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

Act. Honor. Hope.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 


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

 

Justice Parade: Be a Megaphone for Incarcerated Youth

The Action Alliance will soon gather in Richmond with Art 180,  Rise for Youth, and hundreds of other artists, activists, formerly incarcerated individuals, families, and concerned citizens to honor and celebrate the lives of youth affected by Virginia’s shameful trauma-to-prison pipeline.

We will meet for the 3rd Annual Juvenile Justice Parade on Friday, November 3rd at 5 p.m.  at  E. Marshall and 9th St beside the Department of Social Services

The parade will feature musicians, chants written by incarcerated youth, community members carrying art created by incarcerated youth, and an open opportunity for anyone to speak up for youth who continue to be impacted by the school-to-prison pipeline.

Participants will be provided signs, posters, and banners.

The parade will end at ART 180’s youth gallery, ATLAS, where they are currently showing the “My Reality” exhibition, a groundbreaking exhibition and virtual reality installation created by teens impacted by the juvenile justice system in Richmond, VA.

Want to join? Sign up for event updates on Facebook and/or contact Kate McCord to receive updates. Bring your positive energy and voices to be a megaphone for our youth!

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Featured image: Art180


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. 

 

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.