The Angel Band Project

Last Friday I had the incredible opportunity to hear The Angel Band Project, featuring Jennifer (Jen) Hopper and Norbert Leo Butz. The Angel Band Project began as a benefit album after the rape and attempted murder of Jennifer Hopper and the rape and murder of her late partner, Teresa Butz.angel-band-projgect-blog-pic

Jen has a voice, a beautiful one. She will tell you her name, share her experience, and sing until you are moved to tears. Jen is extraordinary and I am resisting the urge to write a whole lot more about her. What I do want to share instead is how amazed I am by the love and support Jen’s friends, family, and people she’s met along the way have provided her. It shows in Jen’s love for them.

When I worked on the Domestic Violence Fatality Review Project, I repeatedly saw the critical role friends and family played in the lives of people experiencing domestic violence. They were often the first—and sometimes the only—person that victims turned to for help. I learned the importance of strengthening our communities’ response to violence.

As I’ve gotten to know Jen in the past year, I’ve been reminded what an honor and privilege it is to love people in our lives and our community. My message today is simple: love the people in your life, make a difference to them, and find ways to support and play a role in efforts to end violence against women.

 

Leadership

women-graduatingFrom an early age, I always thought to myself that education was “my way out.” I thought it would give me a voice, power over my choices, and freedom. I saw it as a way to equalize myself to boys and men. For the most part, things pretty much worked out how I imagined—I found my voice, I have more power over my choices, and I have the experience of freedom.

But lately I’ve been wondering, what if I focused less on trying to achieve what men have and more on how to develop myself to achieve what is most important to me? What if every girl and every woman did the same? What if each and every community valued educating girls to fulfill their goals?

What would women, as leaders, achieve? How would our communities be different? I imagine a whole new world of possibilities. And I am interested in hearing what you think!

Domestic violence and the Housing First model

This was originally posted on the National Alliance to End Homelessness blog.

I’ve been working on Domestic Violence Housing First for a couple of years now. But I also have a lot of experience working with immigrants. In general, I’ve found that trying to address the needs of immigrant survivors by just tweaking a mainstream system isn’t enough. One of my favorite things about Domestic Violence Housing First is that the flexibility of the housing first model allows individually tailored services that encompass a person’s culture as well as their unique needs and situation.

For example, one of the pillars of our work in Domestic Violence Housing First has been tailored, mobile advocacy. This approach involves an advocate visiting a survivor’s home rather than requiring the survivor to visit an advocate’s office. So we were caught off-guard when an advocate from a provider serving immigrants told us that her version of tailored, mobile advocacy sometimes meant inviting survivors to her office. Initially, that didn’t make sense to me.

Turns out, one immigrant she works with prefers to meet at her office, and with Domestic Violence Housing First money, the advocate can cover her transportation costs to get there.

This advocate shared that in that the immigrant survivor’s culture, it would be considered rude for the survivor not to provide food or drinks for a meeting at her home. When survivors are focused on retaining their housing, the cost of being hospitable can cause pressure and stress. So the advocate focused on making her office hospitable and their meetings comfortable. This was a great reminder to me of how important it is not to get locked into any one way of doing things. We are practicing a philosophy in which we learn to cater to the individual needs of survivors.

Survivors tell me that the tailored services that advocates provide has allowed them to regain a sense of dignity,  while advocates report that the flexibility of this model has empowered them to listen to survivors and offer support that meets the needs of the person in front of them.

Finding meaning in the Sikh killings

What do you see in this “Roots of Love” trailer, a short documentary on Sikh men?

I see pride, joy, and a clear statement of their vibrant cultural identity. I also see the struggle of this identity in a world of discrimination and hate crimes.

I am angry and sad about the hate-based killings of Sikhs in a gurdwara in Wisconsin. Many have been impacted by post 9/11 racism, and many continue to spread awareness and education in an effort to end the hatred. Struggling to find some meaning in all of this, I found some clarity and patience by reading this post, proposing that the way to address the “need for broader awareness about Sikh identity and belief” is simple. “Ask any Sikh.”

I attended Saturday’s Solidarity Vigil and was once again reminded of the importance of engaging in conversation. I am ever so certain that we need to unite to end racism and xenophobia by fully participating in each others’ lives. As I’ve said before:  “uniting to protect each others’ rights does not threaten or diminish our own.”

My dirty laundry is a national debate

They told us in law school that we the people drive how laws are shaped. For some of us, this notion does not feel real, and so we distance ourselves from political debates on things like violence against women and marriage equality. But these aren’t just political issues. They are connected to our everyday life and to each other.

I was talking to a family member about how frustrating it is that my mother is pressuring me to marry an Indian man. After a lengthy conversation, her response in ‘my support’ was that she doesn’t care who her daughter marries, as long as she marries a man. Later she said she would accept and love me even if I were single or gay. I would have thought that was a very progressive thing to say―about a decade ago―and would have probably said something similar myself. Now I see the sexism, racism, and homophobia in this snippet.

I am very clear that it is through conversations with friends and family that we can make a difference. Even when it doesn’t seem like I am getting through to them, I keep the conversations going. I tell my family that although I know that my getting married is important to them, I am not willing to do it any cost. I tell them about all of my friends: single, married, gay, straight. I refuse to choose one segment of my life over another. And the more of us who keep having these honest conversations, the more change we’ll see in the national dialogue as well.

The world I live in

Recent conversations with friends and colleagues have me thinking about the world of human trafficking out there. Now I’m wondering, how can we develop a curiosity and care about what’s happening right here, right now?

Let’s consider the very small snapshot of runaway youth in Seattle. According to YouthCare, a local Seattle program, many youth run away from home due to abuse, neglect, and rape. Within 48 hours, young women are approached by pimps. And once they are in “the life,” inevitably they experience more sexual exploitation, criminal charges, and isolation from friends and family. Such is this world we live in. It is the world where my parents come from, it is the world where I come from, and it is the world that exists down the street from me.

Human trafficking calls for urgent action.

As Barbara Ehreinreich puts it, “the challenge is: could we stop meanness, the relentless persecution of people who are having a hard time? … We’ve got to stop kicking people when they are already down, and move toward reaching out a hand.”

We need to stop with our judgment and bias, and start being curious about how laws, policies, and attitudes impact poor and homeless people, young people, immigrants, women and children … right here, right now. Because that is the world I want to live in.

Running for each other

I’ve had many false starts when it comes to fitness. I’ve started swimming, weights, yoga, and running, and then I stop. So when I started asking my friends to register for the 5K run/walk WSCADV is organizing, I had to face the fact that I’ve never  registered or trained for one myself.

To my friends who run, I tell them things like “I could never do that” or “it seems too intense.” My response sounds a lot like what I hear when I tell people what I do for a living. Domestic violence can be prevented, but it’s going to take all of us. You may not make it your career, but everyone can get involved in some way.

So instead of merely telling people to register for (maybe another) 5K in a disconnected way, I am investing in the process myself. I am committed to having fun, being enthusiastic, and focusing on my well-being. I am going to run regularly so that I am a confident, assured runner, and invite my friends to do the same.

And I also invite you to invest in the lives of domestic violence survivors, children, and yes, even abusers. Bring a renewed commitment and energy that you’ve never brought before by being curious, compassionate, and action-oriented.

I’m confident that I can (finally) complete training for at least a 5K, and I am equally confident that you can play a role in ending domestic violence.

I invite you to sign up for the Refuse To Abuse® 5K at Safeco Field if you have never run before. Please comment and let me know how it’s going. 

Ending homelessness

This was originally posted on the National Alliance to End Homelessness blog.

I’m currently at the National Conference on Ending Family and Youth Homelessness in Los Angeles, where a lot of creative thinkers are sitting together, learning from each other, and sharing creative solutions to reach the common goal of housing families and youth in the right way and the shortest amount of time.

There seem to be a few points emerging:

  • Shift program-based thinking to systems-based thinking. Systems, and not just programs in isolation, must address issues including the lack of affordable housing, limitation of shelter space, and long waiting lists for public housing. The key is to form inclusive partnerships which employ effective strategies to change the way a homeless assistance system responds to families in crisis.
  • Track and use data to your advantage. Data is the cornerstone of evaluation; without it, we cannot understand the performance of the system and whether the system is meeting the goals of the program.
  • Rapid re-housing/prevention works for the majority of families. It’s not just about housing; it includes wraparound services. The services may be “light touch services” (where someone needs assistance to pay off an old debt) whereas others may need advocacy from beginning to end.

We, as domestic violence advocates, cannot ignore the issues of homeless families, just as housing advocates cannot ignore the fact that domestic violence and sexual assault, as well as domestic sex trafficking, impacts the ability to gain and retain safe and stable housing.

I am extremely energized by the positivity and creativity, as well as the commitment that everyone has to end homelessness on a national level. Thank you, National Alliance to End Homelessness for hosting this conference.

S*!t people say

I spent a lot of time thinking about what I was going to say about Martin Luther King, Jr. day, racial justice and equality … and then I came across the video “S*!t White Girls Say … to Black Girls.” Not everyone is amused, but the fact is it went viral. Franchesca Ramsey had her experiences to make this video and said that even impacting one person made it worth it.

This video resonated with me because I have my own collection of things people say to me. For example, when I get asked if I’m from India, I usually answer “I’m from Zambia.” Then, I hear things like “Wow, you’re black?” (an attorney) OR “My best friend in college was from India.” (a well-traveled person) OR “Oh, so you’re a Zamboni-an.” (a person of color).

Women are often judged or undermined because of what they said, what they drank, or what they may be wearing. Similarly, survivors of domestic and sexual violence have heard “why don’t you just leave?”. It’s just s*!t people say … even some well-intentioned people. It’s me, it’s you, and yeah, it’s the people you hang out with.

So be informed, use your own strategy to educate yourself and others. And be willing to be educated, whether it’s acknowledging a thoughtless remark or asking good questions about what you don’t know.

“Happy workers mean happy apples”*

Do you know where your fruit is grown? Who picked that fruit? How it gets to the grocery stores?

We all know farmworkers face a tough working environment. On top of that, they often deal with labor exploitation, domestic violence, and sexual harassment―both in the fields and in the temporary housing that growers may provide.

I recently had the privilege to visit Broetje Orchards. We were given a gracious tour and educated about how they support their workers. They know that their workers are experiencing domestic violence and sexual assault on their land. So they have created a strong partnership with the YWCA of Walla Walla, inviting advocates onto their property. This is giving farmworkers and their families access to the information and support they need. We asked a Broetje employee why they go out of their way to do this. Her response was, “because it’s the right thing to do!”

So how about that? The Broetje family is changing the landscape―and not just with their apples.

*I heard this mantra repeated often during my visit to Broetje Orchards.