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Trauma, Abuse, and Breaking the Silence: Why Women of Color Can’t Wait

image1“Believe her. We have to teach our daughters how to document and hold their own stories as truth.”

As we talk about prioritizing black lives, there is a fallacy that as black men are suffering at the hands of police and the criminal justice system, black women are doing just fine. The numbers tell a different story.

According to Kimberlé Crenshaw, founder of the African-American Policy Forum, 60 percent of African-American girls experience some form of sexual violence before the age of 18, and 94 percent of black women who are killed are killed by someone they knew. Meanwhile, 64,000 black women are missing in the United States alone, according to the Black and Missing Foundation. And, although they only make up 13 percent of the population, Black Americans account for 40 percent of all missing-persons cases. But we refuse to be invisible.  

These topics and more came up at Oakland’s Breaking the Silence Town Hall meeting at the Impact Hub. “If we don’t speak up for women getting killed, then who will?” said Impact Hub co-founder and event host Ashara Ekundayo.

Women of color are in a constant fight not only against institutional racism, but also against patriarchy and abuse in their homes. In an attempt to protect their loved ones from further trauma at the hands of the state, many POC women are putting their own well-being on the back burner to keep their families together. 

“The piece of us that wants to protect people is also the piece of us that doesn’t hold them accountable,” says body activist Sonya Renee, who shared a story about the physical and emotional abuse her partner experienced. 

Related: Hope From a Prison Cell: Angela Davis, Mumia, and the State of Black Lives

However, an increasing number of women are are choosing themselves first.  Self-love is crucial to healing trauma, and hiding abuse keeps both the victimizer and victim in a state of suffering. We are our own best advocates. “There’s something empowering about breaking the silence, [because] the silence won’t make us or anyone else in the community safe,” said panelist Arletta Grayson.

“I am a child of intergenerational trauma,” said panelist Adriana Jenkins. So many of us have similar stories: being exposed to so much hurt in society and at home without having the language or even the permission to name it.

This event offered a time to discuss trauma and navigate ways to heal. Policy decisions must include an understanding of personal trauma if we intend to create systemic change. This is why we can’t wait.

Breaking the Silence is part of an ongoing conversation that acknowledges and breaks down the barriers to justice for POC women and ensures that their lives are valued. “In the vision of racial justice, we are not seen. We’re seen as just fine or so damaged that we’re beyond recovery,” Crenshaw said. But the conversation is changing, and it’s happening through truth-telling. Black women are breaking the silence and speaking life into themselves, their families, and their communities.


Heather was born in Chicago and raised in Pasadena, California and proudly claims Oakland as her adopted home. She has a B.A. in African-American Studies from Smith College (proud Smithie), and a Masters in Education Leadership from New York University. Heather's spent the past decade working in the field of educational equity and advocacy. She currently teaches Child and Adolescent Development at San Francisco State University and manages a blog called What's Happening Black Oakland? She also contributes to Blavity, a blog for black millennials. Heather's committed to writing interesting and relevant stories that aren't being covered by the mainstream media, while straying away from the single story that is usually imposed on people of color. In her free time she enjoys traveling and going to live shows.

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