone XL Pipeline.

elitedaily

Image credit: elitedaily.com/news/politics

 

Though a slightly different method than that used in the past, the construction of this pipeline endangers a mass population of indigenous people. The seriousness of its threats must be understood, and it is time to listen to the people most affected by its construction.

#NoDAPL  #StandwithStandingRock

Dominique is a Hotline Crisis Services Specialist at the Action Alliance as well as an Intern for the Real Story journalism internship. She graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University with a B.S. in Mass Communications and a B.A. in African American Studies. She is an aspiring filmmaker and loves to create as well as watch others’ creations on the big screen.

The Real Story Internship analyzes and rewrites news stories to reflect a trauma-informed, survivor-centered and racial justice lens.

_________________________________________________________________

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

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

 

 

The Light of Moons Above

Richard Wright’s poetic description of leaving the South to “see if it can grow differently …respond to the warmth of other suns and, perhaps, to bloom” could not be more resonant than at this cultural moment. His words speak to a longing for opportunity that has been fleeting for many of us, particularly Black folk. Wright’s imagery also reflects the profound uncertainty that is widely-felt and the collective fragility that it exposes that we can no longer deny. Right now, we live within a world where it hurts to exist, and yet,

shaman imageThis week the Action Alliance hosts the Warmth of Other Suns Conference, of which the title’s significance looms large. I am humbled to be part of a supportive gathering for survivors and advocates. Our intention to hold healing space, which calls upon Richard Wright’s cautious hopefulness, imprints on my soul as a Black folk healer. While the promise of the Great Migration for our fore-mothers has not been fulfilled, our commitment to their liberation, and that of our own and our children’s remains resolute.

My hope is that our communion can invite the The Light of the Moons Above. It is, by contrast to Wright’s vision, a metaphor for healing wherever you are. Indigenous Black traditions, like other nature-based spirituality’s, associate the moon with transformative feminine power.

richaelMother Moon ushers in the deep intimacy of night-time where we encounter all of our shadow selves. Her great luminosity gifts us privacy for our suffering, opportunity for refuge, and means for escape. Her vessel represents the “dark night of the soul” but too, affords us a cycle for reflection and preparation. Moon’s medicine aided my enslaved ancestors to survive and her energies will continue our healing today across time and space.

Whether we follow the sun or moon, we can be assured that a search for realities better than the ones we occupy is a wise strategy against the backdrop of such an explosively vulnerable period. I look forward to bringing together our power, resilience, and wisdom in service to bloom.

Richael Faithful will be speaking at the Warmth of Other Suns Conference this week. You can find out more information here.

Richael Faithful is an African-American healer raised in Virginia. She/They serves as Shaman-in-Residence at Freed Bodyworks, a body-positive wellness center based in Washington DC, and birthed Conjure! Freedom Collective, a group of creative healers committed to healing trauma from U.S. slavery, ending racial caste, and building a love politic. Her/their main areas of practice are energy healing, spiritual counseling, and sacred drumming. Faithful, before her/their integration as a traditional healer, was a community organizer and peoples’ civil rights lawyer. http://www.richaelfaithful.com/

*All pictures courtesy of Richael Faithful.

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

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

Radical Transformation and Doing 180’s – A Story and An Invitation

Content warning: white supremacy

I grew up in a family that was steeped in Southern racism, not saying there was not Northern racism or West Coast racism, just saying it was a racism that was steeped in a legacy of slavery and exploitation that felt different than other parts of the country, at least to me, and at least in relation to what I was able to gather about the world through library books and encyclopedias at the time.

I grew up before the internet was in every house and became a teenager just as diverse faces started to emerge in prime time television. I spent much of my childhood in a small Louisiana town with my grandparents. When friends called my grandma’s house, she would ask what color they were before determining whether or not I could receive the call. I was told it would be better to bring a girl home than a Black man. My grandpa thought it important for me to know where the hanging tree was, pointing it out on our drives “to town”. I was a child and these are the lessons I was taught. There was us and there was them and ne’er the twain shall meet.

texas

Image source: nicklosdrilling.com

I spent the rest of my childhood in Houston, Texas where my experience was tempered by a desire from my parents to white-wash my experience. They moved us to the suburbs to escape our Mexican neighbors. Ironically, they could not escape our class situation so I grew up in the most diverse school in our suburban district – the one all the working class folks attended. I share all this because I used to believe the things my parents told me, my grandparents told me, the preacher at my grandma’s church, the teachers at my school (who shared a white-washed legacy of the story of Texas and Mexico), the other white kids around me – I believed it because it was what I knew, what information I had access to at the time – to me, it was truth.

My radical transformation came in the shape of punk rock music and culture. I joined local groups working on things like housing access and police brutality. I went to meetings where folks actually talked about all of this and I heard people of color speaking about their experiences. I started to learn about systemic exploitation of people of color in service of white supremacy and capitalism. I also learned about feminism and reproductive justice and it was like a mask I had been wearing for 16 years shattered. Needless to say, I was a radically changed person and I remember my mother telling me she did not like who I was becoming. But I did.

There have been a few twists and turns in my path since my first 180 in life and I continued to be challenged to learn and grow.

180

Image source; moaablogs.org

I used to believe that our work to end sexual and intimate partner violence could be achieved in a vacuum. I did not necessarily have the words for that thought, but I used to think working on things like economic justice and racial justice and reproductive justice was work for folks like Virginia Organizing, Planned Parenthood, and the Richmond Peace Education Center. As a member of the Action Alliance, I remember taking my dots during a strategic planning session nearly a decade ago and diverting them from strategies like economic justice initiatives. I remember struggling to understand why that would be “our thing”.

Then, like before, I had a radical transformation. I learned from people who were talking about systemic oppression versus individual acts of prejudice. I learned about how self-determination and autonomy were often linked to one’s capacity to navigate a web of oppression and how financial exploitation was both a systemic tool and an individual weapon that hindered a survivor’s ability to determine their own path. It was such a lightbulb moment for me, that, much like when I first latched on to punk rock, it is so hard for me to remember the before, when I believed in another truth.

Because of these radical transformations and my openness to see the bigger thing of it, making the leap to seeing racial justice as a necessary part of our work to address sexual and intimate partner violence was easy. Easy for me. And because of my radical transformations, I can see how it can be difficult for others; for folks who have not had opportunities like I have had, to learn another way, to learn from others who have also moved on this path, to learn from mistakes, to be open to other truths. It can be difficult to see larger connections when the work of serving individual survivors and families feels so immediate and so enormous. It can be difficult to see the way to a 180 when the other side is beyond the shadow of the moon.

It can be difficult and yet I am inviting folks to try it. To consider what a world would look like if our efforts in service of a world free from sexual and domestic violence were linked up tightly in the work for liberation of all who are suffering from systemic oppression. It will require a radical transformation or revolutionary change which Brene’ Brown describes as “tumultuous, turning things upside down, you can’t go back”. She talks about vulnerability and courage a lot and I am inviting those of you reading this to dig in to your vulnerability and practice it, dig in to your courage and lean on it, and get ready for revolutionary change and radical transformation. We need to be in this together. Let me know if you’d like to talk!

brene brown

Source: Tibalsimplicity.com

Quillin Drew Musgrave is a Programs and Services Manager at the Action Alliance, a Board member of the Virginia Anti-Violence Project, and operates Harrison Street Café with their partner. Quillin is learning to engage the world from a place of connection and gratitude and gets great joy from seeing their child, StaggerLee, learn to navigate life as a four-year old.

 

The Action Alliance is hosting the The Warmth of Other Suns Conference  August 10-12. Come join the conversation.

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Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call804.377.0335.

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

We Can Do Hard Things

 In the wake of recent headlines, you may be asking yourself, like many of us: What can I do? Where do I start?

 Violence against African-Americans is not new – but these days it is in the forefront of the media and our growing collective conscious. We, as Virginians, can look back across history and see the cumulative effects of trauma experienced by African-Americans. We see this compounded over time and connected to experiences of and responses to sexual assault and domestic violence. We wonder about our capacity as individuals, as advocates, as communities to make lasting change, to create space for healing. We think – this is too big, too hard. We think, what can I possibly do anyway?

Our response is this – everyone can do something. Not everyone can or will march in rallies. Not everyone will work with legislators and policymakers. Not everyone will write inspired editorials that capture national attention. But everyone can do something.

i can do hard things       ***********************

We invite you to commit, right now, to spending August 10-12 in Richmond with us at The Warmth of Other Suns conference.

This groundbreaking conference is the first of its kind in Virginia and is a must-attend for anyone working in the anti-violence field. It is not limited to people of specific ethnic or racial identities and it is not limited to people who are far along in anti-oppression work.

You will learn. You will think. You will engage. You will be inspired. You will consider again and again (and then re-consider) the connections between racism, oppression, privilege, and violence towards our African-American communities in Virginia.

And by doing all of these things, you play a vital role in preventing, healing, and ending the violence that has afflicted our communities for far too long.

We look forward to a time of deep learning, connecting, reflecting, and healing together with a diverse and thoughtful group of participants.

Please join us – be a part of something bigger than yourself and take action with us today.

Warmthofothersuns.org

richard wright

To check out other training opportunities, click here.

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

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org

What Are We Yearning For? Building a Movement.

On a rainy day in Portland three months ago, Kristi and I sat in a room with 25 other leaders of domestic and sexual violence state and national coalitions, and were asked to ponder this question:

“As a movement working to end gender-based violence, what are we hungry and yearning for?”

The Action Alliance had been invited to join a cohort of statewide and national organizations to build and strengthen the movement to end violence against women and girls. The effort is part of Move to End Violence (MEV), a 10-year project funded by the NoVo Foundation to support leaders in our work to step back from our daily grind to envision the change we want to see, imagine new strategies, and build the capacity needed to make that change come to life.

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picture credit: Kate McCord

This was the second meeting for the group to learn, ponder, and discuss what our movement has been in the past, what it is now, and what it needs to be moving forward. It was easier to answer the question with negatives: we are not hungry and yearning for more hotline calls, more protective orders, more arrests, a higher shelter census. Though they are critical and often life-saving resources, we do not yearn for them.

We kept talking. We yearn for healing. We yearn for joy. We yearn for a world where violence and domination is replaced by compassion and interconnectedness. We yearn for a future where our children’s children will learn about oppression only in history books.

We yearn for liberation. We yearn to hold community with others doing brave work to get to the same horizon.

We talked about how to get there: centering the experiences of marginalized communities in our work, igniting major shifts in the larger culture, economic justice, ending mass incarceration and detention, reproductive justice, an engaged democracy. Big work.

We imagined electrifying possibilities by filling in the blanks: “If all domestic and sexual violence coalitions joined forces to make X impact in Y way at the same time, what could we accomplish?”

Imagine what we could accomplish.

We will be partnering with other state and national coalitions to find out. The Action Alliance and all other coalitions involved in this project have committed to work on areas of bold action that we see as stepping stones to a world with less domination and inequality and greater interconnectedness, compassion, and justice.

The work will require us to believe that fundamental, systemic change is possible, and that we are part of that work. It will require us to embrace experimentation and change in the service of learning and adapting. It will require building a bigger “we”—showing up for and partnering with others who believe in a similar vision. It will require us to work in alignment toward the same shared vision.Image 3

And of course this is where you come in, dear brave members and supporters. We will be asking you to believe that another world is possible and to join with us in deep conversation about what it would take to make the audacious vision of that world come to life. To stay at the table long enough for our conversations to get to a place of deeper understanding, clarity, and connection. To join our efforts and hang in there with indomitable spirits as we make some big leaps and bold moves.

This will be hard. This will be worth the struggle. We can do this.

Kate McCord is the Communications Director for the Action Alliance, a member of the Action Alliance’s Racial Justice Task Force, and has been working in the movement to end gender-based violence for over 25 years. Kate will be working with other coalition leaders as part of this Move to End Violence initiative to mobilize against state violence and create community-based alternatives to incarceration.

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Joining the Action Alliance adds your voice to making change in Virginia. Start your membership today or call804.377.0335.

To inquire about submissions for blog, please check the submissions page for requirements or email colson@vsdvalliance.org