Our role in addressing racism and anti-blackness for Black survivors

Written by Anna Harper-Guerrero

Emerge has been in a process of evolution and transformation for the last 6 years that is intensely focused on becoming an anti-racist, multicultural organization.  We are working every day to uproot anti-blackness and confront racism in an effort to return to the humanity that lives deep within all of us. We want to be a reflection of liberation, love, compassion and healing – the same things we want for anyone suffering in our community.  Emerge is on a journey to speak the untold truths about our work and have humbly presented the written pieces and videos from community partners this month.  These are important truths about the real experiences that survivors have trying to access help.  We believe that in that truth is the light for the way forward. 

This process is slow, and every day there will be invitations, both literal and figurative, to revert to what has not served our community, served us as the people who make up Emerge, and that which has not served survivors in the ways that they deserve.  We are working to center the important life experiences of ALL survivors.  We are taking responsibility for inviting courageous conversations with other non-profit agencies and sharing our messy journey through this work so that we can replace a system born out of a desire to categorize and dehumanize people in our community.  The historical roots of the non-profit system cannot be ignored. 

If we pick up on the point made by Michael Brasher this month in his piece about rape culture and the socialization of men and boys, we can see the parallel if we choose to.  “The implicit, often unexamined, set of values contained in the cultural code to ‘man up’ are a part of an environment in which men are trained to disconnect from and devalue feelings, to glorify force and winning, and to viciously police each other’s ability to replicate these norms.”

Much like the roots of a tree that provides support and anchorage, our framework is embedded in values that ignore the historical truths about domestic and sexual violence as being an outgrowth of racism, slavery, classism, homophobia, and transphobia.  These systems of oppression give us permission to disregard the experiences of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color  – including those who identify in the LGBTQ communities – as having less value at best and non-existent at worst. It is risky for us to assume that these values still don’t seep into the deep corners of our work and influence everyday thoughts and interactions.

We are willing to risk it all.  And by all we mean, tell all the truth about how domestic violence services have not accounted for the experience of ALL survivors.  We have not considered our role in addressing racism and anti-blackness for Black survivors.  We are a non-profit system that has created a professional field out of the suffering in our community because that is the model that was built for us to operate within.  We have struggled to see how the very same oppression that leads to unconscionable, life-ending violence in this community has also insidiously worked its way into the fabric of the system designed to respond to survivors of that violence. In its current state, ALL survivors cannot have their needs met in this system, and too many of us working in the system have engaged a coping mechanism of distancing ourselves from the realities of those who cannot be served.  But this can, and must, change.  We must change the system so that the full humanity of ALL survivor is seen and honored.

To be in reflection about how to change as an institution within complicated, deeply anchored systems takes great courage.  It requires us to stand in the circumstances of risk and account for harm that we have caused.  It also requires us to be precisely focused on the way forward.  It requires us to no longer stay silent about the truths.  The truths that we all know are there.  Racism is not new.  Black survivors feeling let down and invisible is not new.  The numbers of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women are not new. But our prioritization of it is new. 

Black Women deserve to be loved, celebrated, and lifted up for their wisdom, knowledge, and accomplishments.  We must also acknowledge that Black Women have no choice but to survive in a society that was never intended to hold them as valuable.  We must listen to their words about what change means but fully assume our own responsibility in identifying and addressing the injustices that happen daily.

Indigenous Women deserve to live freely and be revered for all that they have woven into the earth that we walk on – to include their very bodies.  Our attempts to liberate Indigenous communities from domestic abuse must also include our ownership of the historical trauma and truths that we readily hide about who planted those seeds on their land. To include ownership of the ways that we attempt to water those seeds daily as a community.

It is okay to tell the truth about these experiences. In fact, it is critical to the collective survival of ALL survivors in this community.  When we center those who are listened to the least, we ensure the space is open for everyone.

We can reimagine and actively build a system that has a great ability to build safety and hold the humanity of everyone in our community.  We can be spaces where everyone is welcome in their truest, fullest self, and where everyone’s life has value, where accountability is seen as love.  A community where we all have the opportunity to build a life free from violence.

The Queens is a support group that was created at Emerge to center the experiences of Black Women in our work.  It was created by and is led by Black Women.

This week we proudly present the important words and experiences of the Queens, who journeyed through a process led by Cecelia Jordan over the last 4 weeks to encourage unguarded, raw, truth-telling as the pathway to healing.  This excerpt is what the Queens chose to share with the community in honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month.

Violence Against Indigenous Women

Written by April Ignacio

April Ignacio is a citizen of the Tohono O’odham Nation and the founder of Indivisible Tohono, a grassroots community organization that provides opportunities for civic engagement and education beyond voting for members of the Tohono O’odham Nation. She is a fierce advocate for women, a mother to six and an artist.

The violence against Indigenous women has been so normalized that we sit in an unspoken, insidious truth that our own bodies do not belong to us. My first recollection of this truth is probably around the age of 3 or 4 years old, I attended the HeadStart Program in a village called Pisinemo. I remember being told “don’t let anyone take you” as a warning from my teachers while on a field trip. I remember being afraid that in fact someone was going to try and “take me” but I didn’t understand what that meant. I knew I had to be in sight distance from my teacher and that I, as a 3 or 4 year old child then became suddenly very aware of my surroundings. I realize now as an adult, that trauma was passed on to me, and I had passed it onto my own children. My oldest daughter and son both recall being instructed by me “don’t let anyone take you” as they were traveling somewhere without me. 


Historically violence against Indigenous people in the United States has created a normalcy among most tribal people that when I was asked to provide a thorough insight to the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls I  struggled to find the words to talk about our shared living experience which always seems to be in question. When I say our bodies don’t belong to us, I am talking about this within a historical context. The United States government sanctioned astronomical programs and targeted the Indigenous people of this country in the name of “progress”. Whether it was forcibly relocating Indigenous people from their homelands onto reservations, or stealing children from their homes to be placed into boarding schools clear across the country, or the forced sterilization of our women in Indian Health Services from the 1960 throughout the 80s.  Indigenous people have been forced to survive in a life story that is saturated with violence and most times it feels as though we are screaming into a void.  Our stories are invisible to most, our words remain unheard.


It is important to remember that there are 574 tribal Nations in the United States and each one is unique. In Arizona alone there are 22 distinct tribal Nations, including the transplants from other Nations throughout the country that call Arizona home. So the collection of data for the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls has been challenging and almost near to impossible to conduct.  We are struggling to identify the true numbers of Indigenous women and girls who have been murdered, missing, or have been taken. The plight of this movement is being led by Indigenous women, we are our own experts.


In some communities, women are being murdered by non-indigenous people.  In my tribal community 90% of the cases of women who were murdered, were a direct result of domestic violence and this is reflected in our tribal judicial system. Roughly 90% of the court cases that are heard in our Tribal courts are domestic violence cases. Each case study may differ based on geographical location, however this is what it looks like in my community. It is imperative that community partners and allies understand Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women & Girls is a direct result of perpetrated violence against Indigenous women and girls. The roots of this violence is deeply embedded in archaic belief systems that teach insidious lessons about the worth of our bodies – lessons that give permission for our bodies to be taken at whatever cost for whatever reason. 


I often find myself frustrated by the lack of discourse of how we are not talking about ways to prevent domestic violence but instead we are talking about how to recover and find missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.  The truth is that there are two justice systems. One that allows a man who has been accused of rape, sexual assault, and sexual harassment, including non-consensual kissing and groping of at least 26 women since the 1970s to become the 45th President of the United States. This system parallels the one that would erect statutes in honor of men who raped the women they had enslaved. And then there is the justice system for us; where the violence against our bodies and taking of our bodies are recent and illuminating. Grateful, I am.  


In November of last year the Trump administration signed Executive Order 13898, forming the Task Force on Missing and Murdered American Indian and Alaskan Natives, also known as  “Operation Lady Justice”, that would provide more ability to open more cases (unsolved and cold cases) of Indigenous women directing the allocation of more money from the Department of Justice.  However, no additional laws or authority comes with Operation Lady Justice. The order quietly addresses the lack of action and prioritization of solving cold cases in Indian Country without acknowledging the great harm and trauma that so many families have suffered with for so long.  We must address the way that our policies and lack of prioritization of resources allows for the silence and erasure of the many Indigenous Women and Girls who are missing and who have been murdered.


On October 10th the Savanna Act and Not Invisible Act were both signed into law. The Savanna Act would create standardized protocols for responding to cases of missing and murdered Native Americans, in consultation with Tribes, which will include guidance on interjurisdictional cooperation among tribal, federal, state, and local law enforcement. The Not Invisible Act would provide opportunities for tribes to seek preventative efforts, grants and programs related to missing (taken) and the murder of Indigenous peoples.


As of today, the Violence Against Women Act has still yet to be passed through the Senate. The Violence Against Women Act is the law that provides an umbrella of services and protections for undocumented women and transwomen. It’s the law that allowed us to believe and imagine something different for our communities that are drowning with the saturation of violence. 


Processing these bills and laws and executive orders is an important task that has shed some light on larger issues, but I still park near the exit of covered garages and staircases. I still worry about my daughters who travel to the city alone. When challenging toxic masculinity and consent in my community it took having a conversation with the High School Football Coach to agree to allow his football team to participate in our efforts to create a conversation in our community about the impact of violence. Tribal communities can thrive when they are given the opportunity and the power over how they see themselves. After all, we are still here. 

About Indivisible Tohono

Indivisible Tohono is a grassroots community organization that provides opportunities for civic engagement and education beyond voting for members of the Tohono O’odham Nation.

An Essential Path to Safety and Justice

By Men Stopping Violence

Emerge Center Against Domestic Abuse’s leadership in centering the experiences of Black women during Domestic Violence Awareness Month inspires us at Men Stopping Violence.

Cecelia Jordan’s Justice Begins Where Violence Towards Black Women Ends – a response to Caroline Randall Williams’ My Body is a Confederate Monument – provides a terrific place to start.

For 38 years, Men Stopping Violence has worked directly with men in Atlanta, Georgia and nationally to end male violence against women. Our experience has taught us that there is no path forward without listening, truth-telling and accountability.

In our Batterer Intervention Program (BIP) we require that men name with exacting detail the controlling and abusive behaviors they have used and the effects of those behaviors on partners, children, and communities. We don’t do this to shame men. Rather, we ask men to take an unflinching look at themselves to learn new ways of being in the world and creating safer communities for all. We’ve learned that – for men – accountability and change ultimately lead to more fulfilling lives. As we say in class, you can’t change it until you name it.

We also prioritize listening in our classes. Men learn to hear women’s voices by reflecting on articles like bell hooks’ The Will to Change and videos like Aisha Simmons’ NO! The Rape Documentary. Men practice listening without responding as they give each other feedback. We don’t require that men agree with what is being said. Instead, men learn to listen to understand what the other person is saying and to demonstrate respect.

Without listening, how will we be able to fully understand the effects of our actions on others? How will we learn how to proceed in ways that prioritize safety, justice, and healing?

These same principles of listening, truth-telling and accountability apply on the community and societal level. They apply to ending systemic racism and anti-Blackness just as they do to ending domestic and sexual violence. The issues are intertwined.

In Justice Begins Where Violence Towards Black Women Ends, Ms. Jordan connects the dots between racism and domestic and sexual violence.

Ms. Jordan challenges us to identify and excavate the “relics of slavery and colonization” that infuse our thoughts, daily actions, relationships, families, and systems. These colonial beliefs – these “confederate monuments” that assert that some people have the right to control others and take their bodies, resources, and even lives at will – are at the root of violence towards women, white supremacy, and anti-Blackness. 

Ms. Jordan’s analysis resonates with our 38 years of experience working with men. In our classrooms, we unlearn entitlement to obedience from women and children. And, in our classrooms, those of us who are white unlearn entitlement to the attention, labor, and subservience of Black people and people of color. Men and white people learn this entitlement from the community and social norms made invisible by institutions working in the interests of white males.

Ms. Jordan articulates the devastating, present-day effects of institutional sexism and racism on Black women. She connects slavery and the terror Black women experience in interpersonal relationships today, and she illustrates how anti-Blackness infuses our systems, including the criminal legal system, in ways that marginalize and endanger Black women.

These are hard truths for many of us. We don’t want to believe what Ms. Jordan is saying. In fact, we are trained and socialized to not listen to her and other Black women’s voices. But, in a society where white supremacy and anti-Blackness marginalize the voices of Black women, we need to listen. In listening, we look to learn a path forward.

As Ms. Jordan writes, “We will know what justice looks like when we know how to love Black people, and especially Black women…Imagine a world where Black women heal and create truly just systems of support and accountability. Imagine institutions made up of individuals who pledge to be co-conspirators in fights for Black freedom and justice, and commit to understanding the layered foundation of plantation politics. Imagine, for the first time in history, we are invited to complete Reconstruction.”

As in our BIP classes with men, reckoning with our country’s history of harm to Black women is the precursor to change. Listening, truth-telling and accountability are pre-requisites for justice and healing, first for those most harmed and then, ultimately, for all of us.

We can’t change it until we name it.

Rape Culture and Domestic Abuse

Written piece by Boys to Men

              While there has been much debate about civil war-era monuments, Nashville poet Caroline Williams recently reminded us of the often-overlooked stake in this issue: rape, and rape culture. In an OpEd entitled, “You Want a Confederate Monument? My Body is a Confederate Monument,” she reflects on the history behind the shade of her light-brown skin. “As far as family history has always told, and as modern DNA testing has allowed me to confirm, I am the descendant of black women who were domestic servants and white men who raped their help.” Her body and writing function together as a confrontation of the true results of the social orders that the U.S. has traditionally valued, especially when it comes to gender roles. Despite the robust amount of emerging data that links the traditional gender socialization of boys to a range of public health crises and violence, today, across America, boys are still often raised on an old-school American mandate: “man up.”

               Williams’ timely and vulnerable exposé on her own family history reminds us that gendered and racial subordination have always gone hand in hand. If we want to confront either, we must confront both. A part of doing that is recognizing that there are very normalized objects and practices that litter our daily lives today in America that continue to support rape culture. This isn’t about statues, Williams reminds us, but about how we want to collectively relate to the historical practices of domination that justify and normalize sexual violence.

               Take for example, the romantic comedy, in which the rejected boy goes to heroic lengths to win the affections of the girl who is not interested in him—overcoming her resistance in the end with a grand romantic gesture. Or the ways that boys are lifted up for having sex, whatever the cost. Indeed, the traits that we often ingrain into young boys every day, connected to long-standing ideas about “real men,” are the inevitable foundation for rape culture.

               The implicit, often unexamined, set of values contained in the cultural code to “man up” are a part of an environment in which men are trained to disconnect from and devalue feelings, to glorify force and winning, and to viciously police each other’s ability to replicate these norms. Substituting my own sensitivity to the experience of others (and my own) with the mandate to win and get mine is how I learned to become a man. Normalized practices of domination link the story that Williams tells to the customs that are present today when a 3-year old little boy is humiliated by the adult he loves for crying when he feels pain, fear, or compassion: “boys don’t cry” (boys discard feelings).

              However, the movement to end the glorification of domination is growing, too. In Tucson, on a given week, across 17 area schools and at the Juvenile Detention Center, nearly 60 trained, adult men from across communities sit down to participate in group talking circles with around 200 teenaged boys as a part of the work of Boys to Men Tucson. For many of these boys, this is the only place in their life where it’s safe to let down their guard, to tell the truth about how they are feeling, and to ask for support. But these sorts of initiatives need to gain much more traction from all parts of our community if we are to replace rape culture with a culture of consent that promotes safety and justice for all. We need your help expanding this work.

            On October 25, 26, and 28, Boys to Men Tucson is partnering with Emerge, the University of Arizona and a coalition of devoted community groups to host a groundbreaking forum aimed at organizing our communities to create significantly better alternatives for teen boys and masculine-identified youth. This interactive event will take a deep dive into the forces that structure masculinity and emotional well-being for the young people in Tucson. This is a key space where your voice and your support can help us make a huge difference in the type of culture that exists for the next generation when it comes to gender, equality, and justice. We invite you to join us for this practical step towards cultivating a community in which safety and justice are the norm, rather than the exception. For more information on the forum, or to register to attend, please visit www.btmtucson.com/masculinityforum2020.

              This is just one example of the large-scale movement to cultivate love’s resistance to ordinary cultural systems of domination. Abolitionist Angela Davis characterized this shift best when she turned the serenity prayer on its head, asserting, “I am no longer accepting the things I cannot change. I am changing the things I cannot accept.” As we reflect on the impact of domestic and sexual violence in our communities this month, may we all have the courage and resolve to follow her lead.

About Boys to Men


Our vision is to strengthen communities by calling men to step up to mentor teenage boys on their journey towards healthy manhood.


Our mission is to recruit, train, and empower communities of men to mentor teenage boys through on-site circles, adventure outings, and contemporary rites of passage.

Response statement from Tony Porter, CEO, A Call to Men

In Cecelia Jordan’s Justice Begins Where Violence Towards Black Women Ends, she offers this powerful truth:

“Safety is an unattainable luxury for Black skin.”

Never in my lifetime have I felt those words to be more true. We are in the throes of a struggle for the soul of this country. We are stuck in the push-pull of a society confronted by its darkest demons and its highest aspirations. And the legacy of violence against my people – Black people, and particularly Black women – has desensitized us to what we are seeing and experiencing today. We are numb. But we are not abandoning our humanity.

When I founded A Call to Men nearly 20 years ago, I had a vision to address intersectional oppression at its roots. To eradicate sexism and racism. To look to those at the margins of the margins to articulate their own lived experience and to define solutions that will be effective in their lives. For decades, A Call to Men has mobilized hundreds of thousands of male-identified aspiring allies to women and girls. We have called them into this work, while holding them accountable, and educated and empowered them to speak out against and take action to prevent gender-based violence and discrimination. And we can do the same for those who want to be aspiring allies to Black people and other people of color. You see, you can’t be anti-sexist without also being anti-racist.

Jordan ended her response with this call to action: “Every interaction with a Black woman brings either the opportunity to address domestic violence and slavery, and atone for systemic harm, or the choice to continue to follow violent societal norms.”

I am honored to work alongside an organization such as Emerge that is willing to embrace the humanity of those being oppressed, particularly Black women. The willingness to step out in front and support their stories and experiences without diluting or editing for self-comfort.  For providing leadership to mainstream human service providers, unapologetically acknowledging, and seeking real solutions to ending the oppression of Black women in the delivery of services.

My role, as a Black man and as a social justice leader, is to use my platform to elevate these issues. To lift up the voices of Black women and others who face multiple forms of group oppression. To speak my truth. To share my lived experience—even though it can be traumatic and is primarily for the benefit of furthering White folks’ understanding. Still, I am committed to using the influence I have to pursue a more just and equitable world.

I second Jordan’s call and strive to meet each interaction with the intention it deserves. I implore you to join me in doing the same. We can create a world where all men and boys are loving and respectful and all women, girls, and those at the margins of the margins are valued and safe.

About A Call to Men

A Call to Men, works to engage men in taking action against domestic abuse through personal growth, accountability and community engagement. Since 2015 we have been proud to partner with Tony Porter, CEO of A Call to Men in our work to become an anti-racist, multicultural organization. We are grateful to Tony and the many staff at A Call to Men who have provided support, guidance, partnership and love for our organization and our community over the years.