Friday, October 15, 2010

Violence prevention and the question of teen bullying

Over the past several months Erasing the Distance has been working in partnership with an organization called Affinity Community Services to create a 3 part series focusing on violence prevention called Will You Stand Up.

Affinity is a non-profit organization whose mission is to
"...provide comprehensive services and a safe space on the southside of Chicago for lesbians and lesbigay youth of African descent. The scope of our efforts is also to provide a supportive environment for bisexual women, transgender persons, lesbians of color, our families, friends, and other supporters. 
 Our fundamental commitment is to facilitate wellness within and among these groups and to contribute to the national knowledge base regarding African American lesbians, bisexual and transgender women."
The project seemed a natural fit for both our organizations.  Violence - whether physical, sexual, or emotional; whether perpetuated by a stranger or a person you love - is detrimental to not only our physical but our emotional well being.  Its impact can linger far longer than the visible marks it may leave.

At the end of September the first part of the project, a community forum on the impact of violence, took place at  First Presbyterian Church at 6400 S. Kimbark.  The dialogue and ideas that came out of it are helping guide us as we set to work on the second part of the series: a theatre performance that will tell the true stories of six people whose lives have been impacted by violence.  The piece will be performed on the evening of December 1st.

At the same time as this project has been under way, the issues of bullying and teen suicide have leaped into the forefront of the media.  A string of young LGBT kids have taken their own lives across the country in short succession - all in response to long term harassment and bullying from their peers because of their sexual orientation.

It is heart breaking to read these stories.  They are a painful illustration of the toll that emotional and physical bullying can take.  Seeing these kids slip through the cracks, unnoticed and unprotected by the adults in the schools where this bullying is most often taking place, should be a wake-up call.

We need to start talking about the impact of violence within our own local communities, we need to be willing to look at the impact it is having in the lives of those falling victim to it, and we need to find ways to take action.

Dan Savage, a sex advice columnist, did just that when he created his "It Gets Better" project on YouTube.  Sighting the difficulty of getting anti-bullying campaigns into schools he decided that, rather than give up, he would take his message of hope directly to the kids who needed to hear it most--and then he invited other LGBT adults to join him in his efforts by creating their own videos with the message: it gets better, don't give up hope.  He stepped up to the challenge and he took action.  And it is making a difference.

If you are interested in standing up against violence in Chicago communities, step up and join us for parts 2 and 3 of Will You Stand Up.  Come and witness the toll violence can take in the lives of real people on December 1st, and then join us for part 3 by attending one of the free violence prevention workshops we will be organizing in the weeks following the performance.

If you are someone whose life has been impacted by violence and you would like to share your story with us, join us this Sunday at our Story Sharing Day, or email me to learn more about what sharing your story entails,

If you are part of an organization working to combat violence in Chicago, and you would like to take part in or lead one of our violence prevention workshops, email us or call (773.944.5062) for more information.

-Jessica Mondres
Outreach Director

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