Last week I had the distinct honor of serving as the keynote speaker for Radford University’s Take Back the Night rally. This event and march is a way for the community to come together in opposition to sexual violence and to find solidarity and healing. It is a way for us to stand together in support of survivors in every corner of the world.
I wasn’t fully sure what to expect. The last time I had been to an event like this was years (and years) ago when I was in undergrad at Radford University. However, I knew that with all I have experienced from law enforcement to my work with New Hope Girls, I had a message I wanted to share. I have witnessed (more times than I can count) the devastating impact of Sexual Violence. But, I have also had the joy of watching healing and hope redeem what was lost. There can be beauty for ashes.
With my soul-level conviction, I showed up last night ready to encourage each person in the room whether they were a survivor, a loved-one of a survivor, or a community member ready to learn more.
I spoke about our individual voice, the power of our collective voice and how violence threatens to silence us and replace truth with lies. I declared the value of each one of us – that we were made to be supported, cared for, loved, honored and treated with dignity. I also affirmed how complex and messy healing can be – and that is okay. I wanted each person in the audience to feel seen, valued, affirmed, and encouraged. My hope was that they would leave the event more emboldened to raise their voice.
Affirmation of the Evening
The ultimate affirmation of the events’ success came after the campus march was finished and we were back in the auditorium for the “speak out” session.
The speak out is when survivors can stand before the group and share from the heart about their experiences, pain, and journey to healing. It takes immense bravery to find the words and to shatter the silence. In doing so, the survivor feels additional strength in knowing they no longer carry the burden alone and that they will not carry the story as shame. It is incredibly powerful!
One survivor, who has just begun her healing journey, stood up and shared her story. She was honest about how new it is and that she is just beginning to receive support. Her final words to our group were, “I am so glad I came tonight. I don’t feel alone anymore.”
Pathways for Healing
The purpose of the night was affirmed in those two sentences! We may not be able to prevent pain and heartache but we can create safe spaces for people to begin to heal. We can stand strong as we listen to others share their struggles, not afraid to enter into hard places. As we listen and affirm we are helping one person go forth into their world just a little more whole. As we establish a sense of community we also create connections that can lead to pathways for healing.
That is the work of healing. Locking arms and holding space for each other. Sometimes holding spaced means holding formal events like Take Back the Night. Other times, it is simply being available to listen without judgment, spending time with others, and helping them feel emotionally safe in their relationship with you.
Receive the opportunity to walk with someone on their healing journey as an honor. Listen well and be slow to speak. Simultaneously, when you do speak, be generous with the truth you speak over them. Pour out love! When the darkness feels like it is swirling, affirm their God-given and untouchable worth.
My sincere thanks to the student leaders at Radford University who organized this successful event and served their campus and community so well in the process!