Off the Grid to Journey Deep Within (January 10-February 12, 2017)

IMG_3724.JPG

People frequently ask me how I do the trauma specific work that I do in the world.  There are two specific unwavering and non-negotiable supports that literally enable me to do this work: therapy and vipassana meditation

Since 1992, one of my continuous core sources of support has been Dr. Clara Whaley-Perkins who is a licensed clinical Black feminist psychologist, author, and the founding executive director of the Life After Trauma Organization. Over the past two decades I've been able to journey far and deep within the sacred confines of Dr. Whaley-Perkins' office. 

Additionally, I've been a student of and practitioner of the teachings of Buddha through Vipassana Meditation, as taught by S.N. Goenka in the tradition of Sayagi U Ba Khin since I completed my first ten-day vipassana mediation course in January 2003.  My first ten-day course was a transformational experience. I experienced this universal, non-sectarian technique/practice to be one (not the only) way to lead to one's own personal liberation.

Since my first vipassana meditation course course, I’ve had the opportunity to sit and/or serve courses every single year.  I've also worked diligently to establish a practice of sitting everyday, twice a day, for an hour at each sitting. This was not, and at times, it is still not an easy feat for me at all. However through lived experiences over the fourteen years since my first ten-day course, I’m learning that my daily practice of sitting must be non-negotiable. As one cleanses their body daily, I experientially learn that one must work diligently and consistently to purify the mind. A daily two-hour practice sometimes barely cleans the surface, let alone the depths.

#LoveWITHAccountability is a deeper continuation of the work that I began with my film NO! The Rape Documentary. It is also a product of the tools that I learned through my work with Dr. Whaley-Perkins and my practice of vipassana meditation. I talk about this in my interview on The Spin with my mother Dr. Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons and producer/host Esther Armah. I do not believe the concept for #LoveWITHAccountability would exist were it not for the consistently hardcore work that I've been doing since both 1992 when I first entered Dr. Whaley-Perkins' office and 2002 when I sat my first vipassana course. 

Therapy and vipassana meditation are integral components of my work. They are not separate from the work and should not be viewed as extra-curricular activities. My work would not exist without either one of them. 

IMG_3736.JPG

From January 10, 2017 through February 12, 2017, I will be off of the grid completely to sit a 30-day vipassana meditation course. This will be my second 30-day course. I took my first 30-day course in 2013. I am unwavering in my belief that my work during my first 30-day course gave me the final push that I needed to tackle my own child sexual abuse work with my family. 

To be clear, vipassana courses are not vacations, not by a long shot. They offer an in-depth period of time to do a compassionately rigorous self-examination that begins at 4:30am and ends at 9:00pm every single day. This work (including during rest periods and when one retires for the evening) is done without any contact with the outside world including: no reading, no talking, no music, no writing, no chanting, and/or no food after noon – unless you’re pregnant, diabetic, hypoglycemic or other special reasons. It is through this deep meditative work that I work diligently to emerge with more compassion and insight about myself and by extension my work in the world.

Ever since the early morning of November 9, 2016, I have vacillated about whether or not to cancel my participation in this 30-day course so that I could bear witness to this painful inauguration and participate in protests in response to it. I decided to move forward with my plans that were confirmed in August 2016. These struggles will continue and my affirmation is that I will be able to engage in them with more insight, compassion, and mettā.  

May All Beings Be Happy.

Federal Roundtable on Ending Child Sexual Abuse

federalroundtable1.jpg

On December 19, 2016, the Office of Violence Against Women, US Department of Justice in Partnership with the Just Beginnings Collaborative (JBC) hosted a Roundtable on Ending Child Sexual Abuse, which was held at the Office of Justice Programs in Washington, DC. The brainchild and vision of JBC-grantee Luz Marquez Benbow, the purpose of the meeting was to engage in a critical dialogue with federal agencies about the work to end child sexual abuse, while highlighting the leadership of survivors and community-based culturally specific approaches to ending child sexual abuse.  

#LoveWITHAccountability creator Aishah Shahidah Simmons presented on Panel II: Survivors Organizing for Justice and Accountability. She shared the panel with JBC grantees: (L-R) Strong Oak Lefebvre (Visioning BEAR Circle Intertribal Coalition), Aqeela Sherrills (The Reverence Project), Erin Esposito (IGNITE), Sonya Shah (Project Ahimsa), and Sujatha Baliga (Impact Justice)

#LoveWITHAccountability creator Aishah Shahidah Simmons presented on Panel II: Survivors Organizing for Justice and Accountability. She shared the panel with JBC grantees: (L-R) Strong Oak Lefebvre (Visioning BEAR Circle Intertribal Coalition), Aqeela Sherrills (The Reverence Project), Erin Esposito (IGNITE), Sonya Shah (Project Ahimsa), and Sujatha Baliga (Impact Justice)

federalroundtable3.jpg

Here's a brief excerpt from the statement that I read at the roundtable:

"My name is Aishah Shahidah Simmons and my JBC-funded project is called #LoveWITHAccountability.  It was conceived and born out of my own personal child sexual abuse healing work... What I have learned so far through this work, and through my own personal journey, is that love with accountability is hard—perhaps nothing is harder—but it is worth the struggle.  Child sexual abuse, by its nature, is complex and together we must demand accountability systems that honor that complexity.  Until we do, we will not end this epidemic. "

***

I had a lot of initial and also subsequent reticence about attending/participating at the Office of Violence Against Women (US Department of Justice) in partnership with the Just Beginnings Collaborative's Roundtable on Ending Child Sexual Abuse because I have always, always worked outside of government structures. I decided to take an intentional leap because I trusted JBC-fellow, sister-survivor Luz Marquez-Benbow's vision that was FULLY supported by JBC's executive director Monique Hoeflinger.

I was emotionally full after one and a half days of meeting, connecting, deep listening, deep authentic sharing, and co-envisioning a world without violence with sibling survivor comrades in the inaugural JBC cohort. It was also a powerful experience to share and engage with appointed and career staff who work on violence against children in U.S. Government Agencies. A huge part of that power was sharing the space with incredibly courageous child sexual abuse survivors and advocates whose lived experiences are different from my own, but who share a demonstrated commitment to addressing this inhumane epidemic humanely. We were a compassionate truth telling collective of individuals.

For many of us in the JBC cohort, it was the first time that we met each other in person. For all* of us who were able to attend, it was the first time that we gathered. I am exhausted and simultaneously invigorated, challenged, and inspired.

*Kimber J Nicoletti, Joanne N. Smith, Mia Mingus weren't able to attend.

federalroundtable4.jpg

#LoveWITHAccountability Goes Global

thespintwitter.jpg

In 1994, when I first envisioned what is now known as NO! The Rape Documentary, I was solely focused on rape and other forms of sexual assault in Black communities. Never in my wildest imaginations did I ever think that the documentary as a work-in-progress, rough cut and completed film would resonate with and educate many individuals in. Canada, and multiple countries in Europe, Africa, Asia, the Pacific Islands, South American and the Caribbean.

Similarly and despite the fact that (like adult rape) child sexual abuse is a global pandemic, I didn't know if Love With Accountability would have a global reach. It was not a part of the original vision.

Thanks to Ghanaian-based producer/host/visionary Esther Armah, #LoveWITHAccountability has gone global through her weekly podcast The SPIN: all women media panel syndicated radio show.

Part one of The Spin's two-part #LoveWITHAccountability series featuring my mom Dr. Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons and me aired last night at 9pm in Ghana on Starr103.5FM

The show will aired in Nigeria and it is airing on several NPR affiliates in the United States. It is also available on sound cloud and iTunes via TheSpin1 channel.

If you missed it, you can also listen to part 1 of #TheSpin's #LoveWITHAccountability special series podcast in its entirety via this soundcloud link.

“Blooming from the wound where I once bled.”

IMG_3403.JPG

I first saw this image on December 9, 2016, which for me is Toni Cade Bambara ascension day on Sis Tisa Bryant's Instagram page.

"I am blooming from the wound where I once bled."

That sentence is one of my truths.

I experientially know this truth from my adult rape and multiple romantic heartaches over the past two decades. However I never ever in my best dreams thought that I would be able to know this truth in response to my child sexual abuse. I have been a #phoenixRISING since January 2015 when I drew a non-negotiable line in the sand with both of my divorced parents. But, I didn't fully believe there would be full accountability from either one of my parents...just when I truly believed I essentially gave up attachment to their loving me accountably, my mother came to grips with and named how she nor my dad protected me as a child and forced me to engage with my harm doer without his ever being held accountable for over three decades. Her revelation happened less than four months ago, 37 years after I was first molested for a period of two years.

While I firmly believe that my healing cannot be contingent upon other peoples words and actions, I experientially know that the work that my mother and I are doing privately and also publicly is fertile ground from which new seeds are blooming.

I may bleed again and I am clear that it will not be a setback.

Healing is a multi-layered journey and not a destination. 

Toni Cade Bambara Ascension Day

IMG_3375.JPG

I have several photos of Toni Cade Bambara and me. This one, which was taken by my father Michael Simmons in October 1994 at the Hatch-Billops Collection in New York, is my favorite photo of the two of us.

Toni had my back in so many ways. The profundity of this reality is that I was one of so many who Toni taught, supported, nurtured, encouraged, and challenged. I am grateful that I am one of the many beneficiaries in the United States and internationally.

¡Presente Toni Cade Bambara Always and Forever          March 25, 1939 - December 9, 1995!

 

IMG_3373.JPG

 

 

 

 

Acclaimed Black Feminist writer, cultural worker, Toni Cade Bambara asked this timeless question over three decades ago in her classic road map (aka award-winning novel) The Salt Eaters. The question is as relevant now  (if not more so) than it was when she first wrote it.


I believe the foundation of my #LoveWITHAccountability work is deeply connected to and intertwined with Toni’s prophetic question. 

Raliance Policy Two Day Think Tank

Survivors and/or Advocates from across the US gathered for the Raliance Policy Two Day Think Tank at The Dupont Circle in Washington, DC.

We listened, shared, learned, engaged, debates, and envisioned what a society founded on inhumane forms of violence could look like without violence. 

raliance1.jpg

Sister/sibling survivor-comrades and Just Beginnings Collaborative fellows/grantees inaugural cohort members Luz Marquez-Benbow, Kimber Nicoletti-Martinez, Me, and Amita Swadhin participated in the Think Tank. Luz was a member of the organizing committee.

 

 

 

raliance2.jpg

 

 

 

Sister-Survivor-Author Lori Robinson and I go back to the 1990s when we were working on our Black #rapeSurvivor centered projects: her book - I Will Survive: The African American Guide to Healing from Sexual Assault and Abuse) and my film NO! The Rape Documentary.  It is sobering that despite so many inroads made in the Anti Violence movement, we still have a very long road ahead of us.

[Audio] Part 1 of The Spin’s #LoveWITHAccountability special

December 8th, 2016, THE SPIN launched a 2-part special #LoveWITHAccountability, (audio) conversations on childhood sexual abuse, its legacy and what it means to love, accountably. Love With Accountability is my Just Beginnings Collaborative funded multi media campaign for child sexual abuse and incest survivors of African descent to speak out in solidarity and to share their testimonies and solutions for creating accountability for the violence done to them within their families.

aishahandzohara.jpg

PART 1: Features a powerful conversation between my mother Dr. Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons and me sharing our individual and joint journeys in confronting silence, peeling off masks, facing shame, finding healing from my childhood sexual abuse at the hands of her beloved Pop-pop (through my work with Dr. Clara Whaley Perkins and my dedicated practice of Vipassana Meditation), and my mother’s initial inability to understand the legacy of her inaction on my life. My mother and I reflected, cried, held space, spoke openly, and read excerpts of our joint article in the #LoveWITHAccountability Forum on The Feminist Wire.  

Listen and share here.

I am still reverberating from our three-way (Accra, Ghana & Gainesville, Florida & Washington, DC) conversation filled with unadulterated truth, tears, love, accountability and healing. There are no words that will EVER adequately convey the depth of my gratitude for my mother’s willingness to keep struggling and pushing until we arrived at this place, 37-years later, of true #LoveWITHAccountability. She’s not only doing this hardcore work behind closed doors with me, but she’s also sharing publicly sharing her journey in writing in her our joint article  and now on  THE SPIN. You can listen to The Spin below, on SoundCloud and iTunes podcast via The Spin1.

Deep Bows to THE SPIN’s producer and host Esther Armah for  creating the space for this two-week special. 

The December 15, 2016 show will feature Dr. Thema Bryant-Davis and Luz Marquez Benbow.

#Nov8 #VOTE

vote (4).png

I exercised a right that many in this country *still* do not have - the right to vote. It is a right that too many died for to have. It is a right that my divorced parents Dr. Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons and Michael Simmons put their literal lives on the line for in the 1960s. Voting is NOT the end. It is a continuation of hardcore, relentless struggles that we, who believe in peace, compassionate justice and freedom, must wage.

We must VOTE AND We must STRUGGLE.