Monday, April 30, 2012


Martha Thompson, IMPACT Chicago Director and Instructor
IMPACT Chicago is committed to ending violence and building a non-violent world in which all people can live safely and with dignity. By teaching self-defense, we provide women and girls with the tools they need to prevent, minimize, and stop violence. With that, IMPACT Chicago is committed to making its programs accessible to people of all economic, racial/ethnic, and social groups.
            One thing that keeps IMPACT strong and growing, even with limited resources, is our regularly gathering information about our programs and then assessing how well we are meeting our mission and what we can do to improve. An important part of this process is also letting graduates, donors, and the public know how we stack up.  In this blog, I reflect on how well we are doing in terms of making IMPACT accessible. Thanks to Naomi Love, IMPACT Chicago Workshop Leader and former office staff, for compiling age and racial/ethnic demographic data for 2011 Workshops and Core Programs.
IMPACT Chicago met our goal of making our programs accessible to people of all economic and age groups, but did not adequately meet our goal of reaching all racial/ethnic groups. The median income of people served in IMPACT Chicago in 2010 (latest income data available) was similar to the median household income in Cook County ($46, 911). The median income for IMPACT Chicago participants in the Core Program was $40,001-$60,000 and for Core Skills participants $20,001-$40,000. We served women and girls in a wide income range, from under $20,000 to over $140,000.  IMPACT Chicago served a wide age range in 2011, from 11-60+. The majority of participants, however, are 20-50.
As you can see in the Table below, in 2011 women and girls from a spectrum of racial groups participated in an IMPACT program, however, overall White Americans areoverrepresented. IMPACT is proportionately serving Asian Americans and Native Americans, but falls short in bringing IMPACT to Latinas and African American women.

IMPACT Chicago Programs & Chicago Demographics by Race/Ethnicity, percentages
Core Program
(non-Hispanic white)
45% (31.7%)
Black or African American
Other race
4 %
Two or more races
American Indian

Ethnicity: Hispanic/Latino
4 %

How can IMPACT Chicago improve?
·         Because Chicago is a highly segregated city, IMPACT Chicago must continue its efforts to offer programs in every part of the city.
·         IMPACT Chicago must also expand making connections with organizations and organizational leaders in all communities.
·         IMPACT Chicago must also continue its commitment to diversifying its volunteer and instructor groups.

[1] Census categories
[2] Does not total to 100% because of overlap between White and Hispanic/Latino

Monday, April 23, 2012

Bring Your Spark to IMPACT

Ann-Christine Racette
IMPACT Grad and Publicity Committee Member

I used to fancy that my silent contribution to society would be my watercolor paintings. Since 1995, I have accumulated a huge body of work. (And yes, I also got a day job.) Despite my friends’ prodding, I wasn’t ready to share my paintings with the wide world. A woman who was a mentor once told me “You can’t keep your irreverent spark all to yourself forever”.
As 2012 approached, I was ready for something brave and adventurous. I didn’t suddenly feel more confident politically, but with experience I saw more clearly. That was my power, I decided.
I took inventory of my professional skills: persuasive writing, obsessive organization. I took inventory of the abilities my friends have pointed out: listening, empathy, impassioned speech. None of these make rocket science, but I hoped that together they could be of some use. I didn’t expect to change the world. But, humbled and inspired by the IMPACT instructors’ and staff’s years of dedication and service, I wanted to lend a helping hand.
I chose IMPACT Chicago because it coalesces my big-sisterly concern for young women; my care for my close ones; my passion for my social beliefs; my vision of what a better place this could be if we all used our intelligence; my outrage for the erosion of basic rights; and my impulse to give back and pass on everything that I have received. When I read an IMPACT e-mail newsletter calling for volunteers, I jumped at the chance to have a hand in all this by contributing to the marketing and publicity efforts.
I discovered that I do have something to say. I am finding my voice—the voice I first exercised seventeen years ago, in a Core Program. I am putting my writing in the service of something I care about, tapping into the same compassion with which I supported my IMPACT classmates. I am arguing clearly for what I believe in, using the same clarity of mind I practiced in the IMPACT fights.
What is the skill you are secretly proud of? What special ability have your friends casually pointed out to you? Imagine what a gift it would be to your community, and how you would blossom from sharing it!

Word of mouth is the most effective tool we have because it is a message born of experience, conveyed with firm belief, out of concern and respect for the recipient. IMPACT--pass it on!

Monday, April 16, 2012

What Would Yoda Do?

Nat Wilson, IMPACT Chicago Suited Instructor

I remember once jokingly saying to a group of women in a Core class after a particularly emotional fight, "Yoda would really hate this stuff." We had just seen over a dozen women fight on the mat with a really impressive amount of power fueled by the emotion they were feeling in the scenario. Afterwards we sat down to talk about what they had just experienced and almost all of the students commented either on the emotions they were feeling or the intensity they saw in other women on the mat. Creating an environment where students have the license to bring whatever they feel to their fights is an essential part of the IMPACT Chicago curriculum.

While I was kidding then, it does encapsulate a counterproductive message we hear from many other sources about how to approach self-defense. In countless action movies, emotion is at best a liability. More likely it is presented as a destructive force that can consume the protagonist as well as everyone else around them. From Bruce Lee's potato chip fueled quest for vengeance in the Big Boss to Yoda's vague comments about the slippery slope of being afraid, story tellers reiterate the same message: things go a lot smoother for the main character if they chill out, stay detached and unemotional. Many other examples abound including most kung fu movies, the Hulk, Rocky III, all the Borne movies, the Transporter, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, el Mariachi and many more.

The idea that emotions are dangerous is not only present in popular culture but is also widely accepted as true by members of some self-defense and martial arts communities. Many self-defense instructors (outside of IMPACT) I know commonly claim emotions cloud your judgment or makes you irrational and therefore incapable of making good decisions. Some have even gone so far as to say that allowing someone to use emotion as fuel for a fight makes that person more violent and reckless.

IMPACT's philosophy, on the other hand, doesn't have this hang-up and I find this very refreshing. We assume that whatever it takes for someone to protect herself is a good thing, whether that means getting mad, being afraid, or just loving fighting. Some people don't need their emotions to fight well, but if you do need it, it is a tool that is available to you. That is one reason IMPACT's method is successful; people have the space and the freedom to do what they must to keep themselves safe. When fighting for your life (which with sexual assault is often the case) it doesn't really matter how you get there, just as long as you are safe in the end.

So I take issue with the idea that emotion has no place in self-defense. Despite all the warnings of popular culture and some self-defense instructors, IMPACT student don't become more violent because they feel rage or joy when defending themselves. Additionally, some of the most effective fights I have ever seen are when a woman is fighting and crying at the same time. Emotion is an asset in self-defense, not a liability. It is human, and it is good.

Monday, April 9, 2012

IMPACT Is Also for the Cynical

Karla Kate
February 2012 IMPACT Chicago Core Program

I’m standing in a tight circle with eleven other women and I’m unraveling a ball of lavender yarn, tossing it to a woman across from me, and saying all the things I like and admire about her, even though I’ve only known her for about twenty hours. We all take our turns doing this—unraveling, tossing, complimenting—until the yarn has transformed itself into a web in the center of our circle, connecting us both literally and figuratively.

This is the kind of scene I picture taking place at a summer camp or maybe vacation Bible school. My cynicism starts to surface and I’m thinking that these touchy-feely, kumbaya, chicken-soup-for-the-soul games are meant for young girls who are just learning to face the world, not for grown women who think they’ve already learned.

Yet as I stand there in the circle with my IMPACT classmates, listening to them describe each other’s strengths and watching their faces soften and glow as they do this, I look down at the lavender web we’ve created, push down my cynicism, and I think, Okay, okay. This works.

I registered for the IMPACT Core class to learn self-defense, not to share my emotions and life stories, not to hold hands in a circle before a fight, not to express how I felt after a fight, and not to—you guessed it—toss a ball of yarn to someone and tell her what I think makes her strong. I usually resist this kind of approach.

The thing—and it’s a great thing—that makes IMPACT work, however, is that it’s not just about learning self-defense. It’s about finding and using your voice. It’s about opening yourself up in order to face your fears. And it’s about opening yourself up in order to recognize the beauty in you and the beauty in others.

I told one of my colleagues that I had recently completed a self-defense class, and her first response was, “Oh, yeah, I took one of those through the park district last year!” And then, of course, I had to describe IMPACT to her.

Monday, April 2, 2012

Peace, Self-Confidence, and a Different Approach to Life

Agnieszka Skiba
Northeastern Illinois University Core Skills graduate, March 2012

Before taking this self-defense course[1], I had been thinking for years about it. I am a survivor of domestic violence and sexual abuse. I thought it would be helpful and empowering to know what to do in an extreme situation.
I have experienced emotional, physical and verbal abuse. I know how horrifying and painful it is when there is no one to help and you need to rely only on your own skills. If you do not know how to react, fear and panic take over; you do succumb to your attacker. That should not be the case! We, women, should not be victims! We are not condemned to any type of violence! We need to know how to protect ourselves.    
Thanks to this course I have gained a lot. I do have a choice! I can use my physical strength as well as my voice to stay safe. The class has helped me to realize how strong, powerful and able I am! I have been enlightened: I have all it takes, within my own beautiful body, to protect myself. I feel empowered and proud!  I feel great, walking down the street, even in the evening, knowing, that if the worst case scenario happens, I am prepared. Over the three weeks of the course my body learned how to react. I am more aware of my surroundings. I believe that I will not even have to think about what to do to fight back. The techniques have been programmed into my entire being. I hope I will never have to use any of them, however, being conscious of my strength and energy is so satisfying! 
            Martha and Ben, our instructors, and Julie, our assistant, were amazing! From the very beginning of the course I felt their warmth and openness. I felt very welcome the minute I walked in the room. They all made sure I could be myself. I was able to release whatever emotions emerged.   All the women in class were encouraged to bring out their feelings to help them gain new skills. For me it was especially helpful. The conversations and practice brought back memories. Unpleasant reproductions of past events made me feel paralyzed.  But in the circle of the friendly people, I allowed myself to feel them one more time. I never felt judged or criticized by any of the participants. The course was an amazing experience. It helped me to heal.
      I recommend this self-defense course to all women!   Your age, body type, and previous experiences with self-defense or lack thereof do not matter. You will be welcome as you are. You have what you need: your body! You will be provided with extra “tools,” as Martha calls them, to feel extra powerful! The course brought me peace, self confidence and a different approach to life.  

[1] IMPACT Core Skills is offered once/year as WSP150 Women’s Self-Defense, a 1 credit hour course (12 ¾ hours), at Northeastern Illinois University. In addition to student tuition, WSP 150 is supported by Women’s Studies and the Office of the Dean, College of Arts and Sciences with physical space and mats provided by the Physical Education Complex.