Building Power and Community: Black Women’s Town Hall

Black women have two huge strikes against them, living in a predominantly White society and being a woman in a patriarchal system of oppression. Due to these two huge strikes, Black women have their own set of injustices that they and their families deal with daily. An ignorant assumption that Black women are always angry or always leeching leads to society’s scorn. However, Black women deserve to be heard and the assumption of being angry is a false equivalence, a misunderstood passion.

There are few opportunities for Black women’s voices to be heard in a way that is not misinterpreted or misunderstood by society. The Black woman’s voice has been silenced and rarely in the forefront for many discussions on laws and other social & economic issues happening in the community that has a more detrimental effect on them than others society. This town hall will provide safety for all the multidimensional voices & experiences of black women across the state. The hope is that this space will spark more opportunities for conversations and outlets for Black women to no longer be silenced and not be afraid to speak life to their experiences.

What is a Town Hall?

A town hall is a way for people in the community to address concerns and come up with solutions to challenges they are facing, often with a politician present.

Why Specifically a Town Hall for Black Women?

A Black Women’s Town Hall is about building political power of Black women in our communities. It is an opportunity for them to name their own experiences as well as brainstorm solutions to common challenges.1

This is an opportunity for Black women to organize and set a strategic agenda, or list of demands, that reflect the needs, resources, and bold visions for the community.

 The Action Alliance – along with Black Women’s BlueprintTrans Sistas of Color ProjectBlack Youth Project 100, and allied state anti-violence coalitions, has signed on to organize and support the March for Black Women (#M4BW) happening September 30th in Washington D.C.

As we prepare for this event, we are inviting Black women in all their diversity from allied organizations and advocacy groups to attend an in-person and online Black Women’s Town Hall to build power and community.

Children are welcome! Food and childcare will be provided during this event.

M4BW EventBrite invitationBlack Women’s Town Hall event details

Black Women’s Town Hall

Thursday, September 14, 2017

6pm-8pm

Action Alliance office, Richmond

No fee for this event. Register here.

Want to attend this Town Hall but don’t live in Richmond? Join the event live online by registering here.

1 https://docs.wixstatic.com/ugd/f0223e_324195651e8a4561a037d83bb8998d9e.pdf


This blog post was submitted by the Black Women’s Town Hall Organizing Team of the Action Alliance.

White Supremacy & Gender-Based Violence: How They Feed Each Other and What We Can Do About It

Gender-based violence (or the process of controlling, coercing, or otherwise exerting power over someone because of their gender) is both a tool and a driver of white supremacy. Ending gender-based violence requires us to see and dismantle the same forces that support the existence of white supremacy. At the same time, this work calls us to envision and work toward equity and liberation. So what does this mean in practical terms for advocates working in the movement to end sexual and domestic violence who are white?

While the KKK, neo-Nazis, and other related groups may be the face of white supremacy, they are in fact merely overt expressions of more covert and normalized systems of power and control wielded over communities of color.

White supremacy is more than just individual attitudes of superiority over people of color and individual acts of violence and suppression. It is a system of exploitation and control that is meant to consolidate and maintain advantages, influence, and wealth for white people.

Many of us are shocked by the recent emboldened activity and hateful rhetoric expressed by white supremacists marching in the streets, however the real power of white supremacy operates in more covert ways, through our country’s institutional policies and practices. As Dr. Cornel West says, speaking about witnessing white supremacists marching on Charlottesville, “…that kind of hatred…is just theater.”

The mainstream movement to end gender-based violence has not historically been working in large-scale ways to disrupt white supremacy, despite the fact that many women of color and organizations of color (Beth Richie, Alissa Bierra, Mimi Kim, and INCITE! Women, Gender Non-Conforming, and Trans people of Color* Against Violence just to name a few) have long been articulating the connections and sounding an alarm for the movement to awaken to and act on those connections. It’s not too late to listen.

How do white supremacy and gender-based violence connect?

We know that gender-based violence is both a tool and driver of white supremacy. Here are a few examples of how they operate to reinforce one another:

  • Racism and white supremacy contribute to gender-based violence when survivors of color are reluctant to seek help or call the police for fear of mistreatment, deportation, or for example in Charleena Lyles’ case, even death.
  • Gender-based violence acts as a tool of white supremacy when sexual violence against communities of color is used as a weapon of suppression, as in the case of European colonization of the Americas.
  • Racism and white supremacy contribute to gender-based violence when survivors of color are criminalized for defending themselves and their families against lethal violence in their homes.
How isms connect-visual

Violence against women in this context includes cis and trans women and non-binary people.

How can advocates — who are white and working in our movement — build racial justice and begin to disrupt white supremacy?

  • We can start by noticing systems of advantages and disadvantages based on skin color: how does white skin privilege play out in housing, media, criminal/legal, banking/loan, and educational systems? How do systemic disadvantages affect survivors of color who may or may not be seeking help from our organizations?
  • We can dive deeper by having open, compassionate, unflinching conversations with other potential allies about how we can and should be working to change those systems.
  • We can and should listen to and take leadership from communities of color, or those who are most directly impacted by racist systems.
  • We can and should show up others who are working on equity and liberation by supporting and amplifying their efforts. We are better together.

How is the Action Alliance working to build racial justice and undermine white supremacy?

The Action Alliance recognizes that racism and white supremacy contribute to gender-based violence, hinder survivors from obtaining adequate safety and support, and impede accountability for people who commit harm. We have made a commitment to conduct anti-violence work through a racial justice lens, with a focus on equity and liberation. Here are a few examples of what we are currently working on and how it connects with our values:

  • We believe that communities of color should be supported in connecting with one another to build power and community. We are hosting a Town Hall by and for Black women in September to offer a venue for Black women to name their own experiences and brainstorm solutions to common challenges.
  • We believe in showing up for one another. We are co-sponsoring the National March for Black Women, September 30, in Washington, D.C., a march organized by Black Women’s BlueprintTrans Sistas of Color Projectand Black Youth Project 100.
  • We believe in keeping kids free. Through education, collaborative partnerships, and policy change, we are working to dismantle Virginia’s “trauma-to-prison pipeline” (a.k.a. “school-to-prison-pipeline“)–which disproportionately affects children of color and children with disabilities–and build in its place compassionate and proportional responses to youth.
  • We know that racial justice is an essential framework for providing trauma-informed and survivor-centered advocacy, so we provide ongoing education about the connections between advocacy and racial justice through our Training Institute.
  • We know equity and liberation are built one relationship at a time and require honest and loving conversations, so in our August and September staff meetings we are talking about our racial justice work, and what else we can and should be doing to strengthen our efforts (see images below).
img_1638.jpg

Action Alliance staff brainstorm ways in which we are personally working to build racial justice, along with other things we could/should be doing.

 

img_1640.jpg
Action Alliance staff brainstorm ways in which we are  working to build racial justice as an organization, along with other ideas for things we could/should be doing.

None of us will do this perfectly. Working to build racial justice, equity, and liberation requires us to hold many conflicting truths at once. This work is joyful, it is messy, it is painful, it is energizing, it is draining, and it is loving. Most of all, it is necessary, and all of it requires that we do our best to hold ourselves and our comrades accountable and lifted up in honest and loving ways. Join us.


Featured image: Reuters/Ted Soqui 

Thank you to Jonathan Yglesias and Amanda Pohl for their editing help and feedback on this piece.


Kate McCord is the Movement Strategy & Communications Director for the Action Alliance and has been working in the movement to end gender-based violence for over 25 years. Kate is working with other coalition leaders as part of the Move to End Violence initiative to mobilize against state violence and build racial justice nationally and in Virginia. 

 

 

In the Wake of Charlottesville: A Message to our Members

As our work week begins, here at the Action Alliance we are pausing to reflect on the violence that was perpetrated by predominantly male, white supremacists in Charlottesville over the weekend. Our hearts go out to our members, friends and colleagues who live and work in Charlottesville, and those who chose to travel from elsewhere in the state to join the counter-protest. You have our love and our compassion as you process and recover from the experience of being the targets of/witnessing hate-filled, identity-based violence. Those of you who work at the Shelter for Help in Emergency and the Sexual Assault Resource Agency are most especially in our hearts as you hold both the trauma of the racial and ethnic violence in your community with the violence that you confront in your work every day.

The images over the weekend of white supremacists shouting angry words, pumping their fists and raising weapons into the air looked far too familiar. In our work to end sexual and domestic violence we know that intimidation and violence are tools used by those who feel entitled to have power over others—especially when that entitlement feels threatened. We also know that there is no more dangerous time than the hours that follow a challenge to that controlling and violent behavior. We all witnessed this phenomenon as we watched one of the white men who had come to perpetrate racial violence intentionally drive a car into a crowd of anti-racists, taking a life and damaging countless more.

Twitter-Sofia Armen

Twitter/Sofia Armen

The lessons tens of thousands of us across the country have learned as we have taken on the work of trying to end sexual and domestic violence provide a filter through which we viewed the events of the weekend. We know that gender-based violence is rooted in oppression—and inseparable in both cause and effect from other forms of identity-based violence, most especially racism. Survivors have taught us that hateful language can sometimes leave deeper scars than physical violence. Perpetrators have taught us that it is not the behavior of their target that leads them to violence, but rather their own deeply held beliefs in their right to use violence to get what they want. Attempting to coordinate a community response has taught us that there is tremendous value in learning from our mistakes—taking the time to do a careful review of system responses when a life is lost to determine how those systems might have acted differently to prevent that loss of life and then making changes in the response.

Most of all we have learned that real power does not come from social status, from access to resources, from controlling others. Real power comes from truth telling. Truth telling about the history of our country, including our great Commonwealth. Truth telling about the origins and the impact of privilege, hate and violence. Truth telling from each of us about the harm that we have experienced—and the harm that we have caused.

…Real power does not come from status…access to resources…or from controlling others. Real power comes from truth telling…equity…and love.

Chip Somodeville-Getty Images

Chip Somodeville/Getty Images

Real power comes with equity. Equity is valuing all beings and all living things—letting go of our hierarchical notions that place some at the top of pyramids while others bear all of weight at the bottom. Equity is leveling the playing field for everyone—and celebrating all who choose to play. Equity is making reparations for harm caused by historical violence, including racism and ethnocentrism. Equity is seeing current injustice and making the changes it demands.

Real power comes from love. Love is compassion for ourselves and others. Love is forgiveness for ourselves and others. Love is naming violence and setting boundaries around behaviors—while holding open the possibility of rejoining the circle. Love is working together to build communities where children and adults can be curious, resilient, joyful, loving human beings able to respect and care for each other.

On behalf of all of us at the Action Alliance, take good care of yourselves and those in your close circle this week. Know that you are loved and the work that you do every day is making a difference. The Action Alliance will continue to work every day to end violence. Today we recommit to building racial justice; among our many efforts, we are partnering with Black Women’s Blueprint, Trans Sistas of Color Project, Black Youth Project (BYP100) and many other statewide groups to sponsor the March for Black Women September 30 in Washington, DC. We will soon be sending out a call for volunteers and support and we hope that you will join us.

In Peace,

The Leadership Team of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance


Featured image source: Democracy Now

#Charlottesville #DefendCville #whitesupremacy #racialjustice


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

 

Survived and Punished: The story of a 14 year old girl and the system that failed her

Bresha Meadows of Ohio was 14 years old the night she is alleged to have shot and killed her father in what her mother describes as an act of heroism to save the family from his ongoing violence and threats of murder. That was in July 2016; she has been incarcerated ever since awaiting trial.

The system failed her long before that night.

Bresha on bus

Photo provided by Martina Latessa. Photo source: Huffington Post

In the months leading up to the shooting, Bresha’s grades dropped, she ran away from home twice, she told relatives that she was in fear for her life, and that her dad was beating her mom, threatening to kill them all.

In a 2011 petition for a Protective Order, Bresha’s mother, Brandi wrote, “In the 17 years of our marriage he has cut me, broke my ribs, fingers, the blood vessels in my hand, my mouth, blackened my eyes. I believe my nose was broken,” she wrote at the time. “If he finds us, I am 100 percent sure he will kill me and the children.”

Bresha is one of many girls and women of color who have survived and are being punished. Many survivors of domestic and sexual violence are targeted by systems of policing and incarceration, including juvenile and immigration detention, because their survival actions are routinely criminalized.

84% of girls in juvenile detention have experienced family violence.1

When adolescents are arrested for domestic battery, girls were more likely than boys to be defending themselves from abuse by a parent or caregiver.1

Free Bresha Teach-in poster

The Action Alliance, in partnership with the VCU Wellness Resource Center (The Well), and VCU OMSA (Office of Multicultural Student Affairs) will be hosting a #FreeBresha Teach-In this Thursday, April 20, 5:30pm-8pm at the Action Alliance office. Join us as we discuss the criminalization of youth of color, the trauma-to-prison pipeline, and the work being done in Richmond to reduce the incarceration of suffering and traumatized youth.

Rise for Youth has been invited to participate. Confirmed speakers for the #FreeBresha Teach-In include:

  • Fatima M. Smith, Assistant Director for Sexual & Intimate Partner Violence, Stalking, & Advocacy Services and Adjunct Faculty, VCU
  • Reginald Stroble, Assistant Director, Office of Multicultural Student Affairs, VCU
  • Jonathan Yglesias, Prevention & Community Wellness Director, Virginia Sexual & Domestic Violence Action Alliance

From 1992 to 2012/2013, girls’ share of arrests increased by 45% and girls’ share of detention increased by 40%. Black girls were almost three times as likely as white girls to be referred to court. Black girls were also 20% more likely than white girls to be in detention, while Native girls were 50% more likely.1

To take action beyond the #FreeBresha Teach-In, here are 5 ways you can help Bresha:

  1. Write to Bresha
  2. Use the #FreeBresha curriculum to spark conversations in your community about trauma and overcriminalization of youth of color.
  3. Organize a #FreeBresha book drive for incarcerated girl and women.
  4. Donate to Bresha and her family via GoFundMe.
  5. Write an open letter to the prosecutors in Bresha’s case.

In Virginia, find out more about amazing groups working to shut down the trauma-to-prison pipeline locally:

  1. Rise for Youth
  2. Legal Aid Justice Center
  3. Performing Statistics
  4. Art180

 

1 Sherman, Francine T. and Annie Balck, in partnership with The National Crittenton Foundation and the National Women’s Law Center. 2015. “Gender Injustice: System-Level Juvenile Justice Reform for Girls.” http://nationalcrittenton.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/Gender_Injustice_Report.pdf

Featured image source: #FreeBresha: A Night of Abolitionist Art & Action, Love and Struggle Photos, @loveandstrugglephotos


RSVP now to the #FreeBresha Teach-In: Overcriminalization of Youth of Color this Thursday, April 20, 5:30pm-8:00pm at the Action Alliance office.

Register now for April 26-27 Building Healthy Futures: Linking Public Health & Activism to Prevent Sexual & Intimate Partner Violence conference, where we will be talking more about the trauma-to-prison pipeline and work being done to shut it down.


Kate McCord is the Movement Strategy & 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 is working with other coalition leaders as part of the Move to End Violence initiative to mobilize against state violence nationally and shut down the trauma-to-prison pipeline in Virginia.

4 Ways to Reverse the School-to-Prison Pipeline…Now

Virginia sends more schoolchildren to the criminal legal system than any other state in the nation, but it doesn’t have to be this way. We can change our policies and practices to support (rather than punish and incarcerate) youth who “act out”…youth who may be struggling. In this piece, we take a look at four promising practices to shut down the “pipeline”. 

The term “trauma-to-prison pipeline” (a.k.a. “school-to-prison pipeline“) is used to describe the increasing pattern of contacts between students and the juvenile and adult criminal justice system as a result of practices implemented by educational institutions. This system leaves students as young as the age of four susceptible to suspension, detention, and other punishments that could  lead to a life of incarceration and captivity.

Destiny, then an eighth grader at Lyons Community School in Brooklyn, New York, was fortunate enough to be attending a school that saw a need for a change. When she got into an altercation with another student that resulted in her throwing her teacher’s jacket out of the classroom window, Destiny would likely have faced detention or suspension—had she been enrolled in a typical middle school. Destiny’s school handled the situation differently – through restorative justice.

This gave Destiny the opportunity to stand before a “justice panel” comprised of four of her peers who took the time to listen to her story and then determine how best to address the harm done. Destiny was able to reflect on her actions, apologize to her victims, and improve her community without instantly being criminalized because of one incident. Restorative justice has helped Lyons Community School reduce their suspension rate by more than 20%. Check out these promising ways to reduce or eliminate the school-to-prison pipeline.

  • 1: Practice Restorative Justice

Not only is restorative justice a way of holding students accountable for what they have done, but it also opens the door for positive reinforcement. Students like Destiny have the opportunity for reconciliation with those they may have harmed through their actions. Many schools have dramatically reduced their number of suspensions by using restorative justice tools to handle nonviolent offenses as it is a better opportunity to get to the root of the initial problem and change the behavior.

  • 2: Enforce Less Police Punishment

The presence of School Resource Officers (SROs) has greatly increased in recent years. Many students make their first contact with the criminal legal system because of interactions with SROs and typically because of nonviolent offenses. Less involvement from SROs in the discipline of students for nonviolent offenses has the possibility of lowering the chances of troubled students falling into a cycle of suspension and incarceration. If police are in schools, reducing the pipeline requires limiting the role of police to public safety, rather than enforcing school discipline.

Counselors not cops

Source: http://wechargegenocide.org/art

 

  • 3: Improve Staff-to-Student Ratio

Suspension and incarceration are correlated; being removed from school increases a student’s chances of being incarcerated – and ultimately dropping out of school altogether. Virginia averages 13.2 students per teacher in elementary and secondary schools (the overall U.S. average is 15.5-to-1). This isn’t a bad starting point, but because of how crucial school counselors can be in a student’s life, improving the counselor-to-student ratio should also be a priority. The American School Counselor Association recommends a ratio of 250-to-1, however during the 2013-14 school year, Virginia schools averaged 381-to-1.

  • 4: Place Less Emphasis on Standardized Tests

When students’ primary measurement of success is determined by test scores,  they may be likely to become disengaged from their education. Disengagement often leads to lower grades, disruptive behavior, and often dropping out. Preparing students to pass a test instead of preparing them to succeed in life could ultimately be preparing students for the school-to-prison pipeline.

What effect do you think these changes could have on incarceration rates? What other ways do you think the school-to-prison pipeline can be reversed? 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.


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.


[1] http://www.jeffersonpolicyjournal.com/time-to-stop-criminalizing-mere-misconduct/

[2] http://www.statemaster.com/graph/edu_ele_sec_pup_rat-elementary-secondary-pupil-teacher-ratio

[3] https://www.schoolcounselor.org/asca/media/asca/home/Ratios13-14.pdf

Featured image source: http://www.westsidestorynewspaper.com/


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

 

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.  

 

The Action Alliance Has a New Home!

The Action Alliance officially moved into new-alliance-office-exteriorour new space on a chilly Friday the 13th. Over 100 crates and several dozen boxes held years of memories, materials, and supplies as we moved from our previous home in Richmond’s West End to the freshly painted and carpeted digs located just a block west of VCU’s bustling campus.

With the anticipated on-boarding of several new staff members and ever-growing work projects, the move to this new larger space came right in time. We were able to bring (almost all) the staff together in offices just off of the main hallway, creating a more connected and synergistic work space. We also doubled the size of our training center, enabling us to accommodate larger meetings more comfortably. Our Hotline staff members also have more space to stretch their legs in their roomier digs, and soon they will be joined by new members of the legal resources team.

new-alliance-office-interior“It’s exciting to be more visible to the community,” says Emily Robinson, Senior Hotline Specialist and Volunteer Coordinator.  “We are closer to the heart of the city and people can see our presence. We are very close to VCU, so students who may be interested in volunteering with us can get to us very easily.”  We are also surrounded by some of Richmond’s coolest cafés and eateries, and we haven’t hesitated at all to check them out!

Though our walls are temporarily bare, we have plans to line the halls with the beautiful artwork we’ve collected over the years.

We are also looking to create a permanent installation of the Art of Surviving exhibit, a powerful display of art created by survivors of sexual  violence.

We hope you will stop by and see us in our new space. We’d love to see you and give you a tour!


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

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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. 

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

 

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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

Deck the Halls: A Holiday Tradition benefiting Project Horizon

Call me crazy, but I love this time of year. While most directors probably have visions of purple ribbons and calendars full of candlelight vigils and lunchtime lectures, my office looks like Santa himself has stopped by for an early visit. That is because in the midst of Domestic Violence Awareness Month we are also planning our annual black-tie gala, Deck the Halls, to be held on November 19, 2016 at VMI in Lexington, VA.

This year marks the 16th year for Deck the Halls which began as a Festival of Trees. Voted the #1 Charity Event in the Shenandoah Valley by Virginia Living Magazine for the past three years, Deck the Halls is more than a fundraiser, it is a community event. It is always held the Saturday before Thanksgiving, Deck the Halls marks the beginning of the holiday season for the Rockbridge community. Over 300 guests gather in their finest attire for dinner, dancing, live and silent auctions. Our featured auction item this year is a 16’ x 24’ English Style Cottage Frame created by the Timber Framers Guild and VMI Cadets. It is truly a magical evening.

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While the twinkling lights and holiday décor set the stage for the magic, that is really not what makes Deck the Halls so special. Each year when I look over the crowd, I pause to give thanks for the many people who have come together to make the event such a great success. The 15-member DTH committee, the decorators, the caterers, the auction donors, the auctioneer, the table hosts, and every person in attendance is there because they believe in and support the work of Project Horizon. We cannot do this work alone. We will never fulfill our mission of working to end domestic, dating and sexual violence in the Rockbridge community if we do it in a vacuum. Amidst the glitter and glam of the holiday season, our community comes together to make a difference in the lives of survivors. That is what makes the evening so magical.

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If you would like to join us and experience the magic yourself, call 540-463-7861 for reservations. Tickets are $85 each or $640 for a reserved table of 8.

Judy Casteele is the Executive Director of Project Horizon, serving the Rockbridge Area of Virginia. She is also on the Governing Body of the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance. She has worked in and supported anti-violence work across various agencies and communities for over 20 years. 

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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