Dear Sister, I write this letter to you as a daughter, sister, mother, and friend whom has been wounded in the past by personal acquaintances, strangers, and enemies alike. Reading about the horrific death and possibly alleged* assault of Kenneka Jenkins was like handing my psyche over to a public firing squad. Sister, over the next few days or weeks people are going to blame another young sister for Kenneka's death and alleged assault; others will attempt to blame her Black mother for not supervising her whereabouts; and people will blame Kenneka herself for being at a hotel and being overly trusting of her friends. People will even blame the police and media for not covering the story and seeking out answers. In turn, the media will turn the lens back on Kenneka herself, her mother, friends, or Black people in general. Inevitably, somehow Black women will become simultaneously the overlooked victims and targets of this tragedy. Compassion and empathy will be lost to blame. Sister, how do we begin to move the conversation from self-blame to healing? For me, I was overwhelmed by the nonchalant attitude of possible witnesses of violence* occurring in various renditions of circulating videos, but I was more disheartened by the amount of young women who openly admitted that they needed to stop watching or could not watch any longer the videos and tweets titled, #KennekaJenkins, because it brought back too many memories of their own rape or experience with physical violence and betrayal. Last night, I went to sleep feeling emotionally exhausted and saddened. I even had a nightmare that involved guns and the threat of rape. The hypothesis of Kenneka's final moments before her death coupled with the realization that dozens of Black women were admitting online in social media that they were once violated and survivors of rape caused me to be emotionally depleted. Women spoke of the words and images describing the brutal assault as a trigger. These public disclosures made me wonder: 1)Exactly how many young Black women are survivors of rape and never report the rape? 2) How many young Black women are required to cope in silence with their memories of a rape and/or assault with no one to talk to? 3) How many Black girls and women have to live out over and over again their assault via music, television, or social media? 4) Worse yet, how many mothers are burdened with the helpless feeling that no matter how much she loves her daughter, tries to protect her daughter, and teaches her daughter to stand up and fight for herself that she still will not be able to protect her daughter from being physically harmed, maimed, or death? At some point, we even have to consider the pain of the so-called friend depicted* in the video. How much pain must a young woman must have experienced in her lifetime that she could sit back, record, and numb herself to another nearby sister in pain or in harm's way? It is easy to point fingers and to place blame, but I also wonder how have we failed this young sister. Sister, we will do more to heal you and to protect your future daughters from rape, sexual assault, and other forms of physical abuse.
WE can begin this healing process by admitting to you our own past history with trauma (and our strategies with coping).
We will also teach our boys and men about the effects of violence on Black women's bodies, spirits, psyches, and relationships.
We can use education to prevent boys and girls from doing harm to a Black young woman.
We must also work to bring about economic and mental health policies that unabashedly places Black girls and women first. In closing, sister, we promise to continue to lift with you as you carry forward our burden, proudly stand with you in your strength, and without shame we walk with you in your healing journey. Peace, Dr. Venus Evans-Winters (a.k.a. DrV) Further Readings: Sexual Assault Awareness Month: Why We Must Focus on Black Girls: http://www.theroot.com/sexual-assault-awareness-month-why-we-must-focus-on-bl-1794400667 Women of Color and Sexual Assault: https://endsexualviolencect.org/resources/get-the-facts/women-of-color-and-sexual-assault/ *Indicates language change related to updates of the Kenneka Jenkins case: http://trib.in/2xo4DMz