To say that the Healthy Black Families Collaborative in South Sacramento has endured a lot this past couple of years is an understatement. Like other members of the Amplify Healing Connections cohort, the partnership came together to strengthen member organizations’ outreach around domestic and intimate partner violence, healthy relationships, and resilience. And then the pandemic hit, a major roadblock to doing this deeply personal and difficult work in person. Most grievously, it claimed a key team member.
The alliance suffered from the shocking loss of team member Dana Maeshia, the founder of Escape Velocity, who died from COVID-19 complications. Escape Velocity is a nonprofit that provides community services around literacy (including financial literacy), well-being, and enrichment. Maeshia was a beloved bookstore owner and community advocate who was active in the area in myriad ways, including co-creating Shop Black Friday and the Black Food Festival. She filled her bookstore, All Things Literacy, with stories for and by Black people, but more than that, she filled it with love, noted one news account. She saw the work of the collaborative as an extension of her literacy work, a necessary but until now missing piece that focuses on prevention efforts in the community, says Timiza Wash, community engagement strategist for WEAVE Inc., the primary provider of crisis intervention services for survivors of domestic violence and sexual assault in Sacramento County. “It was sad for us to lose a member of our partnership but we are strengthened by the legacy that Dana left,” Wash told CCI.
During the peak of the pandemic, the community was also reeling from the fear, anguish, and anger associated with police brutality and the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, to name just a few of the Black people across the country who have lost their lives at the hands of racist law enforcement or white supremacists. South Sacramento residents, like many around the nation, rallied, marched, and protested during the mass uprising and outrage following Floyd’s death.
Meanwhile, the six partners in the Healthy Black Families Collaborative — Escape Velocity, WEAVE Inc., Rose Family Creative Empowerment Center, Sacramento Children’s Home, South Sacramento Christian Center, and She Could Be My Daughter/Voice of the Youth — found themselves doing vital community outreach. They also worked with South Sacramento Kaiser Permanente’s Trauma Center, with whom the collaborative has strong ties.
Among other things, South Sacramento Christian Center distributed groceries for many hard hit by the financial impact of the virus with widespread food insecurity and offered free COVID testing and vaccinations. She Could Be My Daughter/Voice of Youth distributed gas cards for folks in need – outreach from both organizations that is ongoing in the community.
Then, close to home, unspeakable tragedy. A terrible uptick in domestic violence during the pandemic included the shooting deaths of three girls and a court-appointed chaperone inside a church in Sacramento by a mentally unstable father, who then killed himself. (He had a restraining order against him for domestic violence. ) “It’s tragic, we need to do better as a community, we need to put more resources into making sure these victims are safe,” said WEAVE CEO Beth Hassett told reporters at the time.
Despite it all, the collaborative endured. The Black community, says Wash, has years of experience dealing with trauma, racism, and violence, along with housing, health, financial, and food insecurity, and other major obstacles to ensuring its people not only survive but thrive. Pivoting is nothing new for Black Americans, she says; they have been doing it all their lives. They are weary—rest is a key to community resilience and resistance—but they continue to come together to uplift their community.
So in the midst of all this chaos, catastrophe, and uncertainty, the coalition not only persevered but thrived. Collaborative members held online community listening sessions and engaged youth. They reached out to women and girls at risk; they also reached out to Black men and youth to hear their stories and learn what resources they need “to be the change they want to be” and serve as models for the next generation of young Black people. “The strength of the collaborative,” says Wash, “is that the work has not stopped—despite all the barriers that came our way.”
The collaborative had several key goals: it wanted to thoughtfully and intentionally address and amplify Black voices. It also wanted to work towards destigmatizing mental health and encourage the use of counseling services. And it wanted to take steps to actively engage the community in being part of the solutions it seeks.
With other group members, WEAVE hosted monthly listening sessions to learn more from residents about the prevalence and impact of domestic and sexual violence in the community, and identified new strategies to implement to prevent it. For example, the organization formed peer support groups throughout South Sacramento so residents could support each other in spaces where they feel most comfortable. She Could Be My Daughter/Voice of the Youth held a “Brother, Can We Talk?” Zoom series, aimed specifically at men, fathers, and male youth.
This work is so heavy, says Berry Accius, the founder of Voice of the Youth and She Could Be My Daughter, a nonprofit that seeks to combat domestic violence and offer resources on sex trafficking for African Americans. But it’s also so necessary: to serve as trusted allies, to reach victims of abuse, and to keep individuals and the community accountable. Accius says groups like his own and the collaborative are always looking for new strategies to help vulnerable members of the community speak about trauma in a safe space.
It’s especially challenging to do this work in a culture that has come to glorify violence in social media and music, he says. It’s also tough to provide a sense of continuity in programming in a sustainable way. “We’re not funded in a long-term way to break the cycle and deal with these long-term, generational issues,” he says. “As a society, we need to invest in services and resources to help bring about systemic, lasting change.”
With youth, listening sessions included courageous conversations and spotlighting celebrity relationships in an effort to meet young people where they’re at. The pop- up events included food, music, ice-breaker games, and raffles as incentives to attend.
WEAVE Inc. and its partners such as Escape Velocity engaged what they call ambassadors, including youth ambassadors—young people in the community, including those with lived experience (both as former victims and abusers), who can contribute to creating change in their neighborhoods. Ambassadors are paid for their time and trained to help lead peer support groups.
WEAVE Inc. helped support this short film on dating violence from Students Reaching Out, an afterschool program operated by People Reaching Out, at Valley High School in Sacramento. (Credit: YouTube)
Escape Velocity held meditation and sound healing sessions and explored mindfulness. It wanted to focus on healing in the community without triggering anxiety. It also had expert speakers talk with youth about domestic and intimate partner violence, healthy relationships, and consent. It hosted events such as a skate night and distributed self-care boxes, which included WEAVE educational materials about healthy relationships, in addition to culturally-relevant hair products and other swag. Escape Velocity also engaged youth through writing prompts and journaling.
In October, which is designated Domestic Violence Awareness Month, the collaborative launched a community messaging and awareness campaign based on direct comments the group gathered during the Amplify program. Reads one: “Strong men ask for help.” Says others: “Our girls/boys/kids are watching us. What are we teaching them?”
“We’ve learned that we don’t have to do this work alone, says Wash. “We will continue to have community convenings to gauge what the community needs. We are stronger in partnership because we can depend on each other, learn from each other, collaborate, and share the load.”
Offer grace to your partners (and yourself)
Be mindful when partners are going through difficult circumstances and offer patience and grace during those times, even if it means their participation dips. Respect that people need rest. Be open and transparent with team members about what’s going on, both personally and professionally.
Nourish team members and participants alike
Good food matters, alliance members agree. So feed people well—whether at a community event or partnership meeting. Bring the sauce and the spice and the joy of eating something delicious together while also doing the work.
Consider your audience
It’s important to ensure that educational offerings are targeted to the intended population. What works for youth is going to look different for adults. Likewise, discussion with survivors won’t be the same as those with former abusers.
Honor what people with lived experience bring to the table
Offer compensation to those in the community who share their stories and journeys. Consider naming them ambassadors or mentors to acknowledge their value in being part of the solution.
Listening and talking about domestic violence can be difficult. Make sure to follow up on what is asked of an organization by community members. It’s vital to creating trust, standing, and rapport. Set the tone that if the community asks, an organization will take action and advocate on their behalf.
Escape Velocity members (Credit: Escape Velocity website)
Amplify Healing Connections seeks to strengthen interventions designed to prevent domestic violence and promote health and well-being for adolescent youth and their adult allies. Launched in March 2021, the 22-month program, with funding from the Blue Shield of California Foundation, is a collaboration with six California-based, multi-sector partnerships, each involving at least one community-based organization and one health care provider serving youth 12-18 years old. Youth-service organizations play a pivotal role in promoting healthy communication and providing a strong, nourishing environment for young people and their caregivers. Coordinated efforts across community organizations can amplify positive childhood experiences (PCEs) and help prevent, reduce, and even reverse the impact of early adversity.
Stories in this series:
- During the Pandemic, SLO Community Collaborative Gets Creative in Educating Youth About Relationships
- Santa Cruz Coalition on Healthy Relationships Combats Stigma Against Teens of Color With Youth-Led Fun
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