Monday, May 27, 2013

IMPACT Grads Teach Kids to Use Their Voices

On the winter solstice in 2012--a time for gathering and sharing stories--I interviewed three women in a family spanning three generations. Nilda, the grandmother, Lili, the mother and Angie, the daughter about to go to college, have all taken IMPACT. Nilda and Lili took the Core Program almost 30 years ago, before Angie was born. Lili and Angie have also taken the Advanced Programs.

Nilda [grandmother]: For me and for most women of my generation, the need to be polite, to not cause a problem and certainly to not initiate something like  “Stay Away!." Angie [granddaughter] wasn’t raised like I was. Still, without IMPACT, you don’t think to challenge someone to not come closer towards you when you’re feeling uncomfortable.

Lili [mother]: I think we even grow up to believe that we’re defusing it by averting our gaze or diminishing ourselves, instead of being present and standing our ground, which is what IMPACT teaches. It’s the opposite of what I always thought.  It’s more dangerous not to do stand our ground... to shrink and appear to be submissive.

Angie: I was raised differently because they [Lili and Nilda] have been through IMPACT. They said, "If something is wrong, you speak up". When kids said mean things in grade school, I’d step up and say "no". I wasn’t one to back down. In 4th grade, there was a boy who asked me inappropriate questions and it pissed me off; it was none of his business. I would tell him off. The teachers would get so angry and call in my parents and say "That’s not the way to raise a daughter. That may work on the street but that’s not how she’s supposed to be". My parents were furious because they were trying to counteract that trend with the training they’d been exposed to with IMPACT.

Lili: When Angie was 12, a teacher had a problem with my daughter. I called a conference with him. He starts to tell me that Angie is taking things into her own hands and, if she has a confrontation, she should come to a staff member. I said, “That’s not how I raised her. A staff member won’t always be around. She’s going to handle confrontations the way we taught her”. I pointed out that he might be having a problem with strong girls and women. After that, he never gave Angie a problem again.

Nilda: Just the change in the way we raise our kids after IMPACT is meaningful.

Lili: Angie wasn’t even born when I took the Core Program. When my three children were 3 or 4 years old on up, we would have our drills. I would talk to them about using their voice...that it was a weapon. If anyone came near them that they didn’t feel comfortable with, or people that they got a bad vibe from, they were to use their voice. We would practice yelling “No!” and stomping their feet just like we do in IMPACT. They loved that. They loved learning to bring the energy up. I felt I was teaching them to set a boundary and I learned that in IMPACT.

Nilda: Baby IMPACT! [Cheers]

Monday, May 20, 2013

I Said No to Unwanted Touch

It was about 7pm in the evening when I walked home from school; the sun was still out. I live on a pretty busy, main street and sometimes I take the back road by the university park because it's quicker. Ironically, that day I decided to walk on the main street, thinking, 'I'll just take it so it is safer.' That day, it didn't matter whether it was a busy street or not. Along the sidewalk, a woman was walking her dog a little ahead of me and a man was hanging out in front of the 7-11. He was a familiar man who I've seen frequent the main street, especially during the summertime, asking people for money. I walked past him, we made eye contact and he asked me for change. I said "Sorry" and kept walking. In the matter of a second, he reached out his right hand and went to grab my left arm, all the while saying something under his breath with a creepy smirk on his face and all I heard was "so pretty."

Instinctively, I moved my arm out of the way as his fingertips brushed my left arm and the firm words "No. No." escaped from my mouth. Just as unexpectedly and quickly as it happened, it also quickly ended. He didn't pursue me and I walked on - calm, but felt the fire burning inside. My hands were gloved, but I was 100% certain that if it really had to, the heel of my right hand would have popped him in the nose/face. I knew my body was going to protect me, even before I could think it. Perhaps that's why I felt so calm walking on, yet fierce inside…ready for a fight. My awareness was heightened, as I kept walking and turning back to check and see that he was not following me, until I made it back to my place.

I suppose I might've been in sort of a daze, because the reality of what just happened hadn't caught up to me yet. It was only after I placed a call into the non-emergency campus police to notify them of the event and after I shared what happened with my friends and family, that I then felt the tightness in my chest. It was my body remembering the event, almost like the traumatic energy was trapped inside. I kept thinking back on what I could have done differently - I should have screamed out loud "NO! DON'T TOUCH ME! BACK OFF! I DON'T KNOW YOU! HELP!" or I should have let the heel of my hand strike him in the face so hard he wouldn't know what hit him. I should have kept my distance before I passed him. All of these thoughts came to me after the event - all of the strategies I had learned at IMPACT. I almost doubted myself, feeling embarrassed and ashamed that I hadn't done more; more for myself, more for others who were, could have been or will be victims of such events.

But, I thought, the bottom line is: I am safe. And I would have done all those things in my after-thoughts, had the situation truly required me to do so for my safety. Although I wasn't physically harmed, the man's intent of physically putting his hands on me should not be minimized and is a serious matter. It is NOT OK and NEVER WILL IT BE OK to lay a hand on someone else without their permission.

I feel like this event was a wake-up reminder, to stay on my toes, sustain my awareness of my
surroundings and never take for granted the value of my safety. I was proud of myself; I felt empowered. I trusted my instincts and my body. This wouldn't have been possible had I not taken the Core Program at IMPACT Chicago. I am forever indebted to this program and to my instructors, the assistants and my fellow classmates. I ended up sharing what happened with a few of my classmates and one of them expressed, 'I'm so glad you are  ok, so glad the training kicked in! I hope you heard me screaming "no" as loud as I could in your head when that happened. We stand for each other.'

That's how I will always remember it: we are in it together, all of us who face these kinds of events. We stand with and for each other, to say NO to violence and YES to life.

Linda Tran, IMPACT Graduate

Monday, May 13, 2013

Flying Chairs and Flying Punches: I Stopped A Fight

I work at a shelter for the homeless. I have volunteered doing street outreach and working at shelters for the past twenty years. Due to my own experiences growing up, I often hear myself say, “I feel at home with our homeless”. I understand how easily someone’s life can turn and it is often one decision, one choice or one circumstance that differentiates someone from experiencing health and a more manageable road in life versus someone who experiences addiction and mental illness.

At the shelter where I work, many of our guests are not welcome at other local shelters due to their aggressive nature and addictions. And, at the same time, we have families, couples and individuals come who simply do not have enough money to put food on their table; however, they do have a place to sleep. It is a mix of ages, genders, backgrounds and needs. Due to the variety of guests, it can be a difficult environment to manage.

From time to time, tension mounts at the shelter and we know ahead of time there is going to be trouble. This is what happened on a Saturday evening, when we were short on volunteers. When we get opposing groups at the shelter, we know things can go from bad to worse very quickly. Typically, the groups stay at opposite ends of the dining hall and keep separate but on Saturday night tensions grew. On Friday at the local soup kitchen, there was a stabbing which involved members of these two groups. Our coordinator came to me and she asked who, from my team, would be willing to leave the kitchen if she was in need of help. I told her that I would be willing to assist, as well as one other member of my team who has past experience working at a men’s shelter. As I was uneasy, I shared some options and ideas with her to ensure safety.

Just when everything felt calm and I was doing a walk-through in the dining hall and clearing up some tables, something drew my attention. I found myself between two opposing members who were posturing at one another. There wasn’t a lot of time to move except to dodge a lunged punch, that was not meant for me, and then to move out of the way of a flying chair, again, not meant for me. Then, my voice just happened. In a few seconds, everything was calm again but so much happened in those few seconds. I yelled “stop”, “no fighting”, “no fighting” and kept repeating myself holding my arms up. I did not scream...I was yelling and kept repeating the same thing. My energy grew and my energy and words accomplished two things: first of all, the two stopped fighting and trying to get to one another and were backing up, as though my energy was pushing them and, secondly, it created space between them, but, also space away from me. The more I kept repeating, the more space was created. Within seconds, the coordinator and my friend from the kitchen joined me between them and secured the space. Then, I was able to calmly talk them down and split them up between two other workers to take it from there.

What was different this time, from other times over the past twenty years, is the confidence, belief and energy that was within me – particularly the energy! This wasn’t a new situation, but each time in the past I felt the adrenaline rush and it would take time to come down from the adrenalized state. But, this was different; my energy was big, I was bigger than before, I was more resourceful and I had the energy of my entire class circle with me which, I believe, acted in a way to create space. All of the women’s energy and the energy of Rob and Ben (suited instructors) was with me along with my own. No weapons were drawn, groups were separated and people were escorted to different locations. Our coordinator shook her head and smiled, as she said it surprised her how someone with a gentle presence could be so powerful.

The newest part of this experience for me is, while I had all of your energy with me and the energy of my circle after things were defused, I realized I went from zero to 60 and from 60 to zero, but didn’t have the same intense adrenaline response I would have had to work through before. My body felt natural for the first time, while responding in that state, and then in returning to visiting with guests. That was new for me. That night when I went to bed, I worked through all of the emotions that come with a situation like that, all the thoughts and “what if’s”, but, worked through them more quickly than in the past, reassuring myself and creating strong feelings of safety. The process of creating my safety happened in moments as I was falling into a restful sleep which, in the past, would have taken me some time...even days.

Patricia, 2012, IMPACT Core Program graduate

Monday, May 6, 2013

A Mother’s Day Gift to Span the Generation: Happiness that Comes from Empowerment

Interview with three generations of IMPACT graduates: Nilda (grandmother), Lili (mother) and Angie (daughter).
Angie: I was trying to explain, to my boyfriend at the time, about how great my first experience with IMPACT was, how excited I was to take another class and he was weirded-out [chuckles]. I encouraged him to come to the graduation, but, no, he couldn’t handle it. He saw me do a couple of muggings and he was nervous, because he noticed I had a smile on my face and wondered whether I was getting some enjoyment out of it. I tried to explain it wasn’t sadism, it was happiness that comes from empowerment. Needless to say, that relationship didn’t last much longer.
Nilda: It’s true, there’s a certain joy in knowing you have the tools and the wherewithal to ward off something aggressive from someone close to you.
Lili: There’s a freedom in knowing when my mother and my daughter go out; I don’t have to be concerned about them.
N: I feel the same.
L: Nilda’s best friend took IMPACT, too, shortly after Nilda did. When I think of them going out to plays, I think of them as double-trouble. Nobody out there could imagine that these two elderly ladies have this ability to take out bad guys. They would be quite surprised!
N: It’s true, what I learned in IMPACT. Even not knowing the why behind all this, I tried not to look like a victim and walk confidently, but I was scared. I have met so many women and I know only one person who has reached my age and hasn’t had anything happen to her. But, it may be that it’s the way she walked [in] her life. In most cases, they won’t consider IMPACT because they’re frightened to protect themselves.
L: As Angie said, “I don’t want to think about it”. At times, I’ve been very frustrated that I can’t convince someone that this is money and time well spent. I talk to a person I barely know and she jumps on it and I get to attend her graduation. Other people to whom I keep bringing it up, it doesn’t seem to go anywhere. How do you get women to sign up?
N: The excuse is “I’m not interested” or “I don’t have the time, my life is too complicated right now”. The information is out there and those who are ready will come across it. The Internet is the best way to find out about IMPACT. Before the Internet, I talked to a group of women on the Metra about IMPACT because I overheard them talking about how difficult it is to go about one’s business after nightfall. I just feel IMPACT has to be everywhere and easily accessible.
AC Racette interviewed Nilda, Lili, and Angie on December 21, 2012.