Tikkun Olam

Tikkun Olam is a concept in Judaism that refers to “repairing the world” and is often used to support and protect those who are disadvantaged. The power of Tikkun Olam is that it speaks to the world being broken and the intent to fix (repair) it. For a Jewish survivor, Tikkun Olam could be an important cultural component to the healing process.

This summer, the Virginia Department of Social Services awarded grants to six culturally and population specific organizations to provide new domestic violence services to the underserved communities they serve. Representing communities of color, immigrant and refugee communities, religious minorities and LGBTQ people, these organizations are trusted entities possessing a deep understanding of the barriers people in their communities face as well as the strengths and assets embedded in their communities. The six organizations include:

Tikkun-OlamGreater Jewish Coalition Against Domestic Abuse (JCADA) is committed to serving Jewish survivors and other religious minorities experiencing domestic abuse. Guided by the Jewish concepts, Tikkun Olam “to repair the world” and Shalom Bayit “peace in the home” JCADA understands how faith can be a source of strength.

Ethiopian Community Development Council, Inc. (ECDC) will launch Safe Journeys, an outreach, counseling and assistance program that provides culturally and linguistically tailored case management to survivors. ECDC has multicultural and multi lingual staff who work with African immigrants and refugees in Northern Virginia.

Boat People SOS, Inc. (BPSOS) has supported the Vietnamese community for 38 years and will launch the Communities Against Domestic Violence (CADV) in Northern Virginia. A large number of refugees have a history of trauma having fled unsafe homes and/or communities in Vietnam.  CADV will address two compounding, cross-cutting problems that affect a large portion of Vietnamese Americans: dv and trauma.

Heal Concept Metal Letterpress Word in DrawerSacred Heart Center (SHC), located in Richmond, is a hub for the Latinx community serving clients from the entire metropolitan area. Funding will allow the SHC to provide new domestic violence services including case management, in part through an expanded relationship with Safe Harbor providing culturally specific service.

LGBT Life Center in Hampton Roads provides comprehensive services to the LGBT community from a staff who understands the unique barriers to and opportunities for safety  and healing.  LGBT Life Center will provide crisis services to survivors and their families and will work with Opinion Leaders to raise awareness about domestic  violence in their community and share resources through their social networks.

Also in Hampton Roads, the Hampton Roads Community Action Program (HRCAP) addresses poverty through many programs and strategies.  A specific focus has been on African American families residing in public housing and other neighborhoods of Southeast Newport News.  As a multi-service agency, HRCAP clients have access to a  wide breadth of services including new domestic violence advocacy and counseling for survivors and their families.

We are inspired by the work of our six new grantees who affirm their communities’ cultures and experiences and we look forward to learning through these new partnerships! Chào mừng đến với, ברוך הבא, ሀልሎ አንድ ወልጮመ, bienvenido, welcome!


Alyssa Murray is a Domestic Violence Program Specialist with the Virginia Department of Social Services.  She has worked in the fields of domestic violence, public health, homelessness and education over the last 25 years.  Her first experience working with survivors was at the White Buffalo Calf Woman Society located on the Rosebud Indian Reservation, the home of the Sicangu Oyate Lakota Nation.

Outside of work, Alyssa is a poet, a mom to two teenagers, and a human companion to two hound dogs.  She works with the immigrant community in Richmond and is writing a children’s book about Irene Morgan and Elizabeth Van Lew.

You can contact Alyssa at alyssa.murray@dss.virginia.gov

 

 

 

Children, Families, Survivors, Our Nation, and Humanity Deserve Better Than Family Separation and Family Detainment

George Santayana once said, “Those who cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

During a shameful era of our nation’s history, then-President Franklin Roosevelt isolated thousands of people of Japanese ancestry and forced them into concentration camps under the guise of national security. Although separation of families was not part of the policy, over a thousand people were incarcerated and unable to communicate with their family members. Of those forced into detainment, at least 17,000 were children under the age of ten. Conditions of the concentration camps included overcrowding and excessive police force and brutality.

Now, a little over 70 years since the closing of the last American concentration camp, history has been doomed to repeat itself. In April, the Trump administration passed a “zero-tolerance” policy of forced separation of migrant families – which resulted in the separation of more than 2,000 migrant children from their parents. Then, last week, Trump issued an executive order ending the forced separation and instead replacing it with indefinite family detention, meaning that “children would be held in facilities that are essentially jails with their parents for months, or even years, until they ultimately received legal status — or, more likely, until they were finally deported.”

It has been proven that exposure to such toxic stress in children’s leaves – whether it’s getting forcibly removed from their parents or suffering detainment during their childhoods – has serious, long-term consequences for children’s development. Such toxic stress can lead to stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol flooding children’s systems – hormones that over time can start killing off neurons and thus resulting in consequences that may cause not only learning and behavioral problems, but physical and mental health problems as well.

Jack Shonkoff, the director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, has stated that with each day that children are separated from their parents, their stress responses are persistently triggered – thus “having a wear and tear effect on their developing brains and all of their biological systems.” Not only does this severely impact the 2,000+ children who have already been forcibly separated from their parents, without a concrete plan for their reunification, but also the children who will now be indefinitely detained. Even for families that do not get separated, their detainment can “compromise a parent’s role as ‘parent,’” as well as “undermine the critical parent-child relationship.”

A 2015 report on the harmful impacts of family detention on children stated that children in detention facilities are ten times more likely than adults to experience symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). It was also reported by medical experts that detention conditions could have life-long consequences for a child’s academic, economic, and social development. Furthermore, a therapist who worked with many previously-interned Japanese-American clients, stated that such trauma “manifests decades later as depression, strained family relationships, and a lifelong sense of undeserved guilt and fear of authority.”

Studies have shown that as adverse childhood experiences (ACE) – which include parental separation, incarcerated household members, emotional neglect, and physical neglect – increase, so did the risk of experiencing sexual violence in adulthood. This means that by forcibly separating children from their parents or incarcerating them with their families, the administration is subjecting children to adverse childhood experiences that can leave them vulnerable to violence as they grow older.

Additionally, the aforementioned fear of authority that results from the trauma of being detained during childhood can prevent the currently detained or separated children from seeking help later on in life if they experience sexual or domestic violence. Regardless of the outcome of immigration policies – whether these children are deported from the United States or if they’re given a path to citizenship – this fear of authority instilled in them from a young age will likely continue to haunt them long after the inhumane immigration policies are removed.

Similarly, this cruelty towards undocumented immigrants – as epitomized by the separation and detainment of young children – will further increase the fear of authority for undocumented persons currently living in the US. Various reports have already shown that many survivors of domestic or sexual violence do not seek help due to their fear of deportation. In fact, according to a NY Times article published in 2017, reports of sexual and domestic violence among Latinxs across the country have had a sharp downturn since the 2016 presidential election – which many experts attribute to the increased fears of deportation. And now, with this cruel and immoral immigration policy, this fear of authority and fear to seek help will likely only worsen for undocumented survivors of violence. This means survivors may be forced to stay in unsafe situations and have less access to support.

If children are not immediately reunited with their parents and if our nation continues to impede reproductive justice by revoking parents’ rights to parent their children in safe, supportive environments, we will be a nation that traumatizes children and fails to protect and support survivors of violence. First Focus, an organization dedicated to prioritizing children and families in federal policy decisions, suggests child-friendly alternatives to detaining families, such as community-based programs that address families awaiting their immigration proceedings. Not only are such programs significantly more cost-efficient, ranging from 70 cents to $17 dollars a day instead of the $373 daily cost of detaining a mother or child, but they allow children to live in a home setting, enroll in school, and can assist their families in connecting to crucial legal assistance and social services.

Today, I ask us all to remember. Remember our past. Remember our nation’s – and humanity’s – shameful times, as to not repeat them. And remember our most glorious times – the times when we exhibited kindness, the times when we protected those who were most vulnerable, the times when we made sure that good triumphed over evil. And, many, many years from now, may we remember today as a time when families were safe, when children were protected, and when humanity remained steadfast in the fight for justice.



Featured image source: https://www.zazzle.com/immigrant_justice_mini_poster-228432137731714096



Maryum Elnasseh is a rising junior at Virginia Commonwealth University, where she is double-majoring in journalism and political science, with a concentration in civil rights. At the Action Alliance, Maryum is an intern for the Real Story Internship. She hopes to use her voice as a tool to ignite social change.

Meet Laura Chow Reeve, Youth Resilience Coordinator!

The Action Alliance is thrilled to introduce to you Laura Chow Reeve, our new Youth Resilience Coordinator! Laura comes to us from LA, Philly, and most recently Jacksonville Florida. She took a few moments to talk with us about her path, her loves, and what lights her up about prevention work. 

Laura, what’s your story?

I’ve moved across the country, bouncing from coast to coast, three times. I’ve lived in Los Angeles and Philadelphia, but most recently, I lived and soaked up some magic in Jacksonville, FL (and its surrounding natural springs).

While in Jacksonville I worked directly with LGBTQ+ survivors of sexual violence, and I have always been invested in working with youth and doing social justice and anti-oppression work. For the past 6 years, I have worked with Girls Rock Camps, programs that use music and creative expression as tools to fight for intersectional gender justice. I first started at Girls Rock Philly and continued to do work with the Girls Rock Camp Alliance, an international network of over 100 camps, in various roles. (I encourage you to check out your local Girls Rock or Queer Rock camp! I’m a proud supporter of Girls Rock! RVA here in Richmond!)

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I have a MA in Asian American Studies from UCLA where I completed a collection of short stories that explores intimacies of the queer mixed-race body through magical, speculative, and fabulist forms. While at UCLA I also helped co-found a workshop for writers of color on campus and taught undergraduate Gender Studies and Asian American Studies Classes.

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I’m currently working on a collection of short stories and have a novel project still very much in its infancy. My writing has been published online and has been anthologized. One of the most exciting moments in my writing career was when LeVar Burton read my short story “1,000-Year-Old Ghosts” on his podcast LeVar Burton Reads. I am also the Southern editor of Joyland, an online magazine that publishes fiction and non-fiction.

What lights you up about prevention work?

For me, prevention work is anti-oppression work and vice versa. I love having big movement building conversations, using our brains and hearts to imagine the world we want to live in and then build towards that vision together. I also love the day-to-day, working on new curriculum, sharing resources, and supporting folks doing prevention work in their communities. I feel fired up when we talk about the ways in which prevention work is connected to transformative justice, racial justice, economic justice, reproductive justice and queer liberation, and even more so when we start doing that work with other folks in our communities.

If you were an animal (besides a human), what kind of animal would you be and why?

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There is this short story by Ken Liu that I love called “Good Hunting” about shape-shifting fox spirits (huli jing, Chinese mythological creatures/spirits). I want to be a shape-shifting fox spirit.

What’s one goal you have for your first year as the new Youth Resilience Coordinator?

I’m excited to explore new ways to engage with youth in our space, whether that look like a camp, youth training opportunities, or a youth advisory council! I’m about to head to North Carolina to observe NCCASA’s Young Advocates Institute in July to get some inspiration. I hope to dedicate lots of energy into clarifying how we make space for youth leadership and voices in our work at the Alliance.


Laura can be reached at lchowreeve@vsdvalliance.org or 804-377-0335 x 2109. Drop her a line and welcome her to Virginia!

What really happened during the 2018 Session? An advocate’s guide to politics and new legislation in VA

The 2018 Virginia General Assembly (GA) adjourned “sine die” on March 10th – with legislators having passed 919 of the original 2,778 bills that were introduced during their 60-day session. A lot happened in those 60-days. But with all eyes turned to the ongoing debate over Medicaid expansion, one thing that didn’t happen was an agreed-upon state budget. Given this, House and Senate members will reconvene in Richmond for a governor-advised special session beginning April 11th. During this time, lawmakers will focus on the specific task of producing a $115 billion-dollar, two-year budget for the Commonwealth.

The following is an update on what really happened and how it really happened in the 2018 GA session, with a few sprinkled in predictions for where we’re headed and how that direction might impact everyday advocates, survivors of violence, and the communities and families that we serve in our work to respond to and prevent sexual and intimate partner violence in Virginia.

The political backdrop

With civic engagement and public protest on the rise in 2017, Virginia’s electoral base produced an unprecedented change in the makeup of the state legislature. Voters brought 19 new faces to the halls and committee and subcommittee rooms of the GA in 2018, with an overwhelming majority of these new faces being younger, browner, more immigrant, more LGBTQ, and more gender diverse. In both the House of Delegates and in our Governor’s Office, these new faces appear to be more reflective of and responsive to the various communities that make up our Commonwealth. These faces are also, overwhelmingly, Democrat. The 2017 elections brought the House of Delegates to a much more balanced split of 51 Republican seats to 49 Democrat seats. Needless to say, there was a vastly different energy abuzz in the GA this session. And with this new energy abuzz, there were also a set of new politics, voting strategies, and trends that quickly began to emerge within our legislature.

Data captured by Virginia’s Public Access Project (VPAP), a nonprofit nonpartisan organization providing insight into politics in Virginia, provides us with a clearer picture of the impact of this nearly even House split in 2018.  Looking at rates of recorded party-line votes – these are votes where Republicans or Democrats voted unanimously on an issue – we find that House Republicans were 57% more likely to vote party-line in 2018 than they were in 2017. That’s a jump from 20% Republican party-line votes in 2017 to 77% Republican party-line votes in 2018. Democrats, on the other hand, were slightly more likely to vote independently.

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Source: Virginia’s Legislative Information Service, URL: https://www.vpap.org/visuals/visual/party-line-votes/

While some political forecasters predicted more bipartisan collaboration in 2018, this wasn’t always how things panned out. Given the nearly house split and the new trends in committee and subcommittee party-line voting, those bills that sought to do things like make reporting easier and more trauma-informed for sexual assault survivors on campus, or require consent education as part of the Family Life Education curriculum, or protect LGBTQ Virginians from housing and employment discrimination – all wonderful steps in the direction of achieving equity and cultural change – were either defeated or significantly changed as a result of party politics and voting practices. Though our legislature may not be entirely ready for sweeping social change, the good news is that they did agree on a handful of bills that would be beneficial to survivors and the advocates who serve them. Let’s take a look at a few of those now.

Highlights from this session: laws impacting advocates and survivors

Changing VA’s Family Life Education Curriculum: Consent, Sexting, & Boundaries

Right now, education on the “law and meaning of consent” are permissive elements of the Virginia Family Life Education (FLE) Curriculum. Meaning that should a parent allow their child to participate in FLE programming in a public-school system that includes consent education teaching about consent might show up in school-based instruction. Building on their bills that made this possible in previous years, Delegate Filler-Corn and Senator McClellan set out to make the “law and meaning of consent” a mandatory part of Family Life Education in 2018. Unfortunately, these efforts were blocked, on party-line votes, by a House Education Subcommittee. However, the Senate and House did pass a bill that requires any high school FLE curriculum offered by a local school division to incorporate age-appropriate elements of effective and evidence-based programs on the prevention of sexual harassment using electronic means (read: sexting and digital harassment) and the importance of personal privacy and boundaries (read: bullying, harassment, and bodily autonomy). This bill also permits any FLE curriculum offered by a local school division to incorporate age-appropriate elements of effective and evidence-based programs on the prevention, recognition, and awareness of child abduction, child abuse, child sexual exploitation, and child sexual abuse (read: Erin’s Law). Just like the issue of consent education, any instruction on child abduction, abuse, or sexual exploitation is permitted but not required. The bottom line: these are improvements to the code, but we’ve still got some work to do!

Dismantling VA’s school-to-prison-pipeline

Early on in the session, the Virginia Legislative Black Caucus announced a series of bills intended to curb the school-to-prison-pipeline and promote conditions that ensure every child reaches their full potential. Of the four major bills introduced, two of them were passed. Students in pre-k through third grade are now protected from being suspended for more than 3 days or expelled from attendance at school (with exceptions for “certain criminal acts”). Similarly, another bill reduces the maximum length of a long-term suspension from 364 calendar days to 45 school days (with certain exceptions). These bills set us in the right direction and offer our lawmakers the opportunity to engage in discussion with those communities and advocates who are directly impacted by the school-to-prison-pipeline or trauma-to-prison-pipeline. That’s a good thing.

Reducing perpetrator access to firearms

Unfortunately, bills like Delegate Levine’s HB405 – intended to prohibit a person convicted of sexual battery or assault and battery against a family or household member from purchasing, possessing, or transporting a firearm – were cast as unnecessary firearms restrictions and subject to strict party-line votes in the House and Senate. Bills to encourage universal background checks, close gun-show loopholes, and ban bump stocks met a similar fate. These bills were typically defeated in committee and subcommittee rooms or were never voted on at all.

#MeToo: Sexual harassment training for the Legislative Branch

DLike many other state legislatures around the country and amidst the cultural wave of the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, Virginia’s legislature moved to adopt sexual harassment training as a requirement for the Legislative Branch every two years beginning in 2019. While the discussion over the what, when, and how of this training was highly debated on the House floor, the end result is a move in the direction of responding to and preventing sexual harassment in the legislature (pictured here are House Democrat and Republican leaders, Delegate Watts and Delegate Gilbert discussing the legislative response to #MeToo). This is an area of focus that we hope our lawmakers will expand on and learn from in future sessions, in an effort to build truly comprehensive sexual harassment prevention and response strategies. For examples of what this might look like – and what our Policy Team has been using in our ongoing communications with partners and lawmakers alike – see the Texas Association Against Sexual Assault’s timely white paper, Assessing Sexual Harassment Response and Prevention Strategies After #MeToo.

Resources, cell phone service, and lifted age restrictions for petitioners of protective orders

Building on prominent conversations from previous sessions, Senator Wexton’s original SB426 called for the Department of Criminal Justice Services (DCJS) and court clerks in the Commonwealth to distribute information on the local sexual and domestic violence agency, community service board, and other social services to petitioners of protective orders (emergency, preliminary, and permanent POs). A great idea, highlighting the power of advocacy in restoring hope and saving lives in our communities, but one that also, unfortunately, created fiscal impact. After a series of twists and turns, this bill became one that would require court clerks to distribute DCJS’ Protective Orders in VA – A Guide for Victims and Domestic Violence Victims in VA – Understanding the Legal Process for Victims of Family Abuse to petitioners of protective orders statewide.

Another change to protective order statute this session – and one that we have reservations about – enables judges to grant petitioners of family abuse protective orders (and where appropriate, any household member of the petitioner) exclusive use and possession of a cellular device. While this new law certainly comes from a place of good intentions – ensuring that survivors of violence don’t lose access to their cellular device, including important data stored on that device – it also has the unintended consequence of allowing the respondent of a protective order access to everything that comes along with maintaining that cellular device: plan information including incoming and outgoing calls/texts, GPS, etc. In this increasingly digital age, it’s not uncommon for us to see a survivor be harassed, manipulated, and stalked through electronic means. Given this, the final bill also includes a brief caveat stating that “the court may enjoin the respondent from using a cellular telephone or other electronic device to locate the petitioner”. We are confident that survivors who are working with advocates in the process of petitioning for a family abuse protective order will be informed about these concerns and will be able to work with their advocate to determine what is best for them/their safety as part of a larger safety planning process.

Another interesting bill (HB1212), carried by Delegate Cline, changes Virginia code to allow a minor to designate a “next friend” in court pleadings and motions. This bill allows a “next friend” – which can be a parent, legal guardian, or individual designated to serve as the authorized representative of an individual who has been determined to lack capacity to consent or authorize the disclosure of information – to sign pleadings, motions, or other papers required by the court. Previously under Virginia law, a minor who was unable to afford an attorney could not sign court pleadings on behalf of themselves and a parent of a minor who was unable to afford an attorney could not sign court pleadings on behalf of their children. This was obviously a barrier to minors – and particularly those from low-income families – pursuing and accessing protective orders (or similar pleadings and motions) within the court system. This small change in the code should make it easier for both parents of minors without an attorney AND minors without an attorney to file for protection orders in Virginia.

Looking forward

As we prepare for lawmakers to reconvene in Richmond, finalize our state budget, and decide on whether or not to expand Medicaid in Virginia, the Action Alliance Policy Team will be working with our members, partners, and lobbyists to amplify the voice of survivors in the ongoing work of this special session and the roll-out of new legislation in 2018. With the intersections of domestic and sexual violence, poverty, and access to healthcare being such prominent issues with which our movement grapples, we anticipate program and survivor voices being important ones for our legislators to hear from. Be on the lookout (via Facebook, Twitter, email, etc.) for action alerts and calls for support from our Policy Team in the upcoming weeks! Please also be on the lookout for a full end-of-session report made available to membership by mid-April.


Jonathan Yglesias is the Policy Director at the Virginia Sexual & Domestic Violence Action Alliance where he works with a team of advocates, movement minds, attorneys, and passionate policy nerds to coordinate the Action Alliance’s public policy efforts on behalf of survivors, sexual and domestic violence agencies, and communities in Virginia seeking to improve the prevention of and response to sexual and domestic violence. Since 2007, Jonathan has worked in the anti-violence and public health fields in various capacities – coordinating primary prevention projects for a state coalition, managing Rape Prevention & Education funds for a state health department, supporting prevention and outreach projects on a college campus, and consulting with national resource centers on violence prevention and anti-oppression work. Jonathan is a sociologist by training and an outspoken advocate for Southern social justice work, LGBTQ youth empowerment initiatives, the movement for black lives, and any space in which people are re-envisioning a world free from violence and oppression. Jonathan is also a pop-culture + pizza + animal lover living in Richmond, Virginia with his partner, their 2 dogs, and a one-eyed cat.


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

On Conscious Living: Ending a System of Human Trafficking

Last month, students from around the world participated in my #MyFreedomDay to celebrate freedom and raise awareness about modern-day slavery.

At the Bangalore International School in India, students in the third and fourth grades talked about what freedom means to them.

At the Saint Mary of the Hills school in Argentina, students composed a song about freedom.

At the International School of Amsterdam in the Netherlands, students signed a petition urging governments to take action to help stop modern-day slavery and human rights abuses.

If there’s something we can learn from these concerned students, it’s their care and their desire to raise awareness and take action into bringing about a world of safety and freedom. Though young, they remind us of the innate goodness of humanity, thereby planting the seeds of hope for a better future and inspiring us adults to take action.

When it comes to human trafficking, people sometimes tend to feel detached from the issue. Since – according to their misconceptions – it’s not happening in their backyards, they feel that there isn’t anything they can do about it. That, of course, is not quite true. In fact, since 2007, the National Human Trafficking Hotline has reported 40,200 cases of human trafficking – the majority of which are sex trafficking cases – in the United States. Here in Richmond, Virginia, we are ranked the ninth highest in the country for the most reported cases per capita of human trafficking, according to a report published in 2017 by the National Human Trafficking Hotline. And it’s not just about where it occurs or how close it is to us or how much at risk we personally are; it’s about how we can unknowingly be complicit in a system that upholds human trafficking.

For example, when it comes to commercial sexual exploitation of children, it’s important to recognize how we end up contributing to the problem in our daily lives and what steps we can take to dismantle our own harmful contributions. The solution starts with self-awareness—recognizing our own biases, our own flaws, and where we need to improve on ourselves.

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This diagram shows how various behaviors and other forms of oppression can ultimately lead Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC). Life of Freedom Center: https://www.lofcenter.org

Another way to reduce our indirect, but harmful, impact on this issue is by being conscious consumers who are mindful of what brands or companies we are supporting. According to the United States Department of Labor, there are over 370 line items believed to have been produced by child labor or forced labor. In fact, popular clothing companies such as Adidas, Gap, and H&M were believed to have ties to slave labor, according to an article published in Salon. Sadly, this applies to a long list of companies, ranging from Walmart to Victoria’s Secret to Starbucks – who, through prison slavery, exploit people’s labor for profit just like human trafficking does – to Nestle. The same goes for sex trafficking, as well, which has an estimated 4.5 million victims worldwide. For example, are we conscious of whether we visit and support strip clubs where workers are forced to provide commercial sex to customers? Are we researching to make sure we’re not supporting illicit massage businesses that force human trafficking victims to engage in commercial sex?

As citizens of the world, it is our responsibility to be mindful of which practices and which industries our time and money are supporting and ask ourselves if we are – albeit unintentionally – complicit in contributing to modern-day slavery and human trafficking.

Whether it’s through using methods such as boycotting and buycotting to become more deliberate consumers or by doing our part to raise awareness about human trafficking (like the active students who participated in #MyFreedomDay), there are always ways we can help – if even in the tiniest bit – to end human trafficking. One of the most powerful methods to go about enacting change is by addressing the root of the problem.

Like all forms of oppression, human trafficking is intersectional. According to the National Human Trafficking Hotline, there are various recurring vulnerabilities among victims of trafficking, especially sex trafficking. For example, immigration status is a recurring vulnerability; strip club networks often target victims of particular cultural or ethnic backgrounds. Those in vulnerable financial situations, such as individuals who have debt or family debts, are often targets for sex trafficking as well.

This pattern is not unique to the United States, of course; the same goes for those targeted for sex trafficking all around the world. In Italy, migrants from Nigeria who come in pursuit of educational and economic equality are highly at risk for sex trafficking. Even in Canada, the indigenous population makes up just 4% of the nation, yet 50% of those trafficked for sex due to a legacy of poverty and racism. However, by empowering individuals from marginalized communities, supporting immigrant and indigenous people’s rights, and continuing to stand up for racial justice, as well as economic justice, we can help prevent more people from falling into human trafficking.

Lastly, it is important to ensure that there are always safe havens for survivors of trafficking and for those who come from marginalized populations at a risk to be trafficked. It’s not just about providing physical places of refuge, but about creating a society that is, at large, a place of security and freedom. It’s about all of us becoming safe havens ourselves, about becoming individuals who use our own privileges and power to bring about a safer and more just world.

Which practices have your time and money supported this week? What have you done today to empower other individuals? And what will you do tomorrow to embody a safe haven within yourself?

Featured image: CNN: https://www.cnn.com/specials/world/myfreedomday


Maryum Elnasseh is a second-year student at Virginia Commonwealth University, where she is double-majoring in journalism and political science, with a concentration in civil rights. At the Action Alliance, Maryum is an intern for the Real Story Internship. She hopes to use her voice as a tool to ignite social change. 

America’s Shame: A Black Mother’s Fight for Life

“When I woke up, they were handing me my little girl and all I could see were these big pretty eyes. At this point, I’m thinking the worst is over; we’re going to go home, be a family, join her brother. Everything is going to be ok!”

Like many new mothers, my mom thought that the worst was over after the delivery, but she soon found out that her journey was just beginning.

With a 5-year-old son at home, my mother and grandmother packed their things and headed to the hospital as labor pains began to strike on New Year’s Day, 1995. The plan was to have birth by cesarean delivery, not that she had much choice.

Despite the fact that she had already one healthy child through vaginal delivery, her new obstetrician insisted that was not an option this time around. Due to a condition he described as being untreatable and not conducive to vaginal delivery, she would need to undergo surgery.

She would have to trust that surgery to a new doctor, in a hospital she was unfamiliar with. Despite having a college education and five years as a federal employee under her belt, her medical insurance gave her few options for a doctor, so she made a random selection; a selection she would soon regret.

Every year about 700 mothers in the US die from pregnancy or childbirth-related causes and while maternal death rates decline in every other industrialized country, they continue to increase in the US, especially amongst Black mothers (who die at 3-4 times the rate of white mothers). That year, while giving birth to me, my mom almost became one of those 700 mothers.

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Though I knew of her experience from the stories my grandmother occasionally told while tears formed in her eyes, for the first time I was able to hear every detail as my mom remembered living them 23 years ago.

As my mom recalled the experience to me, she, like many Black women, remembered feeling like she was devalued by the doctors that she put so much trust in.

“I’m in the room and I can actually feel them cutting into my stomach for the C-section,” she hesitantly started. “I yelled out in pain. I remember the murmuring that was going on in the room as if it was just yesterday. Someone asked ‘oh my gosh, is anyone here with her?’ and someone responded ‘her mom’s in the waiting room.’ All I remember after that is them [sedating] me some more.

After all of that, when I later talked to my mom I found out that even though they did acknowledge that someone was in the waiting room, waiting on me, no one ever went to talk to her about what happened. She had no idea about what had gone on in the delivery room… I feel that the hospital staff was murmuring amongst themselves and asking who was there with me as if ‘if no one was here then it wouldn’t matter.’”

Despite this traumatizing surgery, my mom was just glad to have me in her arms and was eager to return home to my brother. As the weeks went by, my mom anticipated the moment she could get back to life as a mother, wife, and career woman, but she never expected to have those plans delayed.

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More than half of maternal deaths occur in the postpartum period – within one year of giving birth. For American women in general, postpartum care is often dangerously inadequate. Being so overwhelmed in the health and care of the newest addition to their family, many new mothers attend no more than a single appointment four to six weeks after going home.

“Normally we were allowed up to six weeks [of maternity leave]. And that’s exactly what I had done, I was prepared to go back to work. But the week before I was scheduled to go back to work, I had pain in my body.

I was rushed back to the Emergency Room at the hospital that I had the baby and they determined that I acquired an infection from the C-section… As a result of that, they had to remove my appendix and my right ovary, which caused me to be in the hospital for at least a week.

When I arrived at the hospital, I requested to see my obstetrician. I never saw him again, he never visited me at the hospital. They sent me home again and I thought I would be fine.

Again, I’m preparing to return to work. The week before I was supposed to return, I had pain all on the right side of my body; to the point that I couldn’t stand up. We called the ambulance again and I remember them asking my mom, ‘where do you want us to take her this time?’

This time my mom made a decision to go a different hospital. Before I left, I’ll never forget it, I looked at my now six-year-old son as if it would be the last time that I would see him because I wasn’t sure if I would make it back home.

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This situation led to over three months of my mom being in and out of the hospital and having three surgeries, the last one making a difference between life and death. The cycle finally ended when my grandmother made the decision to take my mom to a different hospital, where they not only assisted in her full recovery but also confirmed that the “untreatable condition” that she was previously diagnosed with, was actually a misdiagnosis and that she could have given birth naturally – which is exactly what she did ten years later when we were blessed with my little sister, Kayla.

Every year, hundreds of mothers’ lives are cut short and hundreds of children are deprived of a relationship with their mothers due to circumstances that are often preventable. While many of these mothers are Black, have low incomes, and/or live in rural areas, a 2016 report of five years of data found that Black, college-educated mothers who gave birth in local hospitals were still more likely to suffer severe complications of pregnancy or childbirth than white women who never graduated from high school.

Malpractice, possible prejudices, and limited access to resources have often been cited as the causes for so many Black and low-income mothers’ deaths, but they may not be the only culprits. A recent article from Vox on the postpartum death of Erica Gardner names chronic stress as a possible reason why maternal mortality disproportionately affects Black women, despite their income or education level.

The article notes how day-to-day stressors such as poverty, limited or infrequent access to health care, harsher discipline in schools, and lower pay can contribute to a lifetime of high stress among Black women. And while that chronic stress, driven by racism and discrimination plays a large role, particularly stressful incidents such as the trauma of police violence could be having an even more dangerous effect on Black mothers.

Christen Smith, an associate professor of Africa and African diaspora studies and anthropology at the University of Texas at Austin, was quoted in the article stating, “when we think of police lethality, we typically consider the immediate body count: the people that die from bullets and baton blows. The death toll gives the impression that black men are the disproportionate victims of police killings. But these numbers do not reveal the slow death that Black women experience.”

Despite the fact that we experience chronic stress and are more likely to report having serious psychological distress, mental health is still a taboo subject in the Black community and we are often told that it is just a state of mind. I spoke with Shatara Monet, the founder of Virginia-based nonprofit Queens Uniting to Empower Every Nation (QUEEN), who shared just how detrimental these cultural perceptions of mental health can be on Black mothers.

“Most Black women have a stigma placed on them that they have to be strong no matter what they go through… As a community we have created a culture where mental health is not important and where we must keep pushing and do what we’ve got to do. When mental health issues are suppressed or not treated, the reactions that may occur could be destructive to Black families. It is okay to not be okay and to seek the help needed to overcome.”

QUEEN encourages women of color to discuss mental health and their sisterhood of advocates encourages healing through self-love and care.

Many other organizations, both nationally and locally, have come together to address maternal mortality such as the Black Mamas Matter Alliance (BMMA), which was co-founded by SisterSong Reproductive Justice Collective and the Center for Reproductive Rights in June 2015 to advance the human right to safe and respectful maternal health care.

These organizations are leading a new wave of the reproductive justice movement that is putting Black women and their families at the forefront. To help others understand the importance of this movement and how easy it is to get involved and make a change, the BMMA offers a toolkit that can be accessed through their website.

 


Sources:

https://www.npr.org/2017/12/07/568948782/black-mothers-keep-dying-after-giving-birth-shalon-irvings-story-explains-why

https://fusion.tv/video/390130/death-by-delivery/


Ki’ara Montgomery is a recent graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University with a Bachelor’s degree in public relations, and minors in business and gender, sexuality, and women’s studies. She is currently working with the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance as Member and Donor Liaison.

I Deserve a Hero Who Looks Like Me

Loud. Angry. Desperate.

Leave it to mainstream media and anyone encountering me would think that those words describe me because the media continues to portray Black women as characters that play into common stereotypes.

“We’ve seen the drugged-out mother storyline in Losing Isaiah and Moonlight. We saw Mo’Nique beat her daughter and throw a baby down the stairs in the film Precious; and [Taraji P.] Henson as a pregnant prostitute in Hustle & Flow. We saw a woman allow her children to [be murdered by their father] in For Colored Girls; and Octavia Spencer and [Viola] Davis as domestics in The Help.”1

In fact, the American Advertising Federation and Zeta Phi Beta, a historically Black sorority, released a white paper featuring the 8 most frequently cited African-American female stereotypes. On this list included “the hood rat,” “the desperate single,” “the angry Black woman,” and “the mammy.”

During an interview with Variety, former first lady, Michelle Obama, commented on this issue stating, “for so many people, television and movies may be the only way they understand people who aren’t like them.”

This lack of positive representation leads those who don’t live in communities with positive representations susceptible to assumptions, stereotypes, and biases.

But the harm doesn’t stop there. According to Nielsen, a global information, data, and measurement company, Black TV viewers watch roughly 57 more hours than white viewers (averaging 213 hours per month) and Black women watch 14 more hours of TV per week than any other ethnic group.

Teenage girls and young Black women (who are 59% more likely to watch reality TV) are constantly seeing how we are portrayed in the media and looking up to this as the standard. Or we aren’t seeing Black women at all and feel isolated.

In September 2017, the Action Alliance hosted a Black Women’s Town Hall. This was a chance for our community to come together and discuss issues that we face. Heartbroken, Virginia Delegate Delores McQuinn recalled the moment that her granddaughter was vocal about the lack of representation of Black women:

“My 3-year-old granddaughter came to me recently on a Sunday night,” she started. “‘Gilo, I wanna be white. I want their hair and I wanna be a princess.’ I stayed up all night that Sunday night. My granddaughter has an environment where everything is afro-centric. Pictures of Black women on the walls, statues, doll babies, books. She goes to a predominantly African American school… We’re talking about pulling down monuments which she may or may not see, and all of us have televisions in our homes that they see every day. How can we say to the system that we demand that Black women and African American people are reflected [positively] in the school books and on television?”

Seeing Black women as educated, successful, and respected (both in the media and in person) has a huge effect on the way young Black girls see themselves and their roles in society.

“When I come across many little Black girls who come up to me over the course of these 7 1/2 years with tears in their eyes and they say ‘thank you for being a role model for me. I don’t see educated Black women on TV and the fact that you’re First Lady validates who I am,'” Obama reminisces.

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Actress Lupita Nyong’o giving her acceptance speech at the Oscars
 Image Source: https://www.buzzfeed.com/alannabennett/reminders-that-representation-really-is-important?utm_term=.ek6wOb58KK#.rfDEO3wZ11

 

Like Obama, Virginia Delegate Delores McQuinn and several other Virginia legislators are putting themselves in a position to not only be positive public figures for Black girls but to also improve the Black community as a whole.

Delegate McQuinn, Senator Louise Lucas, Delegate Jeion Ward, Senator Jennifer McClellan, and Delegate Jennifer Carroll Foy have introduced a number of bills this year to increase racial justice and food justice and prevent the trauma-to-prison pipeline, including:

  • a program to provide funding for the construction or expansion of grocery stores in underserved communities (Del. McQuinn, House Bill 69);
  • the restoration of voting rights for those convicted of nonviolent felonies (Sen. Lucas, Senate Joint Resolution 5); and
  • eliminating the requirement that principals report certain misdemeanor incidents to local police ( Foy, House Bill 445)

McQuinn is inspired by strong and successful Black women like civil rights leader, healthcare executive, and health activist Roslyn Brock. She wants to ensure that the Black girls in her community have a plethora of positive Black role models to guide them, including herself.

Not only is McQuinn a Delegate for Virginia, but she is also the Chair of the Richmond Slave Trail Commission, a minister in Henrico County, VA, and has dedicated her time to advocating for the development of an African American History and Slave Trade Museum in Richmond, Virginia.

 

To ensure that she is having a lasting impact on the lives of children in her community, McQuinn started a nonprofit: the East End Teen Center. The Teen Center has been providing a six-to-eight-week Writing Institute to 11 to 15-year-olds in Richmond Public Schools for the last ten years.

While at the Writing Institute, students are able to improve their reading and writing skills, gain self-confidence, and develop a love for learning and storytelling. At the end of the session, the students’ writings are compiled into books and published.

Our girls deserve to see Black women like this in the media. Our girls deserve positive role models. Our girls deserve to see positive representations of themselves when they turn on the TV.

Strong. Educated. Caring.


1Kerwin, Ann Marie. “The ‘Angry Black Woman’ Makes Real Women Angry.” Ad Age, 27 Sept. 2017, adage.com/article/media/angry-black-woman-makes-real-women-angry/310633/.


Ki’ara Montgomery is a recent graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University with a Bachelor’s degree in public relations, and minors in business and gender, sexuality, and women’s studies. She is currently working with the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance as Member and Donor Liaison.

 

 

Thinking Back, Looking Forward: 2017 in Review

2017 had a lot in store for us here at the Action Alliance. Together we were able to reach new heights and overcome the largest obstacles. We thank you for all of your support in 2017! But before we leap into 2018, we invite you to take a look at all that we were able to accomplish together this year.

Building Healthy Futures

In April we hosted our 5th installment of the Building Healthy Futures conference series, in partnership with the Virginia Department of Health and Virginia Department of Social Services. This year’s theme was Linking Public Health & Activism to Prevent Sexual & Intimate Partner Violence. We were honored to have Maheen Kaleem and Dr. Alexis Pauline Gumbs as our keynote speakers and many others as trainers.

Bravery: Asking “What If?” and “Why Not?”

We hosted over 180 advocates across the state at this year’s biennial retreat at Radford University, where our theme was Bravery. We acknowledged our Catalyst Award honorees, Soyinka Rahim guided us as our Conference Weaver, caped crusader Nan Stoops delivered our opening keynote, and Nubia Peña and Cynthia Peña gave an incredible joint keynote on the final day of the conference. In between we learned, questioned, and practiced self-care with the guidance of advocates statewide.

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Bridging the Justice Gap in Virginia

Our newly-launched Project for the Empowerment of Survivors (“PES”) helps to bridge the justice gap in Virginia by connecting survivors of intimate partner violence with the legal services they need. The PES seeks to bridge the justice gap for survivors in the following ways:

  • By partnering with local sexual assault and domestic violence agencies to identify survivors who need legal services;
  • By employing dedicated legal interns and advocates to answer legal questions and provide legal information to survivors;
  • By employing on-staff attorneys to provide free legal counsel and advice to survivors;
  • By referring survivors to community-based private attorneys who agree to take cases on a reduced fee or pro bono basis;
  • By training attorneys and advocates to provide trauma-informed legal services and legal advocacy; and
  • By helping survivors from marginalized communities pay for private attorneys through the use of our Legal Fund.

Uplifting the Voices of Our Communities

As an agency we came together to support two marches this year: the March for Black Women and the Juvenile Justice parade. In conjunction with the March for Black Women, we also hosted our very own (and very first!) Black Women’s Town Hall. Black women throughout the community (including Delegate McQuinn, Delegate Airde, and Delegate Price) gathered in our office to voice concerns within the community.

2017 in review 1

Partnering with Governor McAuliffe to Support Survivors

We were pleased to accept a donation of $57,535 from Governor Terry McAuliffe in support of ending sexual and domestic violence and sexual harassment statewide. Governor McAuliffe  further demonstrated his support for victims and survivors in the Commonwealth. We applaud Governor McAuliffe for his act of generosity and look forward to continued partnerships with the Governor’s Office and the Virginia General Assembly in this work

Writing Our Future Story

Members from across the state of Virginia came together for our final membership meeting of the year. During this meeting, they took a step back from the world’s current state and imagined the world that they would like to leave behind for their descendants. This dreaming and asking the questions “what if?” and “why not?” will guide us in 2018 as we create a blueprint to build that new world.

Honoring Those Whose Actions Give Us Hope

Thanks to our dedicated staff and Act Honor Hope Committee, we were able to host one of our most successful Act Honor Hope events to date! With nearly 200 advocates from across the state in attendance, we honored the groundbreaking work of Senator Jennifer McClellan and Delegate Eileen Filler-Corn, SARA, and a passionate group of students from Charlottesville High School. Together they ensured that legislation was passed incorporating the concept of consent into healthy relationship education in Virginia’s public schools.

2017 in review 2

Writing Our Future Story: The Power of Asking “What If” and “Why Not”

Growing up I was often given titles such as difficult and nosey. I’d quickly correct those who called me the latter, “Oh no, I’m not nosey, I’m just curious.” I continuously felt a need to justify my inquisitive mind.

Over time, the need to justify myself transformed into a lack of curiosity altogether. I became exhausted with explaining why I had so many questions and sometimes even being punished for asking them. Of course, I still wondered and asked in my head, but all too often these questions were never heard outside of my own thoughts.

I now find myself wanting to reignite that fire and let the flames of curiosity burn. I have been reacquainted with the power of asking questions like “what if” and “why not”. I was reminded that being inquisitive and curious, though often seen as negative traits, are actually positive ones. Asking questions helps us create innovative ideas and anticipate what’s next.

As I sat in on the Action Alliance’s Membership meeting on Friday, December 7, we were encouraged to ask ourselves and each other “what if…”

What if education was free?

What if everyone had a home?

What if society valued compassion over money?

A space was created for us to wonder. We were allowed to imagine what could be possible in a world 500 years from now and question the obstacles that are holding us back from making our ideal future world a reality. This world where we embrace differences… where freedom, peace, and happiness are guaranteed… a world where we not only coexist with each other and the world around us, but we inter-exist.  A world where we look out for each other and we support each other.

This questioning will guide us in 2018. We will continue to ask ourselves what if and why not and imagine how the world could change and then use these thoughts to create a blueprint for our actions. We hope that creating a plan of action to create the world we want will help us leave a better home to the many generations after us.

Stay tuned for 2018 Membership Meeting dates, at which we will be building opportunities to set long-term movement trajectories and how to get there!


Ki’ara Montgomery is a recent graduate of Virginia Commonwealth University with a bachelor’s degree in public relations, and minors in business and gender, sexuality, and women’s studies. While in school, she had opportunities with VCU AmeriCorps, Culture4MyKids, VCU School of Education, and the Richmond Raiders. She is currently working with the Virginia Sexual and Domestic Violence Action Alliance as Member and Donor Liaison.


Featured image credit: Ki’ara Montgomery

A Chance in the World

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

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

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

Zora Neale Hurston

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

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

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

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

Mahatma Gandhi

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


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


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