A nonprofit publication of the Kentucky Center for Public Service Journalism

Advancing Equity: Women’s Crisis Center staff repeats this phrase and means it — ‘We are still here’

Part of a series by NKY’s nonprofits who stand together against racism and any acts that dehumanize people.

“We are still here.”

As the impact of Covid-19 became increasingly evident, Women’s Crisis Center’s staff repeated this phrase quite often. Power-based personal violence such as sexual assault, stalking, and partner violence didn’t disappear just because a pandemic showed up. The ugly truth, in fact, was that stay-at-home mandates meant that some people were stuck at home with the people who were hurting them. The way we helped folks in our community had to change. As a result, it was painfully urgent and incredibly important for us to let it be known that even though things looked somewhat different, we hadn’t left. We were still there for those who needed us when they needed us. We were making sure to include that simple message in our social media posts, our press releases, in the various interviews, and even in the signs that hang on our front doors.

“We are still here.”

On May 25, the murder of George Floyd by four Minneapolis police officers became the most recent public display of the pillars of white supremacy upon which this country was built. George Floyd’s name was added to a centuries-long list of Black people who have been killed unjustly in our country. In our own state of Kentucky, Breonna Taylor’s life had been stolen by police officers just two months prior. Sam DuBose was shot and killed by a police officer a short five years ago just across the river in Cincinnati. And it doesn’t seem that long ago that the streets of Cincinnati erupted in sadness and anger after Timothy Thomas was killed by police. Our state, our region, and certainly our country are no strangers to the oppression that continues to happen time and time again to Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC). This isn’t a new issue. It can be traced back to racist stop-and-frisk policies. Or a war on drugs that disproportionately targeted communities of color. It can be traced back to Jim Crow laws and segregation. It can be seen in our Constitution’s 13th Amendment, and indeed in the enslavement of people during the very formation of this country and for nearly a century after. The progress that we have seen hasn’t carried us very far away from our racist roots. We are in a very familiar place.

We are still here.

It’s infuriating that a phrase used by our agency to provide reassurance and stability to folks in our community can also be used to remind us what a poor job we have done addressing racial disparities, oppression, and hatred in our country and in our communities. How disheartening it is to still be having the same discussions with what feels like such little progress.

When a person walks through Women’s Crisis Center’s doors for help, they bring with them the traumas that they have experienced, the most apparent of which might be a recent encounter they have had with violence. However it’s important for us to remember – as advocates, as service providers, and as human beings – that different identities carry different traumas. When we support someone who has been impacted by violence, we need to remember the additional traumas they may have experienced due to racism, homophobia, transphobia or xenophobia. These traumas stack, compound, and can weave themselves together. This is all before even considering the generational trauma that exists in individuals belonging to groups who have been historically oppressed.

A large part of our agency’s work is in violence prevention. We place enormous emphasis on the role that each individual plays in preventing violence. We work with middle school, high school, and college students as well as individuals throughout our communities to stop violence from happening in the first place, and to create a culture that is utterly intolerant of violence. We have seen hope, and we have seen small changes. But we know that we can not end one form of violence without ending all forms of violence. Just as our identities intersect, so does violence and the roles it plays. We can not eliminate power-based personal violence without also eliminating prejudice. We can not create policies to support survivors of sexual and domestic violence without also abolishing policies that have systemically upheld white supremacy. We can not be an agency for all people without recognizing that the word “all” has historically meant something entirely contrary. The same man who penned “we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal” enslaved over 600 people in his adult life. Racial oppression and white supremacy are present in the very fibers of our country’s fabric.

It is critically important at this time in history to specifically name those who have historically been excluded from “all.”

Black lives matter.
Native lives matter.
Trans lives matter.

These statements stand alone. It is unacceptable to be anything but deliberate in shouting these phrases that have been left unsaid for far too long.

As an agency, Women’s Crisis Center has committed to reviewing and improving our own internal practices and trainings. Through the lens of absolute loyalty to survivors of power-based personal violence, we will examine and evaluate the relationships we hold with our communities, with partner agencies and the systems survivors navigate. We will amplify the voices of BIPOC through our internal and external messaging. We will strive to maintain better representation of BIPOC on our staff, within our leadership, and on our board. A full breakdown of our plan and commitment can be found at wccky.org.

We must understand the role we have played in maintaining white supremacy. We must recognize that our allegiances have not always been defined clearly enough. We must accept that we have been wrong. These statements are true not only for us as an agency, but as a much larger movement of violence prevention and intervention.

We are still here, and we want to be here – in a better, more impactful, and much more intentional way for the BIPOC in our communities who rely on us. And we will be.

Women’s Crisis Center’s Christy Burch, Executive Director, Jamie Sivrais, Communications Coordinator, and Reagan Amith, director of Non-Residential Services, contributed to this commentary.

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