Art that Heals
I really consider myself lucky to have such a loving circle of friends and family. I often want the love that I experience from them to be transmittable to all that I come in contact with, but for so many reasons that is impossible. Many of my greatest friends have unbelievable stories and talents that they’d rather use humbly to better society than plaster themselves over the planet. Well, I must break this quiet greatness for some of them! Last Friday, I had a glimpse into how the love, struggle, and growth that one of my friends has experienced can be transmitted to hundreds quickly, powerfully, yet intimately. At the close of the week, I darted from my campus to board a bus to go to Philadelphia to see SOARS (Story of a Rape Survivor) presented by A Long Walk Home at the University of Pennsylvania. My dear friend, sister, and scholar Salamishah Tillet is a co-founder of A Long Walk Home and the production chronicles her journey through sexual assault and the ongoing healing process. The performance, which runs two hours, features poetry, dance, visual documentary, and song. It is not just an expression of one woman’s story, but the story of many women and men.
Sexual assault remains one of the most taboo and silenced experiences globally and particularly in the Black community. Through SOARS, A Long Walk Home is not only raising awareness but also creating spaces for solutions and healing. The final portion of the 2 hour production is a “speak out” (in the tradition of Take Back the Night) where audience members can ask questions of the cast and speak out about their experiences. At first, questions were sparse and audience members sat quietly waiting for someone to break the silence, then finally it was broken. From the audience came a flood of experiences with sexual assault from childhood to adulthood. More than just a question and answer the session, it was one of mutual sharing and support. In a group so large, one shouldn’t expect such a sacred space for sharing, but it makes perfect sense once you realize the audience is taken on an painfully intimate, triumphant and bonding journey of a survivor in the production. Multiple audience members said the story on the stage was their own story. The fourth wall was shattered! The spirit that SOARS created in the audience reminded me of a proverb that one of my baba’s once gave me. He said, “Live your life as if it is an open book, for you never know from which page someone will have to learn.” I was glad to learn from the page of Salamishah, SOARS, and the audience.
In a society defined by so much difficulty and silence around crimes such as rape, the process of not only surviving but healing is opened in a powerful way. This week, a number of my friends and those who I admire were at the Men Can Stop Rape conference. I am glad that venues that conference and SOARS exist to open dialogue and continue the work of fighting sexual violence, surviving and healing.
A Long Walk Home is beginning a preventative and healing peer-centered approach to sexual assault named Girl/Friends which will equip young women with the tools to help themselves and their community. The SOARS season for the year has closed, but when they go on tour again, I’ll make sure to post dates and tour location. In the meantime, visit their website and get a “Got Consent” tee-shirt to support their work (available in both men and women’s)!