“It Takes A Village”: Afterword to the #LoveWITHAccountability Forum by Aishah Shahidah Simmons

I had big plans for writing the Afterword to the #LoveWITHAccountability forum, but the truth is I am worn out completely. In the spirit of transparency, I recently became consumed with so much internalized conflict about how my grandfather and also my father would come across in my mother’s courageous contribution to this forum that I couldn’t focus on how I would bring closure to this forum. I, the unapologetic BLACK FEMINIST, was initially unable to fully APPRECIATE that, per my 12th hour invitation to participate, my mother PUBLICLY held herself accountable in this forum. I was more worried that The Feminist Wire readers would think that my Pop-pop was a horrible person. He definitely did horrible things to me as a child but I do not believe he is a horrible person. I didn’t want readers to inquire why I didn’t invite my father to contribute to this forum. He and I are still on the journey. We are not in a place to publicly share about our process. I was still in protection mode.

As a result, I couldn’t accept the invaluable sacred gifts of my mother both privately and publicly articulating the decades long harm inflicted upon me, and deeply heartfelt apologies with meaning. As sister-survivor-comrade Luz Marquez-Benbow wrote in her article, “incest is some insidious sick shit.” The postscript that I wrote at the end of my “mother’s lament” was a brand new development in response to my deep angst. It was not a part of the original plan for this forum. As a result, I do not have the wherewithal to go any deeper right now. My gratitude for my mother pushing herself to get here on her and my journey is endless. I am personally reminded that it is never too late for accountability and healing.

My goal with the #LoveWITHAccountability forum on The Feminist Wire was to create a virtual space to both ignite and also continue dialogues about the taboo topic of child sexual abuse in diasporic Black communities in the wake of all of our heightened awareness about state sanctioned white supremacist violence committed against Black people and our communities. Twenty-nine intergenerational diasporic Black people disclosed and explored child sexual abuse, healing, justice, and love with accountability over a period of ten-days on The Feminist Wire. I’ve only been pregnant once in my life and had an abortion six-eight weeks later. Yet despite my lack of knowledge about carrying a pregnancy to term, I frequently used the analogy of being the thirty-four-week pregnant doula who actively engaged with supporting twenty-eight concurrent births. This was my journey with the #LoveWITHAccountability forum. This forum was hardcore work for many of the contributors to share their truths about what happened to them as children, and to also share their visions for a world free from sexual violence against children and adults in a public forum.

The #LoveWITHAccountability forum is a continuation of work that precedes this collaborative project, and it is also a beginning. As diverse as the forum is, I am clear that there is always room for more diversity. It is twenty-nine drops in the vast child sexual abuse ocean, which is not to take away from the individual and collective power of those profound drops. Every drop plays an important role in creating the waves of seismic change. It’s extremely important for me to acknowledge that there are additional marginalized voices from within the diasporic Black community that aren’t featured in this forum. This is a beginning.

Up until it was time to publish the articles and poems, I was a one-woman entity. This was intentional by my design and it has taken its toll. I thought I was going into the very deep end of the pool with this forum. Instead, I found myself in the middle of an ocean of trauma. Fortunately, I had many resources in the form of twenty-four years work with Dr. Clara Whaley-Perkins, a Black feminist licensed clinical psychologist and founder of the Life After Trauma Organization, a fourteen year practice of vipassana meditation, and a trusted inner circle of sister-sibling-brother friends during this process including Mia Mingus, Jennye Patterson, Heba Nimr, C. Nicole Mason, Marie Ali, Josslyn Luckett, Heidi R. Lewis, Tamura Lomax, Luz Marquez-Benbow, Mari Morales-Williams, Nikki Harmon, Yvonne M. Jones, Kai M. Green, Sonja Ebron, Evelyne Laurent-Perrault, Jonathan Crowley, and Molly Broeder Harris. Even with all of human and spiritual resources, there were several times when my head went under the water. I didn’t drown because of the support of resources. The waters are calm for now. I hope I can mentally and emotionally rest a while before the ferocious waves return because they will return. This is the nature of personally and professionally tackling child sexual abuse as an adult survivor. There are so many layers of residual trauma.

It took a village to make this forum a reality. I want to share gratitude for many individuals who directly and indirectly made this forum a reality. The #LoveWITHAccountabilty project probably would not exist without the support of the Just Beginnings Collaborative (JBC). I do not believe I could psychologically and emotionally focus on child sexual abuse day in and day out while simultaneously doing other non-related work to financially sustain me. JBC’s founding executive director Monique Hoeflinger was an important source of unwavering support during both the incubation period and the literal launch of both the project and the forum. John L Jackson, Dean of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice (SP2) enthusiastically welcomed me as a Visiting Scholar. His support of me and my work has also been unwavering.  Director Susan Sorenson invited me to be an Affiliated Scholar at the Evelyn Jacobs Ortner Center on Family Violence, which affords me the gift of an opportunity to engage with graduate and undergraduate students whose research and scholarship is focused on addressing various forms of family violence.

All of the JBC individual fellows and two organizational grantees came together in the first quarter of 2016 and formed an ad-hoc collectively defined #SurvivorUnion.  We worked together to support each other both in response to an organizational crisis and with our individual projects, which focused on addressing and ending child sexual abuse. It hasn’t always been a crystal stair amongst us, and I am profoundly grateful for the community that we, Mia Mingus (Living Bridges Project),Luz Marquez-Benbow (Love in Sister/Brotherhood), Amita Swadhin (Mirror Memoirs), sujatha baliga(Impact Justice), Tashmica Torok (Firecracker Foundation), Sonya Shah (Project Ahimsa), Ignacio G. Rivera (The Heal Project), Ahmad Greene-Hayes (Children of Combahee), and Aqeela Sherrills co-created. I can’t imagine this journey without their presence, friendship, camaraderie, and support. Each of these individuals are doing incredible ground-breaking work to pull up the roots of child sexual abuse in marginalized communities. I continue to learn so much from them and their work, which inspires my own.

During the first six months of 2016, I had the amazing opportunity to be the Sterling Brown Visiting Professor of Africana Studies at Williams College. My Africana Studies colleagues Rhon Manigault-Bryant and James Manigault-Bryant invited me to Williams College and quickly became my friends and spirit family. It is because of them that I was very fortunate to work with my former student and research assistant Aunrika Tucker-Shabazz.  In addition to Rhon and James, I also created a really important close-knit community with VaNatta S. FordRob WhiteSophie Saint-Just and Daniel GoudrouffeRashida BraggsWill RawlsMeg BossongFerentz Lafargue, Vivian Huang, Merída RuaAmal Eqeiq and Anicia Timberlake. I was able to share my work in process with each of them, and I also shared a lot of much-needed laughter and fun times with them in the metropolis known as Williamstown, MA.

 

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I cannot think of any other online publication other than The Feminist Wire (TFW) where I would’ve been able to publish over twenty-five essays, reflections, poems on child sexual abuse, healing, and justice in diasporic Black communities for ten days. These pieces ranged from 700 to almost 4000 words. Since its co-founding by Tamura Lomax and Hortense Spillers in January 2010 and subsequent leadership by Tamura and her co-managing editors Monica J. Casper and Darnell L. MooreTFW has always gone deep beneath the surface with our work, most especially our online forums.

Since 2012, TFW has conducted multiple forums, allowing our readers to delve deep with TFW collective members and other writers on a wide range of topics, including, but not limited to: PalestineWomen’s Filmmakers Muslim Feminisms; VotingViolence Black (Academic) Women’s Health; World AIDS Day; Masculinities; Race, Racism, and Anti-Racism within Feminism;Assata Shakur and the Black Radical Tradition; the Aftermath of the (George Zimmerman) Trial;Feminist Theory: A College Forum Love As A Radical Act; Disabilities; Mass Incarceration and the Prison-Industrial Complex in honor of and featuring Mumia Abu-Jamal; Audre Lorde; Toni Cade Bambara; Climate Change and Feminist Environmentalisms; Campus Violence, Resistance, and Strategies for SurvivalShout Your Abortion; and June Jordan. The #LoveWITHAccountability forum is a part of TFW’s radical continuum.

There are very few, if any, online publications that provide the in-depth left of center, radical, multi-racial, pro-reproductive justice, pro-LGBTQ, anti-imperialist, anti-white supremacist feminist writings that The Feminist Wire has consistently provided for free. This volunteer work of curating, writing, editing, and publishing is almost always completed in our second and third shifts after working jobs, partnering, parenting, and/or, for many of us, being engaged activists for social change in our societies and in the world. I did not call upon support from my dear TFW comrades-friends until it was time to publish the forum because this was the first time that, thanks to funding received from the Just Beginnings Collaborative, I could solely focus on the forum work all day and every day. With that shared, Heather TurcotteTamura LomaxHeidi R. LewisHeather Laine TalleyMonica J. CasperTC TolbertJoe Osmundson, and TFW’s Editorial Interns Jazlynn Andrews and Angela Kong each played important roles with the publication of the forum. There’s the literal work of uploading, copy editing, resizing of photos, tagging, and hyperlinking. Then there are the personal extended texts, emails, and voicemail messages to check in and consistently send love and emotional support along the way that underscores the TFW community building that many of us work hard to sustain through the cyberwaves in the midst of it all.

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My sister-friend C. Nicole Mason reminded me that I do not walk on water and my well-being would be at stake if I tried to do everything including promoting the forum. She connected me with two incredible Black women who helped me with creating the visuals for my work. Kathryn Bowser created the gorgeous #LoveWITHAccountability logos. Maura Chanz and her company Glitter and Hustle handled all of #LoveWITHAccountability’s social media sites. She created the beautiful images that brought some of Aunrika’s research to visual life. Maura also lifted excerpts from each of the contributors’ words to create beautiful collages with their images. The website was designed by my dear friend Jennifer Patterson who five years ago played a pivotal role with igniting my journey to address my own child sexual abuse.

Sister Valerie Ann Johnson invited me to participate in the Africana Women’s Studies’ inaugural “Heal the Healer” week-long residency at Bennett College. The residency unexpectedly coincided with the second week of the forum, which turned out to be a gift. My time at Bennett College was a much needed respite in the company of sistren, and for that I am most appreciative.

There aren’t any words that will articulate the depth of my deep gratitude and love for each of the individual twenty-nine #LoveWITHAccountability forum contributors who trusted me enough to take this public journey with me. It wasn’t easy for most of the contributors. Everyone’s plates were already full and yet, they accepted my invitation to revisit excruciatingly painful experiences in their lives and envision what accountability for child sexual abuse can look like. Despite my huge ask without a lot of time to reflect, re-member, process, write, and publicly share, they pushed through to participate. Their commitment to this forum is powerful commentary on their unanimity that we must break the silence and address child sexual violence in our diasporic communities.

The forum contents are listed below in chronological order.  There are over twenty-five individual archived road maps from which readers can explore and decide which routes, if any, resonate with part of their journeys.

The movement to end child sexual abuse is not a one size fits all movement. #LoveWITHAccountability is a call to action that doesn’t end with this forum, as there are many more road maps in multiple communities.

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Publication Timeline for #LoveWITHAccountability forum:

  1. Aishah Shahidah Simmons, Digging Up the Roots: An Introduction to the #LoveWITHAccountability Forum
  2. Chevara Orrin, Soul Survivor: Reimagining Legacy
  3. Danielle Lee Moss, Ed.D,  Love Centered Accountability
  4. Aunrika Tucker-Shabazz, How I Built Community While Researching Accountability
  5. Ahmad Greene-Hayes, “The Least of These”: Black Children, Sexual Abuse, and Theological Malpractice
  6. Kai M. Green, Ph.D., Fast
  7. e nina jay, a place to live
  8. Thema Bryant-Davis, Ph.D., Our Silence Will Not Save Us: Considering Survivors and Abusers
  9. Adenike A. Harris and Peter J. Harris, [VIDEO] Pops’nAde: a Courageous Daughter & Her NonAbusive Father on Loving Lessons, Living Legacies (L)earned after Sexual Violence
  10. Worokya Duncan, Ed.D.,  Unfinished
  11. Zoe Flowers, Violation and Making The Road By Walking It
  12. Ignacio G. Rivera, Accountability to Ourselves and Our Children
  13. Tashmica Torok, Casting Aspersions
  14. Cyree Jarelle Johnson, Social Silence & Child Sexual Abuse
  15. Alicia Sanchez Gill, A Network of Care
  16. MiKeiya Morrow, We need Speak7 because Black Children Matter and Child Sexual Abuse Thrives in Silence!
  17. Liz S. Alexander, In My Mother’s Name: Restorative Justice for Survivors of Incest
  18. Tonya Lovelace Sunset: Seeking True Accountability After All of These Years
  19. Nicole Mason, Ph.D., Oh, to Be Free Again: Love, Accountability & Bodily Integrity in Response to Child Sexual Abuse
  20. Sikivu Hutchinson, Ph.D., The Coiled Spring First Grader Deep Inside: Sexual Violence and Restorative Justice
  21. Cecelia Falls, Self Love with Accountability
  22. Loretta J. Ross, Paying it Forward Instead of Looking Backwards
  23. Qui Dorian Alexander, Thoughts on Discipline, Justice, Love and Accountability: Redefining Words to Reimagine Our Realities
  24. Kimberly Gaubault, Safe Space: The Language of Love
  25. Thea Matthews, activist, poet, prison abolitionist, human rights advocate, incest and rape survivor
  26. Kebo Drew, It's the Whispers
  27. Ferentz Lafargue, Ph.D., On Moving Forward
  28. Luz Marquez-Benbow, Who is Accountable to the Black Latinx Child?
  29. Lynn Roberts, Ph.D., Becoming Each Other’s Harvest
  30. Gwendolyn Zoharah Simmons, Ph.D., with Aishah Shahidah Simmons, LOVE WITH ACCOUNTABILITY: A Mother's Lament & A Daughter's Postscript
  31. Aishah Shahidah Simmons, "It Takes A Village": the Afterword to the #LoveWITHAccountability forum

May we all envision and work diligently to co-create a world without violence for the future generations…


Photo Credit: Daniel Goudrouffe

Photo Credit: Daniel Goudrouffe

Aishah Shahidah Simmons is a Black feminist lesbian incest and rape survivor, award-winning documentary filmmaker, published writer, international lecturer, and activist. She is a Just Beginnings Collaborative Fellow, and a Visiting Scholar at the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Social Policy and Practice, where she is also affiliated with the Evelyn Jacobs Ortner Center on Family Violence. She is the creator of the film NO! The Rape Documentary and the #LoveWITHAccountability project. An associate editor of The Feminist Wire, Aishah has screened her work, guest lectured, and facilitated workshops and dialogues to racially and ethnically diverse audiences at colleges and universities, high schools, conferences, international film festivals, rape crisis centers, battered women shelters, community centers, juvenile correctional facilities, and government sponsored events across the United States and Canada, throughout Italy, in South Africa, France, England, Croatia, Hungary, The Netherlands, Mexico, Kenya, Malaysia, India, Switzerland, St. Croix U.S.V.I, Germany, and Cuba. You can follow both #LoveWITHAccountability and Aishah on twitter @loveaccountably and @Afrolez.

activist, poet, prison abolitionist, human rights advocate, incest and rape survivor by By Thea Matthews

Content Notice: The purpose of the #LoveWITHAccountability forum on The Feminist Wire and project is to prioritize child sexual abuse, healing, and justice in national dialogues and work on racial justice and gender-based violence. Several of the featured articles in this forum give an in-depth and, at times, graphic examination of rape, molestation, and other forms of sexual harm against diasporic Black children through the experiences and work of survivors and advocates. The articles also offer visions and strategies for how we can humanely move towards co-creating a world without violence. Please take care of yourself while reading. 


By Thea Matthews

 

“Field of Lilacs” (please click to listen to audio)

 

Outro to “Field of Lilacs”

– Thea’s Rendition of Love with Accountability–

Love is an enigmatic expression, an undeniable force that reverberates from within and is experienced from without. Love simultaneously empowers the self and who the self interacts with. I specifically remember during my adolescences, deciding to hate myself, blame myself, deny myself (self-)love because of what I was forced to endure early in my life. I subconsciously said, yes, I am willing to hate myself, blame myself, ruin myself, and kill myself because my grandfather and uncle repeatedly sexually assaulted me, and I was forced to play “house” with one of my cousins. The pain was unbearable at times and the suffering seemed unending. My rite of passage was incest. The bullying at school only poured pounds of salt on open infected wounds.

My existence was a gaping hole without a model of what healthy love is, let along what accountability is. After disclosing that my grandfather molested me, I still found myself at my grandparent’s house, seated next to him at the family Thanksgiving dinner. I don’t know if my grandfather, uncle, and cousin molested anyone else. I do know that I am a third-generation survivor of child abuse. My grandmother was abused, my mother was abused, and I was abused. I don’t know much about my great-grandmother, because she died in her early-mid thirties of cervical cancer when my grandmother was only five-years-old. I assume more of my maternal generations were violated and abused in some way.

My grandfather died when I was in high school, and my uncle and cousin disappeared from my life. Last time I saw my cousin, I refused to hug him and he felt so insulted, it incited an atypical dysfunctional family argument with my grandmother. She is close to 90 and she will die not knowing that the love of her life was a child molester, and that one of her sons and grandsons are also child molesters. Where is accountability in that? Well, as I recovered from a suicide attempt in 2011 and as I continue to recover from active addictions and destructive behaviors, I quickly realized that accountability must first and foremost come from within.

Initially, I began demanding accountability from our nation’s police force when I got involved in student protests with the Black Lives Matter movement. The mass killings of unarmed people, the degree of which systemic violence takes place and no one really held responsible provokes anger and directs me to take action. Yet, I realized: if I am to want others to be accountability around me, I must ensure that I am also being held accountable for my actions. What do I have to do to keep my side of street clean? Yes, I was very much a victim. The abuse started when I was preverbal and ended by the time I was 9; the bullying continued until I was 13. My fundamental years of emotional and brain development were robbed. I was robbed from a childhood.

As an individual who identifies themselves as a freedom fighter, an activist, my foundation must be and can only be reinstated with conscious acts of love with accountability. To heal, I do what is essentially described in my poem “Field of Lilacs.” Ritual is highly important to me. Spirituality is my oxygen. My leader is a divine force to be reckoned with, no gunshots can take this entity away. I continuously do a series of actions releasing trauma from my mind, my body, my soul, my spirit.

I don’t need an “apology” from the harm doers in my life to actually heal. I don’t need a pitiful recognition to liberate myself. Amends are actually for the harm doer and their karma; not for me. I need to love myself. I need to be accountable for my actions. I need to ensure that my behavior and actions are transformed. The absolute truth is: I cannot force anyone’s transformation. The revolution has already occurred within me when I almost jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge. In order to fiercely love and radically accept what is in the present moment, I am solely responsible for learning and practicing various forms of nonviolent communication. Thus, continuous acts of love with accountability ultimately ensure personal/social/cultural transformation.


Photo Credit: Christina Campbell   

Photo Credit: Christina Campbell

 

Born and raised in San Francisco, California, Thea Matthews currently attends UC Berkeley, studying sociology. She has been writing creatively for close to 20 years. Poetry is her healing medium. Regarding her attainment of liberation, she lives her life according to a path based on service, purification, and spiritually based principles one day at a time.

Self Love with Accountability by CeCelia Falls

Content Notice: The purpose of the #LoveWITHAccountability forum on The Feminist Wire and project is to prioritize child sexual abuse, healing, and justice in national dialogues and work on racial justice and gender-based violence. Several of the featured articles in this forum give an in-depth and, at times, graphic examination of rape, molestation, and other forms of sexual harm against diasporic Black children through the experiences and work of survivors and advocates. The articles also offer visions and strategies for how we can humanely move towards co-creating a world without violence. Please take care of yourself while reading. 


By CeCelia Falls

I have been accused of living in the past. This comment has usually come after I engage in a discussion about childhood sexual abuse. The ease at which I now disclose having been raped as a child by an adult male family member is uncomfortable for many people to hear.  A discomfort that is thrown back at me with dismissive comments like:

you have to stop living in the past

or

it’s time you got over that.”

That is a different kind of discomfort than what I experienced from disclosing my history to a therapist who remarked about the lack of emotion as I recounted what happened to my ten year old self. That discomfort was my therapist’s acknowledgement of how disconnected I was from the impact of my own history of abuse. That discomfort came from knowing the costs of that type of disconnect.

The discomfort that comes now has nothing to do with a “disconnect” in me, but from a societal disconnect from the reality of childhood sexual abuse—its nature, prevalence and impact on the survivor, families, and community at large. I find this discomfort both common and odd. Common because childhood sexual abuse is an uncomfortable, ugly, painful reality. Odd, because though it is all of those things-it is an incredibly common occurrence, across cultures and socioeconomic groups. So why do we still continue to be so silent?

Some will note that we aren’t as silent as we used to be given the books, movies, talk shows, etc. that have addressed childhood sexual abuse. There are also a number of celebrities who have disclosed having been sexually abused as children, yet there is still an air of secrecy and shame that pushes many survivors back into the silence they escaped. There is very little room for dealing with the ongoing consequences of abuse for the survivor.

Part of the problem is the centering of the perpetrator in the conversation. It’s understandable, to a degree. We can all agree that raping children is horrific. Something should be done about it and children should be safe from this type of horror. Punishing the perpetrator becomes the immediate goal to address the issue. While this is important, it does little to address the long term impact of the abuse on the survivor.

My work is centered on survivors and what happens after disclosure, trials, or no trials-which is more often the case. Like many survivors of childhood sexual abuse, I continue to discover what healing means, looks like, and feels like on a day to day basis. As such, I don’t come to this work with all of the answers of an expert, but as a fellow survivor seeking to create a life I love and that works for me.  Surviving, healing, and thriving is at the core.

Being in community with other survivors and expressing myself artistically has been critical in my healing journey. Community helps to end the stigma and shame that often comes with identifying as a survivor. I started the volunteer group Harlem SUN-Souls United to Nurture, to support survivors of African descent and to raise awareness about the nature, prevalence, and impact of childhood sexual abuse in Black communities. We use the arts to give voice, picture, and movement to our experiences as survivors. We are also committed to nurturing ourselves, our families, and communities to create a world free from sexual violence.  Clearly this is a lofty goal, but it can’t be done in silence or without a loving accountability to ourselves as survivors. We owe the hurting parts of ourselves acknowledgement and healing. We deserve it and we can’t wait for the rest of the world to catch up to us. Love with accountability is giving ourselves permission to love ourselves to health and the full good lives we deserve.


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CeCelia Falls is the Founder and Director of Harlem SUN-Souls United to Nurture, a volunteer group for Adult Survivors of Childhood Sexual Abuse from the African/Black/Caribbean Diaspora. She hosts a monthly open mic called OPEN Expressions in Harlem. She is a writer and educational consultant, and considers both Harlem and Oakland as home.

Oh, to Be Free Again: Love, Accountability & Bodily Integrity in Response to Child Sexual Abuse by C. Nicole Mason, Ph.D.

Content Notice: The purpose of the #LoveWITHAccountability forum on The Feminist Wire and project is to prioritize child sexual abuse, healing, and justice in national dialogues and work on racial justice and gender-based violence. Several of the featured articles in this forum give an in-depth and, at times, graphic examination of rape, molestation, and other forms of sexual harm against diasporic Black children through the experiences and work of survivors and advocates. The articles also offer visions and strategies for how we can humanely move towards co-creating a world without violence. Please take care of yourself while reading. 


By C. Nicole Mason, Ph.D.

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Our communities, families, and lives are connected now more than ever. We live in a vivid social and political moment where the voices of victims of violence are heard and felt across various communities and reach the ears of the most powerful in our society. There is no hiding: the harm done to one, whether out of hurt, fear, pain or powerlessness deeply impacts us all.

To me, love with accountability means that each of us, individually and collectively, should and must do all that we can to ensure that when there are violent or abusive acts perpetrated against woman, children or communities that we all stand and take responsibility for the harm inflicted. No one is absolved of responsibility because we all have a role to play, big or small, in making sure justice is served and wholeness is restored.

I am a single mother by choice to two children—boy-girl twins, aged seven. When I watch them play and witness how free they feel in their bodies, I am grateful. They know that they own their bodies and are free (or not) to kiss or hug whomever they choose, including those closest to them, without consequence. This is what I have taught them and the power they carry with them in their daily lives.

This freedom, so integral to our emotional, physical and mental wellbeing has been denied to many victims of child sexual assault. The violation, often at the hands of those who are charged with providing care, love and support to them can cause deep and lasting pain. I know this to be true because I did not have this freedom. When I was a child, I did not feel free in my body or empowered to say no.

For more than two decades, I have worked in various ways to heal the wounds inflicted upon me so many years ago—from working and organizing in the movement to end violence against women and girls to writing about my experience with child sexual assault to raising children with bodily integrity. They have all been exercises in my own quest for wholeness.

To be sure, accountability is a significant part of this process and my journey to wholeness. As such, I continue to use my voice to support, affirm and believe survivors. When the perpetrator is known or among us, I also work to reveal the truth of their actions and the harm it has caused, not only to the victim, but to families and communities as well. For me, there can be no reconciliation until the truth is laid bare.

I have had to save and heal myself. It hasn’t been easy. It is my hope that victims and survivors of child sexual abuse will not have to travel their journey alone and that we will all stand with them to create a society and culture where all are free in their bodies.


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C. Nicole Mason, PhD is the author of Born Bright: A Young Girl’s Journey from Nothing to Something in America (St. Martin’s Press, 2016) and is Executive Director of the Center for Research and Policy in the Public Interest at the New York Women’s Foundation. Prior to her position at CR2PI, Mason was the most recent Executive Director of the Women of Color Policy Network at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service. She held the distinction of being one of the youngest scholar-practitioners to lead a major U.S. research center or think tank.  She is also an Ascend Fellow at the Aspen Institute in Washington, DC. She has written hundreds of articles on women, leadership development and economic security. Her writing and commentary have been featured in MSNBC, CNN, NBC, CBS, The Feminist Wire, Real Clear Politics, the Nation, Marie Claire Magazine, the Washington Post, the Progressive, ESSENCE Magazine, the Root, the Grio, the Miami Herald, Democracy Now, and numerous NPR affiliates, among others. You can follow Nicole on Twitter @cnicolemason and connect on her Public Facebook Page.

In My Mother’s Name: Restorative Justice for Survivors of Incest by Liz S. Alexander

Content Notice: The purpose of the #LoveWITHAccountability forum on The Feminist Wire and project is to prioritize child sexual abuse, healing, and justice in national dialogues and work on racial justice and gender-based violence. Several of the featured articles in this forum give an in-depth and, at times, graphic examination of rape, molestation, and other forms of sexual harm against diasporic Black children through the experiences and work of survivors and advocates. The articles also offer visions and strategies for how we can humanely move towards co-creating a world without violence. Please take care of yourself while reading. 


By Liz S. Alexander

___________: I, Marla request that you no longer appear at my home due to past crime committed to self lasting several years, non provoked; Crime consisting of both physical and sexual abuse. When in your presence you are not to put your hands on me in any shape or form. Because of you, I have suffered detrimental effects, which have intruded constantly into my life, affecting me as a woman and human being.

 I am the daughter of a survivor of physical and sexual abuse.

During my mother’s childhood and all throughout her adolescence, she was repeatedly physically and sexually abused by her older brothers. All of whom have never been held accountable for their actions. All of whom have been and continue to be protected by the pervasive silence, secrecy, avoidance and denial that seem to be entrenched in my Black family.

As early as eight years old, I can recall my mother, Marla, telling my brother and me about her experiences of sexual and physical abuse during her childhood at the hands of her brothers. Coming from a home of parental absenteeism and neglect, my mother’s only form of escape from the abuse was becoming pregnant at age sixteen by a boy who she “sought emotional comfort from.” In my mother’s attempt to tell me of her abuse, I was unable to fully grasp the depth of what had happened to her. At the time, I couldn’t even begin to conceptualize the abhorrent act of sexual violence. However, I was acutely aware that her experience shaped how she chose to mother me, her only daughter. I can recall that regardless of my mother’s financial status as a single parent raising four children, at each place we lived, I always had my own room. Even if it meant that my brothers went without one. Additionally, my mother was attentive to what I wore and she was extremely sensitive to how boys and men reacted to me in public; especially since I always presented older than what I was because of my Amazonian physique. In one case, I can vividly remember my mother confronting a man in public, who had attempted to engage with me inappropriately.

Unfortunately, my mother’s experience of physical and sexual abuse is not unique. According to a 2014 study on sexual abuse, the U.S. Department of Justice found that an estimated 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually abused before the age of 18. In 93% of the cases, the perpetrators of the abuse were a family member or someone they knew. For Black women and girls, 60% of black girls experience sexual assault by the time they reach 18 and for every black woman that reports her sexual assault there are at least 15 black women who do not, according to the preliminary findings by Black Women’s Blueprint. Additionally, given the legacy of historical trauma in the Black experience in the U.S, coupled with the incessant subjection to violence and victimization under a white supremacist, capitalist and patriarchal regime, Black women and girls are often shamed into silence out of the need to sacrifice themselves, in order to protect the “Black race.”

In her book, No Secrets No Lies: How Black Families Can Heal from Sexual Abuse, Robin D. Stone, identifies the following as the cultural taboos and social dynamics that Black women and girls have to navigate, in addition to the sexual abuse they endure, when confronted with incest and other forms of child sexual abuse in a familial context:

Fear of betraying family by turning offenders in to “the system”
Distrust of institutions and authority figures, such as police officers
Reluctance to seek counseling or therapy
A legacy of enslavement and stereotypes about black sexuality

Given this, in order to appropriately support Black women and girls who are survivors of incest and other forms of child sexual abuse within the familial context, in my experience, it is imperative that a restorative justice healing framework be realized and implemented, where the needs of women and girls survivors are centered.

In my personal experience, despite the physical and sexual abuse my mother endured at the hands of her brothers, in her adulthood, she maintained contact with them. In fact, during my childhood, she allowed my siblings and me to spend the night in their homes un-monitored. Granted, by this time, her brothers had families of their own and in my personal experience, when I went to their homes, I was neither harmed nor did I ever fear for my safety. I say this to say that in my Black family, where abuse was and still may be present, the survivors and perpetrators are in contact with each other. And if contact is inevitable, it should be done so in a restorative justice context.

Restorative Justice (RJ) is an indigenous practice that has been used to mediate conflict for centuries. However, it was introduced in the 21st century as theoretical concept by John Braithwaite, Howard Zehr, and Mark Umbreit (and others). RJ is a non punitive process that seeks to mediate conflict between victims, offenders and the community at large, for the purpose of healing harm and fostering rehabilitation for all parties involved. Moreover, for families, RJ involves “acknowledgment of fault by the offender (and family), restitution of some sort to the victim, including both affective apologies and material exchanges or payments, and often new mutual understandings, forgiveness, and agreed-to new undertakings for improved behaviors.” RJ re-connects offenders back to the family rather than isolate them, while holding the offenders accountable.

Additionally, if RJ is to be realized as an effective framework for Black families to heal survivors, offenders and the entire family from sexual violence, as well as to dismantle familial sexual violence, the healing needs of Black women and girls must be centered. When Black women and girls are centered in this process, RJ creates the space where they are empowered to decide what justice is. They also have the power to choose to forgive and accept restitution or reconciliation, or not, as well as to choose what they think is the proper balance between reconciliation and family peace. And the first step to centering the needs of Black women and girls is to believe them.

Unfortunately, my mother will never have the opportunity to experience the process of RJ because she died prematurely as a result of negative life outcomes that were a direct result of her childhood experiences of physical and sexual violence. However, she devoted the latter part of her life to healing herself, reclaiming her power, confronting her abusers and raising a daughter who would one day call out and disrupt the pervasive silence, secrecy, avoidance and denial regarding physical and sexual abuse that seem to be entrenched in her Black family.

I am the daughter of a survivor of physical and sexual abuse,

And

I claim healing in my mother’s name.


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Liz S. Alexander MA, MSW is a thought leader, public servant and advocate for justice involved youth. A recent transplant from Chicago, Liz has extensive experience working in a program administrative capacity supporting system involved youth. Liz is the founder of She Dreams of Freedom, a project that raises awareness about the plight of girls in the juvenile justice system, while also providing a platform to empower the voices of girls in the juvenile justice system. As a restorative justice practitioner, Liz is committed to working in partnership with justice involved girls to end the pipeline of girls into the juvenile justice system. In 2015, Liz was recognized as a “40 under 40” Young Woman Professional Leader by Demoiselle 2 Femme, a trailblazing organization serving girls on the South Side of Chicago, and most recently she was named as a “ Woman of Influence” by the YWCA of New York City. Liz received a Masters of Social Work with a focus in Trauma and Violence from the University of Chicago, School of Social Service Administration and a Masters of Religious Leadership with a concentration in Social Transformation from the Chicago Theological Seminary. Liz received her Bachelor’s of Arts degree from Spelman College where she majored in Sociology.

Violation and Making The Road By Walking It by Zoë Flowers

Content Notice: The purpose of the #LoveWITHAccountability forum on The Feminist Wire and project is to prioritize child sexual abuse, healing, and justice in national dialogues and work on racial justice and gender-based violence. Several of the featured articles in this forum give an in-depth and, at times, graphic examination of rape, molestation, and other forms of sexual harm against diasporic Black children through the experiences and work of survivors and advocates. The articles also offer visions and strategies for how we can humanely move towards co-creating a world without violence. Please take care of yourself while reading. 


By Zoë Flowers

“Those were my favorite shorts. Blue with a white strip down the side”

One: Violation

When I was a little girl, my grandparents’ house was like a castle. It was a Victorian style home with many oddly shaped rooms. Because my parents worked, they would send me to my grandmother’s house every summer. I spent most of my time either reading or playing in the backyard.

My grandmother’s backyard was massive. It had huge oak trees and wildflowers that grew in all directions. It was my magical kingdom. My older cousins hated getting dirty; so, I had the yard all to myself. It was just me, the ladybugs, and the frogs. On hot days, I’d run through the sprinkler, and then collapse on the dirt, letting the sun beat down on my drenched body.

 After a while, I’d reluctantly return to the house damp and covered in dirt.

 Nighttime was the only time my cousins and I played together. We would play hide and seek, truth or dare, anything we weren’t supposed to do. As soon as my grandmother went to bed, we’d go out and play.

 My grandmother was not as strict as my parents were. Her main restriction was on laziness and boredom. I’m from a traditional West Indian family that firmly believed that idle hands were the devil’s playground. Laziness was a trait she would not tolerate and was reason enough for a swat across the legs. In her eyes, children had no reason to be bored – ever. If she caught us lying around, she would find something for us to do. There were always dishes to wash, rooms to clean or books to read. That was another good reason for me to stay outside.

 Physically, my grandmother was a very attractive woman. People who met her could not believe she had twelve children and sixteen grandchildren because she had such a youthful glow. She had jet-black hair that she wore in a tight bun. At night, she would let it down and I would brush it out for her. It was long and soft. She was a bigged-boned woman who was effortlessly gentle…until she wasn’t. Her dark eyes were often steady and they seemed laser-like when she regaled me with stories about growing up in Jamaica. Her stories were not for my entertainment. They always had some moral that related back to the necessity of being an obedient child. She’d talk/lecture to me for hours while I braided her thick black hair. Still, our ritual was the one chore that I didn’t mind.

 Most of my relatives lived very close or visited her often. The house was never empty. Food was always on the stove with grandmother standing over it. She didn’t drink but everyone else in the house did. Liquor was a constant in my family. The adults could always count on getting a drink, a meal and good conversation. There were many nights that I’d sneak out of bed, sit at the top of the stairs and listen to the grown-ups. I loved listening to their loud voices debating, arguing and making fun of one another, often drowning out both the television and stereo. At times, it was difficult to know if they were arguing or joking.

 One of my favorite people in that house was my “uncle”. He was different from my other relatives. I could talk to him. No matter what the question, he would answer it honestly. Like my grandmother, my other relatives believed children should be seen and not heard. He wasn’t like that. I thought my uncle knew everything; he’d been to places I’d never even heard of.  

 He and my “aunt” lived with my grandmother for as long as I could remember. In almost all of their pictures there were exotic women flocked around him. His pictures portrayed a confident young man, tall and muscular with a smooth dark complexion and dark curly hair. I guess he would have been considered attractive in his day, but for as long as I can remember, he’d been old and wrinkled. The only remnant of the young man in the pictures was the mischievous twinkle that never left his eyes.

 I was seven years old the first time he fondled me. It was a typical day. It was summer. The adults were in the kitchen laughing and enjoying each other like they always did. He called me in his room. We’d often play checkers or dominoes, which we played to the death. He never let me win; he said it was not good for children, especially women, to get special treatment. I raced up the stairs as I always did. When I got in the room, the board was not in its usual place. I asked him where it was, and he told me it was under the bed. I remember getting down on all fours looking for the game. Suddenly, I felt his fingers frantically tugging at my shorts. They were my favorite shorts. They were blue with a white stripe down the side (Blue has always been my favorite color). They were tight but I loved them so much. I maneuvered myself around and looked at him as he pulled me toward him and clamped his hand over my mouth. I was a chunky kid. The shorts were tight. He was having a hard time getting his fingers in. I didn’t know what was happening. I can’t remember if I knew it was wrong. I can’t remember if I wanted to get away. I just remember him saying, “Shh,” in that raspy voice of his. I remember he was almost smiling. One of his hands stayed on my mouth while he penetrated me with the other. After it was over, I went back downstairs. Everyone was still there. The party hadn’t skipped a bit.

 I didn’t remember anything until my early twenties. All the painful memories flooded in on me on an ordinary day. I was driving home….nothing major…then all of a sudden I remembered. I never told my family. I knew they’d believed me but I didn’t think they could handle it. So, like so many other things I kept it to myself. I have not shared this story with anyone….until today.

“The function of art is to do more than tell it like it is – it’s to imagine what is possible.”                                                                                                                                                             bell hooks

 

Two: Making The Road By Walking It

The question of accountability as a radical form of love makes me think about my childhood and how many children of my generation were raised. To me, linking punishment, accountability and love is not a new concept. Many of us were told we were being spanked out of love. And lots of people still believe and enact various forms of punishment to keep children in line “out of love.” So for me, it’s not about people’s inability to make the leap between accountability and love. It’s about whose well-being is valued in our society and whose is not. I can’t talk about transforming societal understanding accountability as a radical form of love until society begins addressing the impact of adult privilege effectively.

To me, accountability would look like no statute of limitations on child sexual assault (CSA) anywhere in the US. As a society, how can we say we care about children and not do everything in our power protect them, their childhood and their right to move unmolested through the world? How we can say they’re our future when many are not safe at home, school, on the sports field, or in church?

Accountability is believing children when they share that they’ve been harmed. It looks like:

  • Not re-traumatizing them by forcing them sit at holiday tables with their abuser and acting like that is normal.
  • Not giving the girls strategies to “protect” themselves around the known abuser and then praying that the tactics work.
  • Acknowledging that boys get raped too.
  • Not protecting the abuser because he is a man of color.
  • Having difficult conversations with family and friends. I’ve had to have conversations like, “I know he’s your favorite singer etc. but he has a history of x,y&z. Don’t you think that’s a problem? Why would you support him financially?”

Accountability looks like creating environments where children feel safe to disclose. And training for parents on how to deal effectively with them when they do. Accountability looks like communities of color addressing mental and emotional illness from multiple perspectives. When I think about the girl who says her mother’s partner is abusing her and the mother essentially says, “I’m sorry for your loss. I’m staying.” That is a woman that may have been abused. How can we talk to her about holding her partner accountable if she’s been dissociated for years? Will what we’re asking her to do even register? She may even think, “Hell, I got over it. She can too.” Families need mental, emotional and energetic healing to heal patterns like these.

When people come to me for Reiki, they come with all the consequences of a society that prioritizes the needs of adults over children. The trauma of parents who made a decision not to make a decision is lodged in the cells of the people I treat. There are more wounded children masquerading as adults than folks might think. Those “child/adults” then go on to have children of their own and the untreated and unacknowledged family trauma is transmitted right into that unborn child.

Holistic healing practices like Reiki, acupuncture, cupping, yoga and other indigenous technologies are often more effective than traditional healing methods (what are the traditional healing methods? I am confused. Perhaps, I’m using indigenous and traditional synonymously) and need to be more readily available in communities of color. These days I am often invited to “hold space” for large groups of people doing difficult work. This Spring I was called into the Black Women’s Blueprint Truth and Reconciliation Commission where Black survivors shared their stories of abuse for an entire day. This is a step in the right direction and it needs to happen more.

Lastly, I believe that healers need to be more vocal and participatory when it comes to issues like domestic violence and CSA. I believe in “praying and watching.” I also think it’s a good thing for healers to demystify themselves. I think it helps when healers lay themselves bare and let folks know that they’ve dealt with some of the same issues in their own lives.

On the question of justice and can we get it without punitive means.. I never intended to involve law enforcement and the courts in my life. However, my ex-partner’s actions made it impossible not to involve them. They were not helpful in my case. In fact, they were the opposite of helpful. Luckily, my artistic voice and following its wisdom saved my emotional and spiritual life after my experiences with domestic and sexual violence. I gained personal power through books, poetry and theatre. I joined the domestic violence movement and funneled my anger, frustration, and hopes into that work. Then my spiritual nature revealed itself and I followed that to a completely new life as a healing artist. So, in some ways I got non-traditional justice.

That said I recognize that many survivors want their day in court. And they should get that. I know the criminal justice system has major problems. And I’d have no problem seeing it overhauled or dismantled. But I don’t see that happening for a very long time and I do not believe we are in the energetic space where punitive justice is no longer an option. We will know that time has come when the needs of all members of our community are prioritized equitably. That’s the reality I envision and that is the world I am working toward.


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Zoë Flowers is an author, poet, actress, Reiki Master and seasoned domestic violence expert. Her poetry and essays can be found in Stand Our Ground; Poems for Trayvon Martin and Marissa Alexander, and Dear Sister: Letters From Survivors of Sexual Assault and several online publications.

With almost sixteen years of experience in the domestic violence field, Zoë has appeared on National Public Radio, works nationally and has spoken internationally on the issue of domestic and sexual violence. Zoë worked at several state domestic violence coalitions where she provided training, technical assistance and expertise to local and state domestic violence programs and community partners across the country.

She was one of the original members of the Black Witch Chronicles (BWC) and shared readings, channeled messages to thousands via Facebook and YouTube as part of the trio. She co-created and co-facilitates Solstice SoulShifting with Dr. G. Love also an original member of BWC. This international retreat provides indigenous healing technologies and survivor-centered healing to folks worldwide.

Her book, From Ashes To Angel’s Dust: A Journey Through Womanhood (formerly called Dirty Laundry: Women of Color Speak Up About Dating & Domestic Violence) emerged from interviews Zoë conducted with survivors of domestic and sexual violence and is set for re-release 2017.ASHES is a ChoreoDrama that uses monologues; poetry and vignettes to breathe life into the original stories shared in From Ashes To Angel’s Dust: A Journey Through Womanhood and includes new stories about racism, same sex violence, body image and the journey to self-love.

Zoë wrote, produces and acts in the powerful ensemble piece, which has had successful performances across the country including, The White House’s United State of Women Summit in Washington, DC on June 15, 2016 and at Yale University’s Fearless Conference on April 9th 2016 as part of Zoë’s presentation entitled, Women of Color, Misogynoir, Sexual Assault & Reclaiming Our Magic, a presentation that she will bring to Smith College in April 2017. Zoë looks forward to returning to Yale in January 2017 where she’ll conduct a four month Campus Community Engagement Project entitled, Becoming Magickal: Exploring Healing Through Womanist Performance. Topics will include: poetry & performance, writing yourself “well” historical oppression, the artist as activist, the magick of trauma and ritual as a healing practice. The project will conclude with a weekend run of ASHES that will be performed by Yale’s Heritage Theatre Ensemble on April 7-8, 2017.

[VIDEO] Pops’nAde: a Courageous Daughter & Her NonAbusive Father on Loving Lessons, Living Legacies (L)earned after Sexual Violence by Adenike A. Harris and Petter J. Haris

Content Notice: The purpose of the #LoveWITHAccountability forum on The Feminist Wire and project is to prioritize child sexual abuse, healing, and justice in national dialogues and work on racial justice and gender-based violence. Several of the featured articles in this forum give an in-depth and, at times, graphic examination of rape, molestation, and other forms of sexual harm against diasporic Black children through the experiences and work of survivors and advocates. The articles also offer visions and strategies for how we can humanely move towards co-creating a world without violence. Please take care of yourself while reading. 


By Adenike A. Harris and Petter J. Haris

I am looking … to a new and different future in which fathers are whole enough to love their sons and their daughters, to anchor them in trust and security, and to affirm them in the dreams and identities they claim in the free space of independence and wholeness.— Gloria Wade-Gayles, (Introduction) Father Songs: Testimonies by African-American Sons and Daughters  

And if there ain’t no beauty/you gotta make some beauty…— Earth, Wind, & Fire, All About Love

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Our Healing Questions:

What dialogue could a biological father have with his youngest daughter that would adequately confront the Root Shock of her rape by a stepfather?

How could we ethically convert our rage into story that wouldn’t be ruined by subsonic rant against whatever God or Devil could allow a child’s safety to be destroyed in her own home?

How could our deep communion with such painful emotional wounds open the door to an even richer revelation between us that we can actually control the impact of evil on our futures? 

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Pops’nAde, father and daughter, Black father, Black daughter – our work to answer these Healing Questions will take the rest of our lives. But our lives will not be defined by our work to answer these Healing Questions. We’ve chosen to devote most of our work to living and loving and dedicating ourselves to futures of joy and inspiration and loving lessons we’ve learned and living legacies we’ve earned.

We started by confronting the acts of a criminal predator, prosecuting and convicting him, swearing off revenge at Adenike’s insistence and direction, then igniting a transcendent conversation that has excavated all our fears, explored and confronted the history of our nuclear and extended families, while simultaneously tapping the energy we needed to make – and be available to – beauty in our lives.

In all honesty, we do not want to talk about sexual trauma in our family – neither what Adenike had to confront from ages 14-22, nor the grand and intimate reverberations that we confront in real time everyday. We wish that we were an anonymous daughter and her father living quiet lives of satisfaction and simplicity. We wish our lives hadn’t been tainted, if not cursed, by the manipulations of a criminal masquerading as a doting suburban father and husband.

But in the words of our elders: what don’t kill you make you stronger! So we lift our voices to sing; we speak because we must, and we speak without shame, trepidation, or doubt that we have a right to express ourselves.

Also, we speak with power and, amazingly, with pride and joy and liberated laughter, as you’ll see in our video that is our contribution to the#LoveWITHAccountability forum. The videos are Directed and Produced by Danyol Jaye of On The Jaye Spot and JayeSpotTV.

The video continues the Call and Response Dialogue that comprises most of the Thesis that Adenike submitted to earn her Master’s in Woman’s Studies in 2011 at Georgia State University:Restorative Notions: Regaining My Voice, Regaining My Father: A Creative Womanist Approach to Healing from Sexual Abuse.

Our dialogue helped Ade discern that her development should include more profound service to others.  In 2014, Adenike was certified as an Integral Coach by New Ventures West, School of Professional Coaches, in San Francisco, CA. She is a Whole Living Coach, helping clients heal core issues and negative patterns, while empowering them with effective ‘integrative’ tools, techniques and specific action plans to make effective changes in order to cultivate mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical wellness.

As a father, fully engaged in a necessary, risky, taboo-free dialogue, Peter has insisted on cultivating his own mental, emotional, spiritual, and physical wellness. As part of keeping his own balance, he created the Black Man of Happiness Project, which published his book The Black Man of Happiness: In Pursuit of My ‘Unalienable Right.’ An unprecedented meditation on Black men and joy, the book earned the American Book Award in 2015. His poetic, personal essays range in scope from Thomas Jefferson’s era to the Digital Age, seeking answers to the simple, provocative question: What is a happy Black man? He devotes the chapter, “Learning the Language of My Daughter’s Hair,” to how he “learned that happiness pulses even within the seams of what’s unthinkable.”

Frankly, we recognize that our healing style represents the temperaments of two folks who are fighters, who refuse to allow a criminal any kind of victory in our lives. Our way may not work for others grappling with the legacies of sexual trauma in their lives. For us, however, for Pops’nAde, we are exhilarated by the most amazing lesson from our tears, candor and imagination: no silence is good that keeps us from talking to people who can help us.

And WE, it turns out, have become our most inspiring conversation partners. We are living examples of a father embracing ethical, dynamic parenting, and a daughter claiming her daddy, her father, her Pops. We are living, breathing examples of how one family is executing, day-by-day, with stops and starts, without one request for interpersonal refund, an actual, non-abusive relationship – even though our DNA includes the pain of sexual trauma that was imposed on us.

It’s our hope that we can offer a rich, loving roadmap for others on their journeys.

We invite fellow travelers to view our video to both witness and join our conversation.


Adenike A. Harris & Peter J. Harris (Pops ‘n Ade)

Photo Credit: Tiffany Judkins

Photo Credit: Tiffany Judkins

In their presentations and workshops, Adenike A. Harris and her father Peter J. Harris provide practical and loving lessons drawn from years of courageous ‘call-and-response’ dialogue that helped them heal in the years after Adenike revealed her stepfather had sexually abused her from ages 14 to 22.  In the spirit of Lift Every Voice and Sing, Pops ‘n Ade reveal how they became thriving survivors through tears, candor, imagination – even hard-won laughter.  Pops ‘n Ade are 21st Century Conversation Starters and Healing Partners with a dynamic message: we’re all worth healing and no silence is good that keeps you from talking to people who can help you.  Pops ‘n Ade are living examples, whose powerful service offers a roadmap to rich, loving and inspiring non-abusive relationships.

Adenike A. Harris works for a model arts education organization servingunderserved youth in Los Angeles. She is a Certified Integral ‘Whole Living’ Coach, after graduating in 2015 from New Ventures West in San Francisco. She earned her Master’s Degree in Women’s Studies in 2011 at Georgia State University, and graduated in 2002 with a Bachelor’s degree in Psychology from Mount St. Mary’s University in Maryland. Her Master’s thesis, RESTORATIVE NOTIONS: REGAINING MY VOICE, REGAINING MY FATHER: A CREATIVE WOMANIST APPROACH TO HEALING FROM SEXUAL ABUSE, illustrates how she initiated a ‘call-and-response’ dialogue as a strategy to heal her relationship with her non-abusive biological father after revealing to him that her stepfather had sexually abused her from ages 14 to 22. Adenike A. Harris has passionately helped to protect, heal and guide individuals towards success in their lives despite their circumstances and experiences. Using her experience as a model, Adenike brought awareness to social issues, such as Domestic Violence and Abuse, Adenike produced consciousness-raising fashion shows of her own, using fashion, music, dance and poetry.  Adenike A. Harris was a contributing writer for the Atlanta Abusive Relationships Examiner column, and has been published by J’Adore Magazine andPasadena Weekly Online.

As an Integral Coach, Adenike A. Harris has used her training and understanding to develop and create her own style of coaching. Adenike believes we are all born innately whole, and as we grow and live life, different experiences put dents in our wholeness. Some dents are deeper than others, and some are just minor notches that limit you from functioning at your fullest potential. Adenike A. Harris’ Whole Living Coaching is designed to teach her clients the capacity and the competencies, from the inside out, to create balance and wholeness.  You may email Adenike Harris at: Coachadenike “AT” gmail “DOT” com

Peter J. Harris an award-winning cultural worker since the 1970’s, is Artistic Director of Inspiration House, which produces cultural, artistic, educational, and media products and programs featuring virtuoso performers, and also conducts workshops, residencies, and retreats which inspire audience members to re-enter their lives renewed and confident that creativity and imagination are indispensable tools for constructive personal and social change.

Harris is founder of The Black Man of Happiness Project, a creative, intellectual and artistic exploration of Black men and joy.  He’s author of The Black Man of Happiness: In Pursuit of My ‘Unalienable Right,” a book of personal essays, an American Book Awards winner in 2015.  With his brother Glenn Harris, Emmy-winning broadcaster and humanitarian in Washington, D.C., Harris co-wrote Gritt Tuff Play Book: Hard Core Wisdom for Young People, the inaugural publication of the Happiness Project.

In 2011, he was a Contributor-Collaborator with his daughter Adenike A. Harris on her Creative Thesis: Restorative Notions: Regaining My Voice, Regaining My Father: A Creative Womanist Approach to Healing from Sexual Abuse, Georgia State University. http://digitalarchive.gsu.edu/wsi_theses/23.

Harris is the author of Bless the Ashes, poetry (Tia Chucha Press), winner of the 2015 PEN Oakland Josephine Miles Award.  Since the 1970s, Harris has published his writing in a wide variety of publications, most recently in Wide Awake: Poets of Los Angeles and Beyond, edited by Suzanne Lummis; Altadena Poetry Review: Anthology, edited by Thelma T. Reyna, Poet Laureate of Altadena; and Coiled Serpent: Poets Arising from the Cultural Quakes & Shifts in Los Angeles, edited by Neelanjana Banerjee, Daniel A. Olivas, and Ruben J. Rodriguez.

His magazine, “Genetic Dancers: The Artistry Within African/American Fathers,” published during the 1980s, was the first magazine of its kind and asserted that African American fathers become artists through the frictions of conscientious parenting. His book Hand Me My Griot Clothes: The Autobiography of Junior Baby, featured a philosophical elder Black man ruminating on life, love, and ethics, and won the PEN Oakland award for multicultural literature in 1993. His personal essays about manhood and masculinity have been published in several anthologies, includingTenderheaded: A Comb-Bending Collection of Hair StoriesBlack Men SpeakingFathersongsI Hear a Symphony: African Americans Celebrate Love; and What Makes a Man: Twenty-two Writers Imagine the FutureYou may email Peter Harris at: peter “AT” inspiration “dot” com.

Fast by Kai M. Green

Content Notice: The purpose of the #LoveWITHAccountability forum on The Feminist Wire and project is to prioritize child sexual abuse, healing, and justice in national dialogues and work on racial justice and gender-based violence. Several of the featured articles in this forum give an in-depth and, at times, graphic examination of rape, molestation, and other forms of sexual harm against diasporic Black children through the experiences and work of survivors and advocates. The articles also offer visions and strategies for how we can humanely move towards co-creating a world without violence. Please take care of yourself while reading. 


By Kai M. Green

There was once a little Black girl who liked digging holes in the mud. She liked to feel the slime of worms. She reveled in the feel of the damp grit beneath her fingertips. Dirt did not bother her. It was only that she knew if she got too dirty she’d probably get in trouble for messing up her school clothes. This little Black girl liked play with the boys. She liked to take off her shirt and run around the yard like the boys. She did not think that she was a boy, but she had never been told that there were certain things that she would eventually have to become. Black girl. The becoming was a lesson. The becoming required a disciplining of the body. The becoming required a naming of the body, a naming that made what was hers both sacred and a burden, a naming that made what was hers not hers at all. The becoming made her mother afraid. Black mother wanted baby to play, but Black girls play is often interrupted by other things. Black mother never wanted those other things for her little girl, so she tried her best to protect her baby’s body.

Black mother took Black girl to the doctor because she baby be growin’ and bubblin’ over.

Her chest be becomin’ breasts. Black mother frets over not having more time. Too fast. Training bra becomes a necessary armor for her kindergartener. Her baby’s body was becomin’ the ground upon which many battles would be fought. Black mother had already been a battle ground body, she too had once become a Black girl and then woman. Black mother’s body had already been made to bend and break and hold and birth somethings that she would have rather not birthed. She wanted to protect her Black girl baby. She wanted to keep her whole and clean, but she knew the world did not care about the sacred text that was her baby’s body. The world was too big and too cruel. The world was also too small and too close, like family.

Black mother decided that the only way to keep Black girl safe was to wrap her up in chains, chains like Jesus, Bible, silence, secrets, and ancestral scars. She longed to keep Black girl from unsolicited touch, those who might harm her, some of the same people who harmed Black mother. But, chains failed at slowin’ Black girl’s body growin’. The chains did create a distance though, between Black girl and herself, her own body which she could no longer touch without fear or shame. Black girl’s battleground body become burden, become this thing that she didn’t ask for, inherited. Her body grew fast, and as much as Black mother tried to keep her, she could not.

When it came out, what had happened that summer, three years after her Black girl body first started to show signs of becomin’; When Black girl came to Black mother and told her all of the things that had happened to her Black girl body, Black mother responded with a question: “Did you like it?” Black girl was confused by the question, but responded “No.” She knew that the question was used to evaluate if she had become fast like her cousin, who was five years older. Black girl wanted more than anything to be good, so she learned to love being good, but never learned to love what she liked. What she liked, she didn’t know how to name after that moment. Healing for Black girl came in the form of learning how to name what she liked, learning how to ask for what she liked and believing that she deserved to have what she asked for.

Black girl is a childhood survivor of incest and sexual abuse. When Black girl told Black mother what was happening there was nothing done to remove her from the situation, so she learned to live with it. She learned to appreciate the moments when her abuser was nice to her. Black girl basked in those sweet moments knowing that they would always come with a side of cruelty. She still remembers what it felt like to be slapped hard across her face. There were never any bruises because Black girl’s skin was dark and she could take just about anything, she believed. There were no visible traces, the traces were all much deeper than skin could ever reveal.

Black girl would go on to remember that summer every day for the rest of her life. After that moment migraines, depression, and shame become hers. She tried her best to reverse the stain of beingfast. She became good. But good is not free. And protection is not the same as discipline. Black girl and Black mother’s body had been disciplined, but it was rare that they were ever protected. Black girl had to reeducate herself. Every day when she remembers that summer, she also affirms her own right and power to protect her body and spirit. Black girl carried shame and guilt as she grew and moved through many emotionally abusive adult relationships. She learned to seek out partners that affirmed her insecurities. They kept her in her place, kept her unhealthy and un-healing. They kept her feeling ugly, as if she didn’t deserve care. Abuse felt a lot like love to her, because of its familiarity, it kept her. Black mother wanted to keep Black girl safe, but the body can’t be disciplined into safety. The worlds around Black girl bodies must be reshaped to be able to hold her, fast as she may be—So, quit slowing her down, she was made to fly!

Coda

But the question that we were all to respond to in this forum is: What does accountability look like after Black girl done become?

After recounting Black girl’s tale [which is not just her own, but of course, it is also her mother’s shame, her auntie’s denial, her cousins’ tears, her play cousins’ confusion—there are too many Black girl battle ground body stories—] the question we are left with is: what does accountability look like when you are the only one who remembers what happened? What does accountability look like when you remind your loved ones of that thing that happened, that was not love, and they say, “I don’t know what you’re talking about,” and walk away? How does silence fill your mouth after that? Your body remembers. Your Black girl spirit remembers. You know what happened and you want to heal, but there are no apologies to be had. You are forced to swallow an inherited silence that your Black family has built as a wall of protection.

So what does accountability look like in the face of deep forgetfulness? It might look like walking away. It might look like a refusal to stop asking for those who were there to bear witness—tell the truth!

In the end, I don’t know what an accountability process for Black girl would look like. I know some things though. I know accountability requires responsibility. Those who have harmed must learn how to say “I have harmed, but I am not harm,” “I have acted like a monster, but I AM NOT a monster.” Those who have harmed have to commit to becoming better. Our Black families and communities need our people, and we need them to be well. Currently, we do not have enough tools or even language to articulate an effective model of accountability that does not replicate a carceral imaginary. Accountability requires an abolitionist ethic. We must ask ourselves: Do we seek healing or punishment? The answer of course for most survivors fluctuates—respect that.

We must ask: What is the relationship between accountability and transformative justice?

Justice that transforms harm into something else, like Black love, is hard work. This kind of justice changes both individuals and systems of oppression. In order to envision and create this new world we sometimes have to suspend our notion of reality, which is always steeped in history. What we have experienced can sometimes confine our imaginations, so we have to work against that non-creative force. This work requires intentionality. What is accountability for Black girls’ whose bodies re-remember family secrets that were supposed to be kept buried—forgotten? But like ghosts, they rise. You must remember and affirm your truth in spite of forgetfulness.

Accountability looks like more struggle; after the harm has been done, after the PTSD, after the nightmares, after all that. Accountability looks like an investment in the healing of the harm-doer. We desire for harm-doers to cease harm, but accountability asks something else of those that have been harmed. It asks us to believe that the harm-doer can be different and do better. Accountability initiates transformation in the lives of those who were harmed and those who have harmed (sometimes one person can be both). Accountability moves us towards a world where Black girl won’t have to inherit Black mother’s trauma. Black girl and Black mother no longer lean into the farce protection of respectability politics, body policing, religion, and covering up—they can’t [be] fly all bogged down like that!

So, I’ll repeat it for re-memory’s sake: The worlds around Black girl bodies must be reshaped to be able to hold her, fast as she may be—So, quit slowing her down, she was made to fly!

Author’s note:  This is an excerpt from my forthcoming memoir, tentatively titled, A Body Made Home. I want to thank everyone who has supported me in writing this piece. It was a particularly challenging task and forced me to go places I hadn’t gone before. These kinds of journeys are best if not taken alone. I thank Nkiru Nnawulezi, JeNaé Taylor, and Micah Hobbes Frazier for helping and holding me as I moved through writing this peace. I especially give gratitude for Aishah Shahidah Simmons as she has not only made space for us to share our testimonies of survival, but she has pushed us to imagine and create new Black futures where Black girls and women soar beyond scars.


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Kai M. Green is a shape-shifting Black queer nerd Boi; An Afro-Future, freedom-dreaming, rhyme slinging dragon slayer in search of a new world. A scholar, poet, and filmmaker, Dr. Green earned his Ph.D. from the Department of American Studies and Ethnicity with specializations in Gender Studies and Visual Anthropology at the University of Southern California. He joined the faculty of Feminist Studies of UC Santa Barbara as Assistant Professor of Queer Theory in Fall 2016. He is currently at work editing, along with C. Riley Snorton and Treva Ellison, a special issue of TSQ on Black Studies/Trans* Studies, and, as sole editor, a book collection entitled Black Trans Love is Black Wealth.

“The Least of These”: Black Children, Sexual Abuse, and Theological Malpractice by Ahmad Greene-Hayes

Content Notice: The purpose of the #LoveWITHAccountability forum on The Feminist Wire and project is to prioritize child sexual abuse, healing, and justice in national dialogues and work on racial justice and gender-based violence. Several of the featured articles in this forum give an in-depth and, at times, graphic examination of rape, molestation, and other forms of sexual harm against diasporic Black children through the experiences and work of survivors and advocates. The articles also offer visions and strategies for how we can humanely move towards co-creating a world without violence. Please take care of yourself while reading. 


By Ahmad Greene-Hayes

“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ –Matthew 25:40

On Friday, August 26th, Georgia pastor Kenneth Mack was arrested on one count of aggravated child molestation. This same “pastor” preached homophobic sermons and said the Pulse victims deserved to die. Yet, he is a child molester and a rapist. Mack, however, is not an anomaly; in fact, he represents much of what the church stands for: hypocrisy coupled with holiness or hell theologies that conceal unethical sexual acts and demonize marginalized bodies.

Mack, like so many others who wear sacred collars, desecrate churches and the gospel with their unrelenting commitments to sexual violence. Without doubt, our society perpetuates rape culture, but many of the church’s religious leaders prey on those who often cannot pray for themselves. They also theologically nurture and coddle those who violate children, women, and queer folks, and we must reckon with the reality that survivors of sexual abuse sit in pews and preach in pulpits, often with their harm doers in plain view.

Yet (Black) churches are largely silent. Indeed, the collective silence—from adults, from the village, from the elders—is deafening even as childhood screams, hollers, and pleas to live unbothered and untouched by the perversion of child sexual abuse blare the silences.

Several visual texts, such as Kasi Lemmons’ Eve’s Bayou (1997), Michael Schlutz and T.D. Jakes’Woman, Thou Art Loosed (2004), Tina Mabry’s Mississippi Damned (2009), and Spike Lee’s Red Hook Summer (2012), explore the everydayness of child sexual abuse in black communities. Most recently, Greenleaf (2016), on the Oprah Winfrey Network (OWN), delves into the topic of CSA (child sexual abuse) in a black mega church community in Memphis, Tennessee. Winfrey, a child sexual abuse and rape survivor, plays the role of Mavis McCready and gives her niece Grace the push she needs to expose all the lies and sexual traumas hidden in the physical and psychic archives of the church’s history. One such task is bringing her Uncle Mack to heel for sexually assaulting her sister Faith (who committed suicide), and several other girls in the church and the Memphis community. Like most Black churches and Black families, however, no one in the fictionalized account wants to talk about sexual violence, just like no one is talking about the real-life Mack mentioned in my opening.

Child sexual abuse in Black communities is an epidemic. Black Women’s Blueprint reports that 60% of Black girls have been raped before age 18, and studies show that one out of six boys are sexually assaulted. And we know without doubt that many of these assaults happen in churches or with proximity to churches and church people. As such, I have several questions…

What do we do when the violence is found among those who are “sanctified”?

Where is God when (Black) children are sexually assaulted? Or perhaps a more poignant question is does God condone the sexual violation of children? “God Help The Child,” prays Toni Morrison, but God does not help the child when the child is victim to child sexual abuse. How can Emmanuel, or God with us, bear witness to such pervasive and unchecked evil and not be moved to act justly on the behalf of the child survivor? And if God is on the side of the oppressed, as James H. Coneand others have argued, where is God when (Black) children are hurt by those who introduced them to “God”?

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With regards to child sexual abuse, my work as the founder of Children of Combahee and as a scholar of religion has three aims. First, I am building a canon of thought in the study of Black religion and theology that names sexual violence as sexual “deviance,” and reconsiders longstanding pathologies which situate homosexuality, gender nonconformity, womanhood and other marginalized sexual/gender identities as not only “deviant,” but subservient to Black malecisheteropatriarchy. Second, I am deconstructing the myth that queer subjects—both within and outside of the Black church—are queer because of sexual abuse, and am offering new ways of thinking about “pathology” and “perversion” within the Black church. Third, I contend that lived experience, personal testimony, and psychic realities are both worthy and befitting of critical theological attention and engagement, in part, because most survivor narratives never make it into academic or church archives, even as the assaults and the remembrances and effects of the assaults are archived (or repressed) within survivors’ minds.

It is important to note that many of the terminologies used in my written and vocal work are terms that are never spoken in many Black religious spaces. “Consent” is assumed, but it is never taught. “Rape” is alluded to but it is never acknowledged. The “survivor” is shunned, while the overcomer is praised. These terms, however, function as guiding principles in the fight to end sexual violence. I believe wholeheartedly that Black sexuality, gender identity, and sexual violence cannot be freely and expressly understood or discussed within Black churches, until the church catches up to the mainstream discourse on human sexuality (and even the mainstream discourse lags behind those who are survivors, queer, trans, women, and femme). These words are prominent in social justice spaces, antirape organizations, and in other medical and legal entities, but they are often absent from the church, even as survivors fill pews and pulpits.

If we believe that the Black church is a central site of influence in many Black communities, though scholars like Eddie Glaude have argued, “the Black church is dead,” we must continue to question why “consent,” “rape,” and “survivor” are not a part of the Black churchgoing population’s vocabulary. We must also evaluate whether pastors and leaders in the church have the tools to work through sexual violence theologically, ethically, and within cultural context.

Call me heretical but I do not believe that the Bible is a reliable resource in this regard, lest it be consulted through a womanist queer theological lens. I also contend that sexual violence cannot be eradicated until the church acknowledges the way it sanitizes Biblically-sanctioned rape, even as it manipulates scripture to demonize queer and transgender people, to subject women and children to patriarchal men and leaders, and to protect and cover the tracks of rapists.

Victim shaming and queerantagonism are active evils in the life of many Black churches. My work calls them both into question, not to pathologize survivors and/or queer people, but to understand how white supremacy, capitalism, neoliberalism, and the workings of the State have altered the ways Black people wrestle with racial-sexual terrorism.

Many survivor-activists have pushed Black churches to think about its complicity in the rape and sexual assault of countless women, men, children, gender nonconforming, queer, transgender, and poor Christians and non-Christians, and yet, the Black church continues to turn a blind eye to the reality of racial-sexual violence. Monica Coleman’s The Dinah Project—both the book and organization—intervenes in a history that registers unchecked sexual violence and illicit sexual behavior as standard, if not normative, alongside patriarchy and cisheterosexism.

Every congregation contains victims of sexual violence. Every church with women, men, boys, girls, or the elderly contains victims of sexual violence. Whether an individual confides in the church leaders, family, or friends, or chooses to remain silent, there is no church void of the people whose lives are changed by experiences of sexual violence. Because every church contains persons affected by sexual violence, the church must respond. Because sexual violence affects every aspect of our communities, including our religious and spiritual lives, the church must respond. Because silence is a response of tolerance, the church must respond (Coleman, 4).

If the church is filled with so many survivors of sexual violence, why then does the church lack urgency and conviction in the fight to eradicate the unholy and perverse reality of sexual abuse?

Perhaps it is because (Black) churches are more concerned with the sexual practices, behaviors, and orientations of its constituents that are nonheterosexual, nonnormative, and/or disruptive to puritanical notions of sacred, holy, and virtuous (see Kelly Brown Douglas, 1999). Among many things, “the politics of respectability” as defined by Evelyn Brooks Higginbotham and “the culture of dissemblance” as told by Darlene Clark Hine (pdf) explicate the ways Black church people have used silence as a means of protection from white racial-sexual terrorists. To mitigate the effects of white supremacist violence, many African Americans do not address intracommunal violence, and in some instances extracommunal violence, because they do not want to portray the race in a negative light or they want to be race loyal, or even race first, everything later. These patterns are deadly and send a loud message that racial justice takes precedence over the justice that every individual deserves in regards to their bodies and psyches—regardless of age, gender, sexuality, socioeconomic status, religion, or any other marginalized identity.

The inability (or unwillingness) to address sexual violence as an evil that pervades home, church and community is steeped in larger cultural “norms,” though abnormal, of cogitatively dissociating one’s lived experience—in Black flesh—from one’s embodied and experienced sexuality. In other words, the inability to address violence and trauma as it relates to Black sexuality can be traced back to the plantation where rape and torture were codified by law and the theologies of the master class. In some ways, the contemporary Black church—which grew out of enslavement—mirrors the plantation of times past, and survivors are pushing the church to consider its reinscription of master tactics—that is , attempts to abuse, silence, marginalize, shame, victimize, and dehumanize marginal subjects, or as Jesus said, “the least of these.”

Until Black churches are honest about human sexuality and our collective discomfort with it, sexual violence will remain unchecked and accountability will be nothing more than a goal to be obtained in the afterlife. But if we believe Jesus’ words, “thy kingdom come and thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven,” we must also believe that God is looking to the church to conjure justice for survivors right now. Indeed, hell is a present reality, and heaven is too far.

If you are interested in joining the fight against CSA in Black church communities, please consider registering for Children of Combahee’s upcoming town hall on Saturday, October 29th at the Concord Baptist Church of Christ in Brooklyn, New York.

From Pew To Pulpit: Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse Speak: https://www.eventbrite.com/e/from-pew-to-pulpit-survivors-of-child-sexual-abuse-speak-tickets-27079126396


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Ahmad Greene-Hayes is a Ph.D. student in the Department of Religion at Princeton University, where he is also pursuing graduate certificates in African American Studies and Gender and Sexuality Studies. His research interests include Black religion(s), African American Pentecostalism, queer theory, Gender and Sexuality in the Black church, and 19th-20th century African American religious history. He is a Mellon Mays fellow and holds a Bachelor of Arts in History and Africana Studies from Williams College. Using oral histories, performance studies, and other archival materials, his senior honors thesis entitled, “Black Pentecostal Touch: Sexual Abuse, Queerantagonism, and (Un)holy Hands,” examined how Black religiosity, within the context of Black Pentecostal churches, responds to gendered and sexualized Black trauma. Currently, he also serves as the founder of Children of Combahee, a newfound initiative to end child sexual abuse in black churches via the Just Beginnings Collaborative. He is also the founder of #BlackChurchSex on Twitter and writes regularly on race, gender, sexuality, politics, and religion at TheRoot.com, Ebony.com, The Feminist Wire, and other outlets.