#LiftEVERYVoice: Ruby Atee Pigford

This week’s #LiftEVERYVoice segment features Ruby Atee Pigford.

Ruby’s History

By Airzola Cleaves, Staff Attorney

Ruby Atee Pigford—a black teenager—was raped by a “well-to-do oil dealer” named James Lee Perry.  On August 7, 1947, James Perry picked Ruby up after he promised to pay her $0.70 per hour for a babysitting job.  However, instead of taking Ruby to his house, James Perry drove to a nearby bar. When Ruby refused to go inside the bar with James Perry, he beat her until she was unconscious.  He then raped her, tied her body to the bumper of his car, and dragged her body through town. Later that evening, James Perry dumped Ruby’s body outside of her home.

Ruby told her parents what happened, and her parents told their friends.  The African-American community supported Ruby and demanded justice. Edward Knott, Jr., the secretary of the NAACP chapter in Meridian, Mississippi wired the story to the Pittsburgh Courier and airmailed a letter to the national NACCP office.  The Assistant Special Counsel, Marian Wynn Perry, recommended that the case be widely publicized in an effort to draw attention to Mississippi. As Danielle McGuire indicated in her novel, At the Dark End of the Street: Black Women, Rape, and Resistance—a New History of the Civil Rights Movement from Rosa Parks to the Rise of Black Power, “[t]he only feasible way to hold white men accountable for raping black women—since Southern courts would not—was to draw outside attention to the crime.”

 

Letter to Ruby

 

#LiftEVERYVoice is a movement created by STAR® to amplify the voices of survivors silenced by racial oppression.  We seek to uplift, support and empower survivors of color.

 

 

 

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#LiftEVERYVoice: Harriet Ann Jacobs

This week’s #LiftEVERYVoice segment highlights Harriet Ann Jacobs, an African-American writer who escaped from slavery and was later freed.  Jacobs is best known for writing the revolutionary autobiographical novel, Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl, one of the first books to address the struggle for freedom by female slaves, and explore their struggles with sexual abuse and their effort to protect their roles as women and mothers.

Harriet’s History

By Kirsten Raby, Capital Area Regional Director

Harriet Jacobs was born into slavery in 1813. At 6, after her mother’s death, she was sent to live with her mother’s master. When she was 11 she was bequeathed to the niece of her former owner’s wife. For 17 years Harriet fought off the sexual advancements of the father, Dr. James Norcom, of her young master. She not only had to fight off a perpetrator but also had to deal with the never-ending abuse by his wife. While she attempted to navigate the complex life she was given and the constant hate she lived amongst, she entered into an agreed (while still secret) relationship with Samuel Sawyer, an unmarried white attorney. Together they had 2 children, Joseph & Louisa. All the while Harriet continued to fight off the unwanted sexual advancements from Norcom. She was soon banished to work on Norcom’s son’s plantation because of her refusal to be his “mistress”. Her children were sold to their father so she started her escape plan by going into hiding, in the small attic of her grandmother’s home for 7 years. In 1842 Harriet finally escaped and fled to New York to be reunited with her children. In 1860 she published her book Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl; she was the 1st woman to author a fugitive slave narrative in the US. Harriet’s primary goal in writing out her story was to confront white women of the North on behalf of the many “Slave mothers that are still in bondage” in the South. She wanted to indict the southern patriarchy for its sexual tyranny over black women. Harriet spent her free life fighting for freedom, teaching, and doing relief work. She died in Washington DC in 1897. “The secrets of slavery are concealed like those of the inquisition.” Harriet wrote. “My master was, to my knowledge, the father of 11 slaves. But did the mothers dare to tell who was the father of their children? Did the other slaves dare to allude to it, except in whispers among themselves? No indeed? They knew too well the terrible consequences.”

 

A Letter to Harriet

 

#LiftEVERYVoice is a movement created by STAR® to amplify the voices of survivors silenced by racial oppression.  We seek to uplift, support and empower survivors of color.

 

Providing Comprehensive Sex Education in Schools Helps Prevent Sexual Violence

By Racheal Hebert, LCSW, President & CEO

The topic of comprehensive sex education for youth remains controversial across Louisiana. While some believe that keeping sexual health education out of schools serves as a way to prevent teens from having sex, our statewide data shows a different story. According to our state’s 2016 Annual Health Report Card, Louisiana ranks 44th among states in the reported number of births among females 15 to 19 years of age. Further, our state’s rate of STD and HIV/AIDS infection is double the national average.

We know that youth are engaging in sexual behaviors—both consensual and nonconsensual. One of the best tools we have to prevent teens from getting involved in risky and harmful sexual activity is to provide them with the education they need to understand their bodies and sexuality, as well as collect data to understand the prevalence of sexual behaviors that can affect young people’s physical, mental and emotional wellbeing.

Comprehensive sex education is a critical foundation for sexual violence prevention

Sexual violence is occurring at epidemic levels in our communities, and youth are often the most vulnerable targets. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), over 10% of girls and boys under the age of 18 experienced rape, attempted rape or were made to penetrate someone based on national survey data collected in 2012. Because youth lack comprehensive information about their bodies, sexuality and healthy relationships, they often do not understand sexual violence when it happens to them. Those who abuse children rely on their vulnerability and lack of awareness and understanding of sex to get away with this violence, knowing that children often don’t have the language to describe what is happening or feel too much shame to talk about it.

Comprehensive sex education goes beyond just the biological basics of reproduction; it provides students with knowledge about abstinence, human development, anatomy, physiology, families, personal contraception, STI and HIV/AIDS prevention, healthy relationships, communication skills, media literacy, responsible decision making, and more.

When administered based on national best practices, sexual health curricula offer youth a wide range of information on how to deal with the social and emotional characteristics of sexuality, which can provide protection in the form of knowledge. Youth who are taught comprehensive, age-appropriate sex education beginning as young as grade school have the opportunity to learn about the benefits of abstinence, as well as their changing bodies and understand ways to protect and assert their own boundaries when it comes to adults, peers and future dating partners.

Louisiana parents support comprehensive sex education in schools

According to the Louisiana Parent Survey, administered by the Louisiana Public Health Institute and the Institute for Women and Ethnic Studies in 2016, parents overwhelmingly support mandatory comprehensive sex education in Louisiana schools. In fact, 61% of parents believe their children are already receiving sexual health education in schools; however, Louisiana Law does not require or monitor comprehensive sex education in schools at this time. A majority of Louisiana parents surveyed believe that comprehensive sex education is an important part of school curriculum, and that schools should be required to offer it.

Collecting data on youth sexual behaviors is also a must

The Youth Risk Behavior Survey (YRBS) was developed in 1990 to monitor priority health risk behaviors that contribute markedly to the leading causes of death, disability, and social problems among youth and adults in the United States. The national survey, conducted by CDC, provides data representative of 9th through 12th grade students in public and private schools in the United States.

YRBS monitors six types of health-risk behaviors that contribute to the leading causes of death and disability among youth and adults, including:

  • Behaviors that contribute to unintentional injuries and violence
  • Alcohol and other drug use
  • Tobacco use
  • Unhealthy dietary behaviors
  • Inadequate physical activity
  • Sexual behaviors related to unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV infection*

*Louisiana does not collect this data currently.

The majority of states already use the YRBS. In fact, in 2013, 42 states participated in the YRBS, including Louisiana and nearby states such as Mississippi and Alabama. However, Louisiana and Georgia were the only two states that participated but did not collect sexual risk behavior data.

Implementation of the YRBS with the inclusion of sexual risk behavior questions would allow Louisiana to:

  1. Monitor risk behaviors that lead to health and social problems
  2. Assess whether risk behaviors increase, decrease, or stay the same over time
  3. Examine the co-occurrence of different risk behaviors
  4. Provide data that is comparable to national data, that of other states, and among subpopulations of youth within Louisiana
  5. Evaluate prevention programs to make sure that they are working
  6. Inform policy development and administrative decision-making at the state and local level
  7. Avoid losing funding for prevention programming in schools. Schools are a great place to conduct prevention programs because many youth can be served at a relatively low cost
  8. Develop prevention programs to reduce sexual risky behaviors and delay the onset of sex

What you can do

  1. Educate yourself on the issue and start a dialogue with parents, schools and your local officials about the importance of comprehensive sex education.
  2. Contact your legislators and ask them to 1) support adding sexual behavior questions to the YRBS administered by Louisiana schools and 2) support mandated comprehensive sexual health education in Louisiana schools. Click here to find yours.
  3. Share this information online through email and social media to increase others’ awareness of the issue.

 

Sources:

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2017). Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance System (YRBSS) Overview. Retrieved from: https://www.cdc.gov/healthyyouth/data/yrbs/overview.htm

Louisiana Department of Health (2017). Annual Health Report Card (Rep. No. Version 2).  Retrieved from: http://ldh.louisiana.gov/assets/oph/Center-PHI/2016HealthReportCard.pdf.

Louisiana Public Health Institute (2016). Louisiana Parent Survey: What Louisiana parents know, believe and perceive about school-based sex education. Retrieved from http://files.constantcontact.com/c7c4a078301/088b17df-0ad3-4bb4-8f2a-271bb2006df7.pdf.

Louisiana Public Health Institute (n.d.). Toolkit for Successful Implementation of Comprehensive Sexual Health Education in Louisiana Schools. Retrieved from http://www.lphi.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/10/Sex-Ed-Toolkit-Full-Version.pdf.

Smith, S.G., Chen, J., Basile, K.C., Gilbert, L.K., Merrick, M.T., Patel, N., Walling, M., & Jain, A. (2017). The National Intimate Partner and Sexual Violence Survey (NISVS): 2010-2012 State Report. Atlanta, GA: National Center for Injury Prevention and Control, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

#LiftEVERYVoice: Joan Little

This week’s #LiftEVERYvoice segment features Joan Little, an African-American woman who was the first woman in United States history to be acquitted using the defense that she used deadly force to resist sexual assault. Her experience changed the course of history and helped fuel the civil rights, feminist and prisoners’ rights movements.

 

Joan’s History

By Azriela Reed, Bilingual Resource Advocate in Baton Rouge

Joan [Jo-Ann] Little became a unique civil rights symbol to the Black Power, feminist, and prisoners’ rights movements in the 70s. At 19 years old, Little found herself the sole female inmate at Beauford Country Jail in Washington, NC (Little Washington), sentenced to 7 to 10 years for breaking and entering. At 4 am on August 27, 1974, 81 days into her de facto solitary confinement, the town policeman entered the jail to find the night jailer, lying dead in Little’s cell bunk. Clarence Alligood, Beauford County’s night jailer had come into Joan Litte’s cell demanding oral sex and threatening her with the ice pick. After he finished, Little was able to wrestle the ice pick away while his guard was down, stabbed him to get free, and ran away. Joan was declared a fugitive, but Little turned herself in with the help of a lawyer. Joan was charged with first-degree murder, which carried an automatic death sentence in North Carolina. Her case came to be known as the “The Joan Little Case” and is best known for pioneering the new method of scientific jury selection. Joan Little was the first woman in the United States to be acquitted by claiming that she used deadly force to resist sexual assault as a defense. Feminists were supportive of her right to protect herself from sexual assault, Civil rights activists used her case to highlight police brutality, and prisoners’ rights groups saw this as a way to fight against the death penalty. Joan became a pivotal symbol of change and lives on to this day.

 

A Letter to Joan

 

 

#LiftEVERYVoice is a movement created by STAR® to amplify the voices of survivors silenced by racial oppression.  We seek to uplift, support and empower survivors of color.

Agents of Change: Paulette Thomas

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Becoming an active member of the movement to end sexual trauma is one of the most rewarding things you can ever do. I would say just do it. Sexual trauma touches all of us — if not directly, we know someone who was touched by it. Be a part of change and help end the silence and the stigma behind not reporting.

– Paulette Thomas

 

1. What is your position at STAR?

I am a medical advocate for STAR. I provide support, resources, and advocacy for survivors of sexual assault before, during, and after the forensic exam at the hospital.

2. How did you come to work at STAR or in the field of sexual assault prevention/response?

In 2002, I was a victim of sexual assault. Going to the hospital alone was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do; the process was so overwhelming. I had thoughts of leaving and not going through with the process, but a hospital advocate from the Rape Crisis Center (now STAR) came, explained the process to me and was there every step of the way.

When I transitioned from victim to survivor with the help of the center’s counselors, the first thing I did was find out how I could give back by being a support for someone else going through the same thing. When I walked into the office to sign up, the first person I saw was the counselor that helped me in 2002. That was 2009 and I have no plans of stopping.

3. What do you find most rewarding about your work at STAR?

There is so much that I find rewarding, but the most rewarding thing is working directly with survivors — being there at the moment that they need someone the most and letting them know that even though they may have come to the hospital alone, they are not alone. It’s such a great feeling to be asked, “Did you come just for me?” It’s a great feeling knowing that I am making a difference in someone’s life, even if they never say a word but I see the look on their face when they realize that I’m not there to ask questions, I’m there to be supportive and listen if they want to talk or just sit quietly.

4. What motivates you to keep going when things get difficult or discouraging, and how do you practice self-care?

Before I became an advocate, I had no idea how much sexual assault happens because only a small portion makes the news. It’s always a little difficult knowing the reason that there is a need for medical advocates. When I first started, I would get emotional and wanted to cry with everyone who cried, but I can honestly say that it never gets discouraging because I always want to help at the time of need. It can be a little overwhelming, though, if you don’t take some me-time.

I think about the survivors that I have helped and the parents of the survivors who are so grateful that someone was there to give support when they could not be there for whatever reason. STAR is so supportive and makes sure that we are taking care of ourselves and taking time off if needed. Working with STAR is so fulfilling and that alone motivates me and keep me going.

5. What are some ways you promote positive change in your community, outside of your work duties?

Change comes with education. I was at a community event at a college and STAR had an information table set up. Almost all of the young ladies passed by and said, “Oh I don’t need that because it will never happen to me.” I was one of those people who thought the same way before it happened to me. Since that day, I talk to young girls and let them know that it can happen to anyone and the majority of the time it is not a stranger — it’s someone you know.

Most of the time the survivor is told that no one will believe them and that prevents a lot of survivors from reporting. I let them know that they don’t have to be silent. For those who have gone through sexual assault and never got help, I encourage them to get counseling. It is also my goal is to teach men about boundaries and what sexual assault is because change starts with us. I believe that with education, sexual assault won’t be a prevalent as it is today.

6. What advice would you give to someone who is hesitant about becoming an active member of the movement to end sexual trauma?

Becoming an active member of the movement to end sexual trauma is one of the most rewarding things you can ever do. I would say just do it. Sexual trauma touches all of us — if not directly, we know someone who was touched by it. Be a part of change and help end the silence and the stigma behind not reporting. It only takes a desire to make a difference. You choose the days you want to volunteer, so it won’t interfere with your normal schedule. If you don’t think medical advocacy is for you, phone advocacy may be, or you can always make a donation. Everything helps and everyone can make a difference.

 

Get involved and make change with STAR:

Click here for more ways to get involved.

#LiftEVERYVoice: Betty Jean Owens

This week’s #ListEVERYvoice segment highlights Betty Jean Owens, an African American woman who was brutally raped by four white men in Tallahassee, Florida in 1959.

Betty’s History

On May 2, 1959, four African American students at Florida A & M were forced out of their car, at knife and gunpoint, by four white men. The two African American males were then forced to leave the two African American females, Betty Jean Owens and Edna Richardson, in the possession of the 4 white males. Edna Richardson was able to escape the white men and lose them in a nearby park, which left Betty Jean Owens alone with all four men; they took her to the edge of town and raped her seven times that night. The four men were arrested and subsequently confessed to the assaults and were eventually found guilty and sentenced to life in prison on June 15, 1959. This court case was monumental, as it was the first case in which white males were convicted of a rape of an African American woman.

 

A Letter to Betty

Sources:

http://atlantablackstar.com/2015/05/28/9-disturbing-facts-about-sexual-violence-against-our-women-under-jim-crow/3/

https://www.cla.purdue.edu/from-plessy-to-brown/activities/3662860.pdf

 

#LiftEVERYVoice is a movement created by STAR® to amplify the voices of survivors silenced by racial oppression.  We seek to uplift, support and empower survivors of color.

The Difference Between Self-Defense and Rape Prevention

The idea of having girls and women participate in self-defense classes to reduce their risk of rape is highly debated. “Teach men not to rape” is a common response from survivors and advocates who feel that the burden of rape prevention is unfairly placed on the victims.

Writing in The Guardian, Jessica Valenti echoed this concern: “In a world where rape victims are routinely blamed for violence perpetrated against them, sending the message that stopping rape is women’s work is a slippery slope.” In this post, we dissect how promoting self-defense classes as rape prevention can be harmful and problematic.

 

Self-defense is not rape prevention

Self-defense classes are considered risk reduction, not prevention. Risk reduction programs focus on helping individuals gain skills to reduce their risk for being victims of sexual violence and changing behaviors that might put them at risk.

Additional examples of risk reduction programs include:

  • “Watch your drink” campaigns
  • Teaching “Good Touch/Bad Touch to children
  • Internet safety classes
  • Rape avoidance devices, such as whistles, mace and Tasers
  • Teaching bystander intervention strategies to interrupt a potential assault

Primary prevention is about getting to the root of the problem and changing our culture to one that promotes safety, equality and respect.

Although risk reduction programs have some benefit for helping increase an individual’s safety in certain situations, these programs are not considered primary prevention for the following reasons:

  1. They are not focused on addressing the root causes or the risk factors of sexual violence.
  2. They make the potential victim responsible for their own safety without making the community responsible for changing the factors that lead to sexual violence and without helping potential perpetrators change. This perpetuates victim-blaming, stigma, and shame which further harms victims and does nothing to prevent or reduce rates of sexual violence.
  3. They may help reduce the likelihood that someone at the party can slip a drug into someone else’s drink and sexually assault them; however, a person who is looking to commit a drug facilitated sexual assault that night would be likely to target someone else. The probability of any sexual assault being committed has not necessarily changed.

Do self-defense classes work?

It is important to note that some individuals feel more empowered to navigate their daily lives after having completed self-defense training. Nonetheless, there are psychological and neurobiological impacts of trauma that may affect the victim’s ability to physically “fight back” during an assault. Traumatic experiences cause responses of fight, flight or freeze, which often override self-defense skills. For every news story about a woman fighting off her attacker, there are thousands of survivors who didn’t have that option. The best self-defense classes respect the philosophy that, regardless of whether a person chooses to use force to fight back, they are never to blame for being assaulted.

 

The benefits of self-defense classes

At STAR, many sexual assault survivors that we work with often express interest in learning self-defense skills. Self-defense classes can help survivors regain a sense of power and control over their own bodies after an assault. Attending a class given by an instructor who is sensitive to the needs of people who have experienced sexual violence can be an empowering experience that helps to restore a sense of real and perceived safety and play a part in the healing process in the aftermath of sexual trauma.

Research indicates certain positive outcomes resulting from self-defense training; these include[1]:

  • Increased assertiveness
  • Improved self-esteem
  • Decreased anxiety
  • Increased sense of perceived control
  • Decreased fear of sexual assault
  • Enhanced self-efficacy
  • Improved physical competence/skills in self-defense
  • Decreased avoidance behaviors (restricting activities such as walking alone)
  • Increased participatory behaviors (behaviors demonstrating freedom of action)

There is also some preliminary evidence to suggest that self-defense programs can decrease symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and increase self-efficacy among those who have already been sexually assaulted.[2]

 

Suggestions for choosing a self-defense course[3]

If you are interested in participating in a self-defense course, consider doing the following:

  • Before choosing a self-defense course, research the program carefully. Programs vary in their approach, duration and cost. To research a course you may be able to observe a class, ask for written materials on the course content and philosophy, and possibly interview former students if it does not impede with confidentiality considerations.
  • Find out a program’s philosophy. Questions might include: How does the program address violence against women? What is its perspective on non-stranger sexual assault? What is the program’s history? What are the standards for instructor training and background? How are emotions handled in the course – do instructors have training or background in working with assault survivors? What procedures are in place for student safety? What precautionary measures are taken to reduce chance of injury? Does the instructor allow participation and contribution at the level to which students are comfortable?
  • Understand the program’s method. Many sexual assault perpetrators work by disrespecting non-physical boundaries first. Therefore, a strong self-defense program will focus on defining and protecting personal boundaries on multiple levels – not just physical. It will also help build mental and verbal skills in addition to physical techniques for averting assault. These subtleties are very important in the context of sexual assault.
  • Look for an instructor who respects your right to choose. It’s important to remember that decisions about personal safety are just that…personal. Only that individual can decide what strategies will work best in any given situation. It is best-practice for an instructor to provide a viable set of options to choose from, not instruct what should be done in any particular situation.

 

References:

[1] Brecklin, L.R. (2007). Evaluation outcomes of self-defense training for women: A review. Aggression and Violent Behavior, 13, 60-76

[2] David, Wendy S., et al. “Taking Charge.” Journal of Interpersonal Violence, vol. 21, no. 4, 2006, pp. 555–565., doi:10.1177/0886260505285723.

[3] Sexual Assault Advocacy & Crisis Line Training Guide developed by the Colorado Coalition Against Sexual Assault. Retrieved from: http://www.ccasa.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/sexual-assault-advocacy-and-crisis-line-training-guide.pdf

 

#LiftEVERYvoice: Emmett Till

This week’s #LiftEVERYvoice segment features Emmett Tilll, a 14-year-old African-American boy who was tortured and killed after being accused of whistling at a white woman in Mississippi in 1955. This event caused widespread outrage and inspired many to open public discourse about the mistreatment of African Americans in the south and beyond.

 

“I thought of Emmett Till and I just couldn’t go back.” – Rosa Parks

 

Emmett’s History

By Javonda Nix, Resource Advocate in New Orleans

Emmett Till was born in Chicago on July 25, 1941, to Mamie and Louis Till. He was their only child. Emmett and his mother lived in a middle-class black neighborhood in the Southside of Chicago. His father died in the army, leaving Mamie to raise Emmett on her own. The neighborhood where Emmett was raised was a place where black families and businesses could flourish. Anyone in the community would define Emmett as an accountable, humorous, and infectiously vivacious child. Till’s mother worked long hours. In an effort to help her, he would make sure the cleaning was completed and dinner was ready by the time she came home from work. At the age of 5, Till was hit with Polio. Fortunately, he made a full recovery. What he would never recover from or escape is racism and the hate for the African American male.

In the summer of 1955 Till’s great uncle, Moses Wright, came to Chicago to visit. When his uncle was ready to go back home to Money, Mississippi, Till wanted to go with him. He begged his mother to let him go down south with his cousins and uncle. Although Till’s mother was reluctant, she decided to let him go. Little did Till’s mother know, she would never see her only child again. Three days after arriving in Money, Mississippi, Emmett and his cousins went into a local grocery store, Bryant’s Grocery and Meat Market, to buy snacks. They had just spent the majority of their day picking cotton. Emmet and his cousins went up to the register to purchase snacks. Instead of placing the money on the counter, Till placed it in the clerk, Carolyn Bryant’s, hand. Touching a white women’s hand was seen as disrespectful in 1955. As such, Carolyn Bryant threatened to shoot both Till and his cousin. Immediately following her threat, Bryant made her way to her car to get a gun. As Bryant angrily walked toward her car, Till whistled at her.  Knowing that this would cause trouble, the kids promptly ran away.

Carolyn told her husband’s family what happened, accusing Emmett of flirting with a white woman. A few days later, Carolyn’s husband, brother-in-law, and a few of their friends kidnapped Till. They beat Emmett beyond recognition and dragged him to the Tallahatchie River. Before dumping his body, they shot him in the head. As if that wasn’t enough, they tied barbed wire around his neck and threw his disfigured body into the water. Uncle Moses reported him missing to the police.Three days later his body was pulled out of the river. Till’s face was so disfigured that Uncle Moses couldn’t recognize him. Uncle Moses only knew it was him because Till was wearing the ring with his father’s initials.

Till’s mother demanded his body be shipped back to Chicago. She had an open casket funeral because she found it impossible to elaborate on this terrible hate crime against her son. This was her way of reaching out for help from the black community tell this story.  Emmett’s killers went to trial before an all-white male jury. Even with all the evidence and outrage from the black community, Till’s killers were acquitted and all charges were dropped.

After testifying that Till attempted to rape her, Carolyn Bryant remained silent for six decades about this notorious hate crime that today has a major impact on black history. Finally, in 2016 Carolyn broke her silence and admitted that her testimony and rape allegations about Emmett were false.

There has always been this historical myth that if a white woman cried she was raped, this crime must have been committed by a black man. It has always been easier for most white women and men to believe that such an attacker is a man of color. In reality, most attackers are of the same race as the victim. In the Jim Crow era, white men used rape and rumors of rape to justify violence against black men and keep the black man oppressed.

Source: https://www.biography.com/people/emmett-till-507515

 

A Letter to Emmett

 

#LiftEVERYVoice is a movement created by STAR® to amplify the voices of survivors silenced by racial oppression.  We seek to uplift, support and empower survivors of color.

Agents of Change: Collin Wade

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It is my genuine belief that patently false accusations are incredibly rare, and if someone is speaking up, something problematic happened, regardless of whether it rises to the level of criminal or civil liability.

– Collin Wade

1. What is your connection to STAR?

I’m a lead organizer of Me Too NOLA, a local organization that seeks to join in the national conversation in a local and personalized way. Presently, we hold speak-out events where people who have experienced sexual assault and/or sexual harassment can share their stories in a safe and positive environment.

These speak-outs empower, validate, and bring healing to survivors while also raising awareness that sexual assault and sexual harassment are being experienced by people in our community. They also encourage empathy from witnesses which we believe incites activism.

2. What do you find most rewarding about your involvement in these efforts?

I find it most rewarding to hear from survivors who have found their experiences of sharing at these events helpful in their healing process, and to be able to bring survivors together so that they don’t suffer alone.

3. What motivates you to keep going when things get difficult or discouraging?

Every day someone I know, including myself, experiences sexual harassment, assault, abuse or sexism. I don’t even have to look for anecdotes or stats to keep me motivated because the examples are everywhere — it’s completely ingrained in our culture from how young boys are raised to treat women, to how young girls are socialized to be pleasing to men, to how I’m afraid to walk my dog alone after dark.

4. What are some ways you promote positive change in your community, outside of organizing Me Too NOLA?

I try to be vocal about the issues I care about; I call my congresspersons; I vote in all elections. I do pro bono legal work.

As a piano teacher, I teach self-expression through the arts and mindfulness meditation — skills which I believe help people cope with trauma. I hope to one day be able to give free or discounted private lessons because I believe strongly in the value of the one-on-one relationship a piano teacher has with her student.

I try to be a good listener and expose myself to diverse ideas, opinions, and lifestyles, and make sure everyone can participate in the conversation. That is one reason why Me Too NOLA is not just for women who have been sexually assaulted or sexually harassed; it is for people of all genders.

I also try to assume the best about people – even when it’s difficult.

5. What advice would you give to someone who is hesitant about becoming an active member of the movement to end sexual trauma?

My advice would depend upon the person. If you are a survivor, my advice is for you to take it at your own pace and not push yourself. Some days, activism may feel like a good idea and other days, you might need to retreat — and that’s ok. If you want to get involved with Me Too NOLA, there’s big and small ways to help —  you can hang flyers, attend a speak-out, speak out yourself, help organize a speak-out, work on the website, etc.

If you are hesitant to get involved because you are a man, first of all, let me say that sexual assault and sexual harassment are not only happening to women. We need men to speak out and share too, and to support other men who share. We also need allies in this battle. Volunteer to help out with Me Too NOLA or another group working in this space – we are happy to have you.

To people in general: believe survivors. This doesn’t mean forgetting “innocent until proven guilty,” it simply means supporting survivors for speaking out. Do not start off in a place of doubt and skepticism or wondering what the survivor did wrong. It is incredibly difficult to accuse someone of sexual assault or sexual harassment (or to press charges/sue because of it) because suddenly the accuser’s whole life becomes subject to public scrutiny and judgment. Survivors do not make their accusations lightly and most survivors never speak up at all. It is my genuine belief that patently false accusations are incredibly rare, and if someone is speaking up, something problematic happened, regardless of whether it rises to the level of criminal or civil liability.

6. When is the next Me Too NOLA speak-out? 

Our next speak-out event is on Tuesday, March 20th at Twelve Mile Limit. People can find more information here and can sign up to speak at the event here. If people are interested in volunteering with Me Too NOLA, they can sign up here.

People can also follow us on social media: on Facebook @metoonola, on Instagram @me.too.nola and on Twitter @metoonola.

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#LiftEVERYVoice: Lena Baker


This week’s #LiftEVERYvoice segment highlights Lena Baker, a survivor who was convicted of capital murder of her white employer, Ernest Knight.

“What I done, I did in self-defense, or I would have been killed myself. Where I was I could not overcome it. God has forgiven me. I have nothing against anyone. I picked cotton for Mr. Pritchett, and he has been good to me. I am ready to go. I am one in the number. I am ready to meet my God. I have a very strong conscience.”

— Baker’s last words

 

Lena’s History

By Derrick Lathan, Youth Development Coordinator in Baton Rouge

Lena Baker fought to be a survivor during a time where violence compounded the oppression and poverty that saturated her days, as like the life of those like her. Being poor, Black, and a woman with three children in 1940s Georgia, she was fatally penalized and criminalized for surviving the fight for her life and daring to exist as a Black body capable of defending itself.

In 1944, Ernest B. Knight, a white, gristmill owner, known drunk, and gun brandisher, kidnapped and sexually assaulted Baker after hiring her to care for his broken leg. Knight abused and locked Baker in his gristmill for days at a time despite her efforts to get away and stay away. Those that knew of his deeds, like Knight’s son and the Randolph County sheriff, beat her (the former) and threatened her with jail time (the latter) instead of addressing the actual perpetrator — a father and local businessman – which is something we still fail to do over 70 years later.

After being kidnapped again, Baker fought an iron-bar bearing Knight where the latter was ultimately killed. She did not run and hide after. Baker turned herself in, vehemently claiming self-defense. Yet, the 12 white men that made up the jury of her peers (ha) found her guilty in less than four hours. Despite being granted a reprieve, she would later be denied clemency and housed in the men’s section of Reidsville State Prison until a few days before her execution. She was electrocuted while boldly maintaining her right to defend her body and life.

Baker was retrospectively pardoned in 2005 by the State Board of Pardons and Paroles. Their reasoning was that her case was erroneous, and she could have been charged with a lesser crime like voluntary manslaughter. However, this still undercuts her right to defend herself against an attacker. She should be deemed nothing less than innocent. The headlines in the Cuthbert Times following Lena’s death read, “Baker Burns.” Ernest B. Knight has been labeled as nothing, making him a perpetrator at large, even in death. However, I choose to remember Lena Baker as a woman of perseverance, valor, and honor. She is a hero. 

 

A Letter to Lena 

 

#LiftEVERYVoice is a movement created by STAR® to amplify the voices of survivors silenced by racial oppression.  We seek to uplift, support and empower survivors of color.