Monday, November 9, 2020

I Have Felt Privileged for Every Moment of This Work: Martha Thompson Retires From IMPACT Chicago

Over 30 years ago, my friend Theo encouraged me to go to a self-defense presentation and demonstration to find out more about a unique self-defense course she had taken. When the organizers invited volunteers to do a knee strike to the guy in the padded suit, my hand went up. The experience of that kick was all I needed to sign up for the next course.

That May 1988 program brought together so many of my commitments and interests that I said yes when asked to help develop a self-defense program appropriate for a college curriculum. I had started my university career of teaching sociology with a women's and gender studies focus at age 23 and the opportunity to  combine my academic interests with teamwork, emotional work, and powerful voices and bodies as a self-defense instructor was irresistible.

I’ve been involved with IMPACT Chicago for over half my adult life and it is now time for me to step back from teaching full-force programs, serving on the board, and doing administrative work. I will continue to support IMPACT Chicago and its dedicated and skilled Admin Team, Board, and Instructors in whatever way I can (e.g. if needed, assist with instructor training and help our IMPACT:Ability program get off the ground).

I will still be doing empowerment and social justice work as I continue as the Self-Defense Coordinator for the National Women’s Martial Arts Federation until 2022; continue to be an active member of the Empowerment Self-Defense Alliance, an organization dedicated to influencing national dialogue about preventing interpersonal violence; and continue to support the work of not only IMPACT Chicago, but other IMPACT chapters.

I have greatly enjoyed and appreciated all the people I’ve worked with over the past 32 years to build and maintain the infrastructure that makes it possible for IMPACT Chicago to offer our fabulous programs. Whether new to IMPACT or a long-time volunteer like Lisa Amoroso who has been volunteering since 1990, the work of IMPACT Chicago board members and administrative staff has made it possible for IMPACT Chicago to continue to shine since 1987. I have felt privileged for every moment of this work.

Not surprisingly I hope, my biggest inspirations and rewards have been found on the mat. I have been moved profoundly by each person who has courageously stepped into an IMPACT class; each circle where we witness others’ grappling with their past, reflecting on the present, and opening themselves to a bigger future; each scenario where a defender faces and meets a challenge; and each time we applaud and cheer for each other. I have felt privileged for every moment of this work.

I have not experienced these inspirations and rewards alone. The teamwork with other lead and suited instructors and class assistants has been so enriching. There is nothing like getting feedback from a team on a class plan; working with that team to put the plan into practice while also working to make minute by minute adjustments; and in challenging moments experiencing support from a team member's glance, a word, or a nod. I have felt privileged for every moment of this work.

Martha Thompson
Instructor, 1988-2020
Volunteer Coordinator/Director/Admin Team Co-Leader, 1988-1995, 1996-2020 

Our fund drive this year is in honor of my retirement. You can find the lovely letter from IMPACT Chicago about my work and some more words from me HERE. I know there are many organizations and issues worthy of your financial support. I hope you will join me in making a donation to IMPACT Chicago this year. Any amount will mean a lot to our continued work. You can donate on the IMPACT Chicago website via Paypal, on the IMPACT Chicago Facebook page, or send a check to IMPACT Chicago, 4057 N. Damen Ave, Chicago IL 60618. Thank you.

IMPACT Chicago’s 2020 Annual Fund Drive

For this year’s Annual Fund Drive, we celebrate Martha Thompson’s contributions 
to IMPACT Chicago. Martha is retiring at the end of 2020 after over three decades 
of IMPACT service. Throughout these years, Martha worked with others to build 
consensus and help promote empowerment self-defense across Chicagoland, as well 
as nationally and internationally. Her IMPACT Chicago work spanned many 
different leadership activities, including: 

  • shaping our organizational structure and culture
  • developing curricula and class plans
  • drawing upon the latest research to inform our curricula and pedagogy
  • teaching the Core Program, Advanced programs, and workshops
  • training IMPACT and Empowerment Self-Defense instructors ­
  • recruiting volunteers and staff
  • locating office and program space
  • coordinating our social media communication
  • building relationships with violence-prevention and empowerment                                          organizations, frequently securing grants to partner with them
  • representing IMPACT Chicago within national and international self-defense              organizations
  • laying a foundation for IMPACT Chicago’s future.

Martha’s contributions have been invaluable and IMPACT Chicago is deeply 
appreciative of all her time, energy, and expertise. Martha has worked and 
connected with many, many, many graduates and supporters over the years. And, 
while we are not able to have a big party due to the pandemic, we’ve asked her to 
write this year’s letter as a way to share her insights and share her retirement news 
with you directly. We ask you to join with Martha to help make our future work a 
reality by making a donation today. 

From Martha
Like every other organization, the pandemic affected IMPACT Chicago. We started the year with a substantial roster of workshops for other organizations and waiting lists for many of the programs we offer directly. For the safety of participants and instructors, we have canceled our in-person programs through the end of the year.

Although we were all disappointed by these cancellations (e.g. I didn’t get to teach my last Core Skills Program), IMPACT Chicago has demonstrated the resilience and teamwork that has helped us through ups and downs over the last three decades. We developed an online self-defense program which we have already successfully offered several times; we have streamlined our virtual communication and updated documents; and we have held two organizational dialogues about racism, acknowledging our strong organizational foundation for anti-racist work, identifying ways that we can do better, and setting goals for doing better.

Our Team—Admin, Board, and Instructors—has shifted over the decades and so many of us continue to donate generously. While circumstances and people change, our continued shared commitment to providing high-quality empowerment self-defense training has not.

What a privilege for me to have worked collaboratively for over three decades to envision, build, and continue to grow an organization dedicated to creating a world where all people can live safely and with dignity. What a privilege to have witnessed so many courageously transforming their lives and their vision of themselves, expanding their circles of support, and aiming to build safer communities for all. 

Please join me in supporting IMPACT Chicago; no amount is too small or too large! You can donate on the IMPACT Chicago website via Paypal, on the IMPACT Chicago Facebook page, or send a check to IMPACT Chicago, 4057 N. Damen Ave, Chicago IL 60618. Thank you.

Wishing you peace and safety,
Martha Thompson

Monday, November 2, 2020

Resources for Self-Care in Challenging Times

The following are some resources for self-care to address burnout, stress, and overwhelming feelings.

Marisa Cohen interviewed IMPACT Boston Meg Stone about how she regained energy and passion for advocacy work. Cohen identified six things to avoid burnout: 
  • focus on self-nourishment 
  • harness your anger 
  • narrow your focus 
  • take regular breaks 
  • celebrate small steps 
  • find the power of an affirmation
Emma Seppälä, Christina Bradley, and Michael R. Goldstein report on research about the effectiveness of breathing in stress reduction. For instance, changing the rhythm of our breathing can slow our heart rate and can help us find calmness and improve our ability to think clearly. Breathing in speeds up our heart rate and breathing out slows it down. One recommended exercise to increase calmness is for several minutes inhale to a count of 4 and exhale at a count of 8. 

Linda Graham highlights the benefits of self-compassion for reducing anxiety and fear and practices that can help build resilience: She says: “Mindful self-compassion teaches us to notice and focus on our feelings, but then gives us a practice to shift those feelings.” She recommends two self-compassion practices to build resilience: 
  • Self-compassion breaks For instance, if you start to feel overwhelmed with an emotion, put your hand on your heart which “activates the release of oxytocin, the hormone of safety and trust.”  
  • Develop self-compassion as an ongoing practice For instance, practice saying “May I be kind to myself in this moment, in any moment, in every moment.

Monday, October 19, 2020

IMPACT Chicago History Lives On

On October 15, 2020 Laura Berfield (pictured here), Archivist at Loyola University Women and Leadership Archives, accepted four crates of documents from IMPACT Chicago Lead Instructor and Admin Team Co-Leader Martha Thompson. Martha donated the IMPACT Chicago documents she has collected since she began working collaboratively to build and maintain the infrastructure to support IMPACT Chicago programming (not participants' personal information or instructors and staff personnel files). The documents provide insight into the founding and early development of IMPACT Chicago as well as the opportunities and challenges that the organization faced from 1987 to the early 2000s. The Women and Leadership Archives collects, preserves, and makes available records of women and women's organizations documenting women's lives, contributions, and activism and women's issues. IMPACT Chicago is proud to be part of the Women and Leadership Archive collection!

Monday, October 12, 2020

Kicking Down the Barriers: Self-Defense and Social Justice

Social injustice is not all in our heads. Our identities and our bodies are influenced by our placement in complex intersections of social privilege and oppression.  We learn to use and move our bodies in ways that reinforce these complex intersections.  Empowerment self-defense training offers an opportunity to interrupt perceptions and movements of our bodies that perpetuate patterns of inequality and injustice.  

In empowerment self-defense training, participants:

  • Develop confidence, calmness, and assertiveness; not aggression or submissiveness.
  • Practice setting boundaries and honoring the boundaries of others.
  • Discover the power of their bodies and the power of integrating body, mind, voice, and spirit.
  • Explode the myth that only extraordinary people and actions can prevent, redirect, or stop someone bigger or stronger.
  • Recognize the effectiveness of everyday skills, such as paying attention, making decisions, speaking up, and acting decisively.
  • Learn that physical self-defense tools are as close as their elbows, hands, knees, and feet.
  • Experience being responsible for themselves while also supporting, cheering on, and learning from others.

The potential impact of empowerment self-defense training goes beyond individual participants. Imagine the consequences if thousands of people in a community were not only able to defend themselves from violence, but had experienced an empowerment self-defense program where they practiced challenging norms of aggression and compliance, demystified images of who is powerful and deserving, and collectively imagined a world where all people live safely and with dignity. Those thousands could set thousands more in motion.

Martha Thompson
IMPACT Chicago

Based on “Kicking down the barriers: Self-defense and social change,” originally published in KIAI!, the newsletter of Thousand Waves Martial Arts and Self-Defense Center, September 2001.


Monday, September 28, 2020

The Power of NO


A common experience in an IMPACT Chicago program is participants gathering in a circle and uniting their voices with a loud NO.  What is it about that circle that unleashes such powerful energy? On the surface it seems like a simple exercise, however, the underlying assumptions and principles are complex.  Key assumptions are that experiencing and/or witnessing violence affect the total person, disrupting our sense of wholeness and creating individual isolation and feelings of helplessness and powerlessness; and that we have the capacity to turn feelings of helplessness and powerlessness into empowerment.  

Empowerment occurs when we claim or reclaim our body, mind, and spirit and experience our connection to others. In a NO circle:

  • We are in community with others.
  • We practice our right to say NO.
  • We engage our whole selves.
  • We experience the power of a collective voice.

Martha Thompson

IMPACT Chicago

Lead Instructor and Admin Team Co-Leader

Drawn from Martha Thompson."The Power of NO." First published 1990 in Feminist Teacher 5(1):24-25. Republished in 1998 in The Feminist Teacher Anthology: Pedagogies and Classroom Strategies. Teachers College, Columbia University.

Monday, September 21, 2020

"Five Fingers" of Being An Ally

Think ♦ Listen ♦ Connect ♦ Check ♦ Reflect


  • What are the most relevant positions of privilege and oppression in this situation?

  • What is your combination of privilege and oppression? 

  • What are the combinations of privilege and oppression of others?

  • What are possible communication dynamics with these combinations of privilege and oppression and how might they affect communication.


  • Open your mind and your ears to hear words and feelings

  • Release judgment

  • Make no comparisons

  • Try imagining the world or situation through others’ points-of-view

  • What might your challenges be in listening?


  • Give your full attention to the person speaking

  • Make “soft” eye contact 

  • Use open body language

  • Project warmth and empathy

  • Be or stay open to learning from those you wish to support as an ally

  • Note your feelings, including any discomfort but set that aside for the moment. 

  • What challenges might you face in connecting?


  • Say in your own words what you have heard/witnessed

  • Ask what might you offer or do in the way of personal or organizational support

  • Check that what you can offer is helpful 

  • What challenges might you face in checking in with others?


  • What have you learned about the issue, yourself, your beliefs, your behavior? 

  • What steps can you take to make your beliefs and behavior more consistent (not perfection)?

  • What challenges might you face as you reflect on your own beliefs and actions (or lack of action)? 

Developed by Pamela Robert and Martha Thompson, 2014 Thousand Waves Martial Arts and Self-Defense Center Meditations on Activism: On Being an Ally (updated 2020). Adapted from “Five Fingers of Self-Defense,”an approach to teaching self-defense to women and girls created by women martial artists in the 1970s: Think, Yell, Run, Fight, Tell.

Monday, September 14, 2020

Microaggressions and Self-Defense Training: Revisited

In 2010, I was asked to give a presentation at the National Women’s Martial Arts Federation/Self Defense Instructor’s Conference. This was the first time that I formally made the connection between self-defense training and microaggressions.The conference organizers indicated that I could speak about anything that I wanted to. The topic was open.  They told me that I was recommended.  My friend and mentor Linda Ramzy (a central figure in the Empowerment Self Defense Movement) had given my name to the coordinators as someone that they should ask to speak.  I think that one goal was to add more diverse voices. I was not sure what I wanted to present.  At that time many things were going in my personal and professional life and I believe that made me think about microaggressions. In 2010. the concept was not part of common social discourse like it is now.  In fact, no one really referred to the concept except people in my field (psychology). When I told people in my dojo what I was going to talk about they said “what’s that?” I got the same reaction when I submitted my title to the conference coordinators.Now it is part of the common lexicon. (Some years ago, it even came in one of my favorite shows “Grey’s Anatomy.”)  This morning one of my neighbors used the term during a conversation in our building’s laundry room!

As many of you are aware, “microaggressions” was a concept first developed in the early 1970’s. Chester Pierce (1927-2016) an African American psychiatrist and Professor at the Harvard Medical School, Harvard School of Public Health and Harvard Graduate School of Education created it “to describe modern-day racism in the U.S.” Since that time, Derald Wing Sue (Professor of Counseling Psychology at Columbia University) and his colleagues have made it a central psychological concept.  First aimed at the discrimination which is targeted at people because of race and then expanded to include other identities.  Their definition:

Microaggressions are the everyday slights, indignities, put-downs, and insults that people of color, women, LGBT, or those who are marginalized experience in their day to day interactions with people. Micro aggressions often times appear to be a compliment but contain a meta communication or a hidden insult to the target groups in which it is delivered. People who engage in microaggressions are ordinary folks who experience themselves as good moral decent individuals. Microaggressions occur because they are outside the level of conscious awareness of the perpetrator. (Sue 2010) 
My goal in developing the initial presentation was to push the feminist self-defense community to think of violence and feminist self-defense in new ways. In that context to highlight that people are defending themselves against many forms of violence. This violence can be explicit or subtle. What training do they need to defend against the subtle forms of violence? Secondary goals were for instructors to examine their practices as self-defense instructors. In what ways have self-defense instructors embedded microaggressions into their courses without realizing it? How was the “one-size fits all” view of SD harming their students?

 In addition, I wanted the organization (NWMAF) to examine the ways in which it could be strengthened by attending to this issue.  Were particular groups being driven away because of subtle forms of bigotry?

I was prompted to finally write about this history because over the last several years my work on microaggressions has been used and continues to be used by ESD instructors and their students without giving me credit. While I am flattered and pleased that the self-defense community has taken up the concept and incorporated into their work I nevertheless would like to remind empowerment self-defense instructors that I have been contributing to the framing of empowerment self-defense and microaggressions for a decade (full citations below) and that it is important to use these citations in their presentations and publications

2010 Applied microaggressions defense.NWMAF. 
2011 Did that really happen? Taking a look at racial microaggressions.NWMAF. 
2012 Uh, what do you say now? Microaggressions and intersection oppressions (Parts 1 &     2) NWMAF (with Sally Van Wright). 
2015 But I didn’t mean it! Microaggressions from Perpetrators and bystander perspectives.     NWMAF.
2017 The neurobiology of bravery: How teaching people to manage their stress response         can create more effective bystanders. NSAC (with Patti Giggins and Meg Stone). 
2017 The neurobiology of bravery: How teaching people to manage their stress response        can create more effective bystanders. The ESD Global Movement Conference (with            Meg Stone).
2018 Intersectionality and Empowerment self-defense. NWMAF (With Amelia
    Jones, Nadia Telsey, and Martha Thompson).
2019 Coping with microaggressions: Self-defense strategies. Hindsight Conference.


I started writing this piece several weeks ago. So much has happened from June to September. It appears that the world has been spinning on its head. We have seen great highs and great lows. I have at times gotten caught up in the eddy of despair, fighting to keep from being pulled under. Microaggressions are so embedded in our society, that they are thought by some to be the norm.

Some of the highs. We are in a crucial historical moment. Some places are coming out of Covid -19 quarantine; while we are seeing spikes in other places.  This has highlighted inequities.  We are watching protests in the US and across the world against racial injustice. We witnessed two ground breaking Supreme Court decisions and saw Juneteenth be recognized (in some states and cities as a holiday.) After years of pressure, a national football team removed their logo and started the process of changing its name. This is after years of protests that the image is insulting and damaging to indigenous people (“microinvalidations”/”environmental microaggressions”).  For many these events demonstrated the restoration and recognition of their experiences.

 At the same time there have been great lows for example, watching peaceful protesters shot, gassed, and called “thugs” and “un-American.”  While counter protestors are called adherers to American values and patriots. Most recently having the current administration state that anti-racism training and critical race theory are “divisive anti-American propaganda that increase hate. In addition, urging federal agencies to cancel contracts for these programs.

Why does this backdrop matter to empowerment self-defense instructors?   As a psychologist, African-American woman, and self-defense instructor who has not only studied but also been a recipient of microaggressions here are five things I believe need to be considered:

  1. Think about trauma broadly. Trauma may not all be physical violence or sexual assaults.  Experiences with microaggressions can be forms of trauma.
  2. Utilize trauma-informed training. Even though their experience may not fit standard criteria for diagnoses, people coming to classes may be dealing with PTSD.  Being bombarded with degrading images, stopped in your own neighborhood, having competency questioned on a daily basis takes its toll.
  3. Stay humble and open.  Even though you may be an experienced instructor it is not possible to know everything about every group.  What you knew from the 60’s, 70’s, 80’s, 90’s or even last year may not hold now. In addition, even if you are seemingly from the same group, generational factors may apply
  4. Involve students. For example, as some of you already are already doing, let students tell you what experiences are challenging for them that they need assistance with. Have them help construct scenarios.  You might ask about “everyday” experiences that they have which they want help with defending against. 
  5. Breathe and listen.  If you make a mistake and commit a microaggression, take a deep breath.  Resist the urge to become defensive.  This could be a learning experience for you and members of your class.

 Microaggressions continue to be with us. They are potential threats to physical and mental health.  As empowerment self-defense instructors, we have a role to play in both their eradication and assisting people with handling them “in the meantime.”

 “The struggle continues.”

Darlene DeFour, Ph.D.
Associate Professor, Hunter College
Empowerment Self-Defense Alliance 
NWMAF Award of Excellence


DeFour, D. C. (2010, July) Applied micro-aggressions defense.  Presented at the National Women’s Marital Arts Federation, Self Defense Instructors Conference. Swarthmore College,   Swarthmore, PA.

DeFour, D. C. (2011, July).  Did that really just happen? Taking a look at racial micro-aggressions. Presented at the National Women’s Marital Arts Federation, Self Defense Instructors Conference/Special Training. The College at Brockport -SUNY, Brockport, NY.

DeFour, D.C. (2015, July).  But I didn’t mean it! Microaggressions from Perpetrators and bystander Perspectives. Presented at the National Women’s Martial Arts Federation/Self-Defense Instructors Conference/Special Training, Lansing, MI.

DeFour, D. C. (2019, December).Coping with microaggressions: Self-defense strategies.Paper presented at the 3rd Annual Hindsight Conference – Erasure, Remembrance and Healing, New York, NY.

DeFour, D. C. & VanWright Johnson, S.  (2012, July).  Uh What do you say now?  Micro-aggressions and intersecting oppressions. Parts 1 and 2.  Presented at the National Women’s Marital Arts Federation, Self Defense Instructors’ Conference/Special Training. Oberlin College, Oberlin, OH.

Giggans, P., DeFour, D.C. & Stone, M. (2017, June). The neurobiology of bravery: How teaching people to manage their stress response can create more effective bystanders.  Presented at the National Sexual Assault Conference, Dallas, TX.

Stone, M. & DeFour, D. C. (2017, July). The neurobiology of bravery: How teaching people to manage their stress response can create more effective bystanders.  Empowerment Self Defense – The Global Movement conference sponsored by El HaLev,   Broadcast from New Paltz, New York.

Thompson, M., DeFour, D.C., Telsey, N., and Jones, A. (2018, July). Intersectionality & Empowerment Self-Defense. Presented at the National Women’s Marital Arts Federation, Self Defense Instructors Conference. North Central College, Naperville IL


Monday, August 31, 2020

Safely and Ethically Filming Threatening Behavior

Video documentation has become important in exposing racist behavior by the police and others, but it is not automatic that filming will help every situation.  In "How to Safely and Ethically Film Police Misconduct," WITNESS, a human rights organization, offers recommendations on how to ethically and safely film violent and discriminatory policing.  Read the article for detailed information; see below for some highlights.
1. Focus on your safety and the safety of the target
2. Know your rights--in the U.S. you have first amendment rights to record police in public settings as long as you don't interfere. 
3. Be prepared--for example, use a 6 digit pass-code for your phone and set your phone to automatic backup. 
4. Film with an eye to the larger context--how many police, how many others, what is happening.
5. Film evidence that shows what you are filming is real--film something to determine the location, the day and time, do continuous filming.
6. Make a decision about whether or not to narrate--if you narrate, stick to descriptions.
7. Think through a strategy before you share or consider getting the ACLU app "Mobile Justice."
In "Why Filming Police Violence Has Done Nothing to Stop It," Ethan Zuckerman reminds us that without dismantling systemic racism, filming violence will not be enough to stop it.

Monday, August 17, 2020

We Call It Self-Defense

We call it "self-defense" because an empowering experience where you find your voice, increase your awareness, discover the power of your body, and build a strong community of women is too many words.

Nine years ago, Cathy Bazzon, IMPACT grad, wrote about the power of an IMPACT Chicago workshop at a community center. Grant funding like what we have received from the Latin School Student Philanthropic Initiative for 2020-2021 helps us bring self-defense to everyone. Excerpts from Cathy's original post "Why We Call It Self-Defense" are below. 
It was a wish to reach women of diverse backgrounds that prompted Martha Thompson, IMPACT Chicago instructor and IMPACT Director at the time, to start applying for grants. “While IMPACT is primarily a volunteer-led organization, our operating costs are substantial,” she explains.  “Because of the full contact during workshops, we have to have insurance that would pretty much cover a football team.  Then we have to run a not-for-profit, pay our instructors, maintain our equipment, do ongoing professional development—it adds up really quickly.”  “Depending on the course, fees can reach several hundred dollars,” notes Thompson, “and a lot of women simply don’t have that kind of money.”
Upon analyzing participant demographics, Thompson realized that the organization was serving mostly white women, ages 25 to 40, with middle incomes or higher.  “And that meant we were not meeting our mission,” she says.  “If we want to reach women, we have to go where women are,” she says.  “Not only do we want to train a variety of women, but we want to work with a bigger vision of anti-violence work.”Expanding that vision means building relationships with other organizations already committed to empowering women. 

Monday, August 10, 2020

Adriana Li: Expanding Empowerment and Safety

Adriana Li, Coach Instructor, IMPACT Boston
Adriana Li, IMPACT Boston

Below Adriana Li, IMPACT Boston Coach, and an IMPACT Boston Suit demonstrate a scenario of two co-workers who get along as friends at work and who have lots of healthy dialogue about social-political issues. The coach character is non-binary. The suit character is cis-gendered. 

SUIT: Hey how’s it going? Hey did you see that article that went viral, about the new trans-rights law? What did you think about that? 

COACH: Actually, I wanted to talk to you about something on that note. I meant to bring it up earlier. 

SUIT: Oh yeah, what’s up? 

COACH: I’ve given it some thought lately, and I love talking to you about politics, but I’m realizing when it comes to these kinds of things, especially around trans rights, I would prefer not to talk about it anymore. 

SUIT: Oh no, wait why is there something wrong? I thought you loved talking about it? Plus, I figured I’d ask you, you just know so much about it. 

COACH: I did, I’m just realizing I don’t feel like answering questions anymore. It can be a lot. I’m noticing it’s starting to make me uncomfortable. I think you mean well, and it’s great you want to learn so much, but I’m sure there’s other ways you can find out about these things. I’d prefer not to talk about it anymore. 

SUIT: Oh I’m sorry, I see that, but how come you didn’t tell me before? 

COACH: You’re right, I didn’t tell you before; I own that. I think because of the work dynamic I just didn’t want to make it awkward. But in the future, can we just keep it to other topics? 

SUIT: OK I get it, yes definitely I can do that. 

COACH: Thank you, I appreciate that.

Adriana Coaching 
Adriana says:
I wrote the above scenario because it shows how important it is to set boundaries with people we know and that we can change boundaries as things come up for us. LGBTQ-advocacy and setting boundaries when having conversations, even with well-intentions, can be emotionally taxing and may mean creating new parameters, despite the healthy relationship. It’s about reinforcing limits when things come up for us, and clearly communicating that to others around us.  

 I also know how important it is to have physical tools. I got out of a situation once by using a version of an eye strike--I didn't know how to do it technically but it worked and gives me confidence in the techniques we teach.

Teaching courses for the LGBTQ community is important to me, especially for LGBTQ youth and women of color. Because of my own background as a survivor and with those I know who have experienced violence, I want to focus on marginalized kids and teens and provide support and alternatives for trauma survivors. I am committed to teaching critical thinking skills and providing a vision of alternatives. I want to help people expand their visions and choices. I love that the structure of IMPACT means eventually our students do not need us to fall back on, they only need to trust themselves. 

Adriana presenting
I am part of the LGBTQ community and have been since I can remember. My mother is from southern China and my father is Puerto Rican. I was bullied and alienated as a kid for being uncommonly biracial. I graduated from Pine Manor College in theater. Out of college I was the Science Programs Coordinator for the Children's Museum of Boston. In addition to my theater background, I had a natural knack for working with youth. I’ve been with IMPACT for three years now. I originally worked with Triangle, the disability agency that houses IMPACT Boston. I was working as a coordinator for young adults with disabilities who were developing job skills and I was attending a Kung Fu school in Chinatown when one of the instructors recommended the IMPACT Basics Course to me. He happened to have been a suited instructor with IMPACT Boston several years before and he knew I was a survivor.

When I took the Women's Basics Class, I noticed I was the only student of color in the class. I was hyperaware that I was in a mostly-white space, something I was not used to in my college and childhood experiences. I've also noticed that hyperawareness by other people of color in programs that are predominately white. I am committed to creating safe spaces and providing space for conversations that are relevant to the experiences of people of color and all gender identities; for example, directly addressing systemic inequality and authority violence. One of my approaches for creating safer space in on-line programs is asking people to personally email me and share with me why they want to take the program. Online, the unfortunate reality is anyone could pretend to be in a specific community. By asking people to email me, I'm not only screening, but I'm making a personal connection.

I've had so much support from the IMPACT Boston staff and connecting with other IMPACT chapters and ESD organizations. I consulted with Linda Leu from IMPACT Bay Area about the Women of Color course. I helped train IMPACT Safety in Ohio in IMPACT: Ability and also helped in suit training for Turtle Mountain staff. My dream, in doing this work, is to see more people of color given platforms to be represented,and empowered, in spaces everywhere.

Based on an interview of Adriana Li July 2020 by Martha Thompson, IMPACT Chicago Lead Instructor and Admin Co-Team Leader.

Monday, August 3, 2020

IMPACT Chicago’s Culture of Empowerment: A Foundation for Anti-Racism Work

Below I offer an analysis of IMPACT Chicago using the Characteristics of White Supremacy Culture developed by Tema Okun to consider the ways it is (and is not) an empowering culture. This analysis was prompted by recent organizational discussions about if and how to adopt an explicitly anti-racist mission statement. Thank you to Amy Amoroso, Ellyn Bank, Amy Harmon, and Martha Thompson for their helpful input on this analysis. I am writing from my perspective as a long-time volunteer with IMPACT Chicago, not for the organization. [Editor’s note: see below.]

Culture of Improvement (instead of Perfectionism). IMPACT Chicago is forward-focused and seeks to continually improve. In my experience, IMPACT Chicago people routinely adopt a problem-solving mindset, rather than a blaming one. We are an organization that is open to learning and to change. Mistakes as we learn are expected.

Realistic Planning & Solid Decision-Making Processes (instead of Sense of Urgency). In numerous ways, IMPACT does an effective job at planning realistically and making decisions rationally. Examples include:

- Our grant proposals do not over promise and allow the necessary time for partnering with organizations to meet their needs. All of our grant work has been centered on community groups. Their needs have been at the forefront.

- Our training timelines recognize that building the level of quality we need takes repeated experiences and time to internalize, reflect, and redo.

- Also, our shared governance structure (board, instructors, admin) is designed to push us to build consensus, although this can take more time.

In terms of areas for improvement, examples include:

- Filling classes has consistently put pressure on our decision-making and planning. The sense of urgency around filling classes falls disproportionately on the shoulders of our Registration Coordinator. We have shifted work to promote courses much earlier and this is proving helpful.

- Many people feel rushed because we are all doing this work on the margins of our lives. There is no one who has IMPACT as their primary focus.

Call-In Culture (instead of Defensiveness). IMPACT has done well creating a call-in culture through the curriculum, in the following ways:

- the focus is on front-loading principles to our students (e.g. a focus on behavior rather than appearance to communicate an anti-racist stance).

- Feedback to participants is given in a manner that is forward-focused (e.g., what they can do next, rather than what they didn’t quite get).

- The instructor and workshop leader teams regularly review feedback from participants and adapt our programming to address concerns and make improvements.

- Our training process requires those in training to receive large amounts of feedback and incorporate it into their work.

In IMPACT Chicago, behind-the-scenes organizational work is largely done by women. Given our mission this is no surprise, but this pattern holds up across the not-for-profit world. I believe we need to accurately represent who has done the work, particularly when it is routine and unglamorous work. This work should be visible and valued. Pointing this out can be mistaken for defensiveness. In fact, this is an act of calling-in and I believe forms an important part in the fight for equity.

When people propose ideas without learning about what has been done or when people assume something is not being done because they are not aware of it, I have personally experienced defensiveness and have observed it in others. It is a challenge to ask people who volunteer their labor to run the organization to continually educate others about the work that is being done, when they could be keeping up with that information independently (by participating in social media, reading IMPACT’s blog, reading the eNews - to name a few). I have found it demoralizing to hear suggestions to do something a certain way when that is how it is already being done.

IMPACT tries to make invisible work visible so that it can be appreciated. Our current culture is one of appreciation within teams, but I believe we could improve appreciation across teams.

Quality over Quantity (instead of Quantity Over Quality). IMPACT Chicago has consistently chosen quality over quantity in all our programs. Instructor and Workshop Leader Training is rigorous and effective. Conflicts are handled with respect and with an eye toward establishing a high-quality process (e.g., how to fix the process that may be fueling the conflict).

Many Ways of Knowing (instead of Worship of the Written Word). As a largely virtual organization except when courses are taking place, IMPACT Chicago uses written policy, notes, and task tracking to communicate. However, our training recognizes that “doing” is an irreplaceable part of learning and our training is centered on “doing.” Experiences are processed in conversation with feedback.

Democratic (instead of Paternalism). Our organization chart is not hierarchical because we know that each area (admin, board, instructors) has to step up to lead but always in conversation and collaboration with the other parts. We could improve in terms of balancing the workload across the teams. In the recent past, the board has served solely as a sounding board without responsibility for fund-raising, board development, financial oversight or other areas that could rightly sit with them.

Both/And Thinking (instead of Either/Or Thinking). Our problem-solving mindset helps us maintain “both/and thinking.” We seek to understand and deal with complex situations, rather than simplifying or minimizing. We step outside binary thinking in terms of gender, which is important since we primarily are serving people who identify as women and girls . The IMPACT Chicago’s “Yes And” campaign (inspired by improv theater) reflects this approach.

Power Sharing (instead of Power Hoarding). An ongoing struggle is finding people to share the power and the work.

Embracing Constructive Conflict (instead of Fear of Open Conflict). We actively worked on this in the late 1990s and have continued to build our capacity for handling low level conflict in a constructive way. Several prescriptive models (including an adaptation of Rosenberg’s concept of Non-Violent Communication) have been used and help people hold one another accountable for constructively handling conflict when it arises and for reflecting upon what happened if things did not go smoothly.

Collectivism (instead of Individualism). Our work is explicitly not about individuals, but about community. Our instruction goes beyond “personal safety.” We do not talk about sexual assault as a private problem or as something that operates at an individual level. We are focused on violence prevention and community safety. Teamwork is central to our curriculum. Cooperation is valued. We could invest more in learning to work as part of a team following the model set by the Instructor Team.

Sustainable (instead of Progress is Bigger, More). Given that the organization is mostly volunteer-run, progress has been defined as filling our existing programs rather than growing them. Until we are able to offset the costs of our Core Programs, we will not be able to achieve sustainability. To develop greater sustainability, we need to have buy-in from across the organization for programming that is not currently being fulfilled locally or nationally and which does not depend on our expensive and longer length programs. Examples of offerings other than our longer programs include, working with local high schools to deliver their self-defense units or working with organizations serving people with disabilities to regularly offer training to staff and clients.

Subjective/Contextual (instead of Objectivity). We teach tools, not rules and that context matters. Our training emphasizes that a person’s experience is their own and we should not impose our interpretation onto them. We may offer alternative views or provide options for the future while affirming their reality. We are not bothered by being uncomfortable and see it as an important part of growth.

The IMPACT Curriculum has stood up well across cultures, in part due to our structurally- and culturally-situated approach to empowerment-based self-defense. In addition, our programs have been adapted to address different lived experiences (e.g., the IMPACT: Ability curriculum), and we are actively engaged in extending this work (e.g., gender inclusivity). In addition, we collaborate with our workshop clients to ensure we are meeting their needs. The tension here is always that we have limited staff and volunteer capacity.

While we will continue to improve our course content and scrutinize it closely, I believe that our curriculum provides a solid foundation for being both explicitly anti-racist and gender inclusive.

Discomfort (instead of Right to Comfort). As noted above, we value discomfort. In our programs, we encourage participants to embrace the unknown. Our work is not just about safety, it is about freedom. In terms of our teamwork, we often take discomfort as a signal that our process might not be heading us in a direction consistent with our mission, that the task at hand might have to be rethought, or that the interpersonal dynamics need some attention. We are comfortable with the idea that discomfort may be due to a lack of familiarity and does not necessarily need to be fixed.

While IMPACT Chicago has a solid foundation of inclusive practices, there is, and always will be, more work to be done. As with all organizations, the culture needs to be sustained through care and attention to what work gets done and how that work gets done. Yes And!

-- Lisa Amoroso, July 2020

Reference: Okun, Tema, 2001, “White Supremacy Culture,” in Dismantling Racism: A Workbook for Social Change Groups, Eds: Kenneth Jones & Tema Okun,

Editor’s Note: Lisa Amoroso has been a dedicated and effective volunteer for almost thirty years. She has served in all three major leadership areas in IMPACT Chicago (staff, board, and instruction) and in these many leadership positions has been a sounding board and support for Martha Thompson, Director Emeritus and currently Admin Team Co-Leader. Some of Lisa’s many contributions:

  • Admin Team Co-Leader 2012-2020, website, database, development of standards, & so much more.
  • Board Chair and Board member
  • Fund Drive creator and coordinator, 1995-2020
  • Class Assistant and Mat Mover
  • Workshop Leader, 2018-present

Monday, July 27, 2020

Why Yell NO

Photo credit: Daniel Teafoe
 No allows for tightening of the muscles that protect the body from offensive strikes.

2. No activates breathing that enables a defender to maintain consciousness and supplies the body and organs the oxygen necessary for effective self-defense.

3. No allows a defender to strike with full force and speed without restriction.

4. No startles an aggressor.

Most importantly

5. No represents deep compassionate feelings for oneself. "NO"  represents facing whatever force threatens one's well-being.

Bruce Bio, IMPACT Chicago Board Co-Chair and Retired Suited Instructor

From the Archives, an earlier version was published December 5, 2011.