On Saturday, April 6, 2019, the Fifth Annual Paving the Way Conference gathered about 240 healing practitioners, advocates, organizers, researchers, survivors, service providers, and community members at St. Francis de Sales School for the Deaf. It was a remarkable day of learning, healing, and uniting.

This year’s theme, Healing Equity: From Practice to Power, asked how marginalized survivors of violence build strength, thrive, and heal while under the yoke of oppression, neglect, and discrimination. The conference also sought to forge solidarity among groups committed to healing equity, including the LGBTQ/GNC community, undocumented communities, people with disabilities, and women and men of color who survive violence.

Kenton Kirby, the Director of Clinical and Trauma Support Services at Neighbor’s In Action’s Make It Happen Program, started the program with opening remarks. Performers from Girl Be Heard set the tone of the conference through their monologues on trauma and resiliency. Then, everyone dispersed for 90-minute breakout sessions covering a wide-array of topics. Conference attendees discussed what they learned over lunch, which was provided by Just Soul Catering, an organization that trains and employs those who are formerly incarcerated in culinary arts. We gathered again to hear from keynote speaker Mariame Kaba, a very moving panel discussion, and another performance from Theater of the Oppressed. The day culminated in closing remarks, a raffle, and a commitment to continue learning and working towards healing for all.

Some highlights from the breakout sessions were Mariame Kaba’s intimate workshop, “Giving Name to the Nameless: Using Poetry as an Anti-Violence Intervention with Girls & Young Women.” Monica Thompson and Karien Ciego hosted the workshop “Recognizing Racial Battle Fatigue in Youth of Color and Strategizing Transformative Means of Addressing It,” which focused on intergenerational trauma and the stress that people of color face by having to continuously explain and defend their experiences. There were also a number of sessions that included youth presenters. Neighbors in Action’s Youth Advisory Council’s “Breaking the Cycle” focused on the school to prison pipeline, H.O.L.L.A.!’s Youth Organizing Collective presented “Human and Healing Justice Circle: Getting Closer to Vulnerability,” and Brownsville Keepers with Mikala Greenidge taught, “Real Talk: Creating Space to Talk Trauma by and for Teens.”

Other breakout sessions included:

“Ring Shout Reimagined” by Dr. Anna Ortega Williams and Adia Whitaker

“It Can Start With a Kut,” by Khane Kutzwell, E. the Barber, and NATO

“Lament, Healing, Liberation, and the Contemplative,” by AnaYelsi Velasco-Sanchez

“Healing from Toxic Gender Roles,” by Jeimi Burgos and Jack Skelton, and

“Cross-Age Peer Mentoring,” by Christopher St. Vil.

In Mariame Kaba’s keynote address, she spoke candidly about the trauma she has seen and endured while working with youth, her understanding of her own internalized oppression, and how overcoming trauma and recognizing harm will lead to healing. The following panel discussion took Kaba’s lead in being fiercely honest and vulnerable. Mediated by Healing Works National Director Richard Smith, “Activating Solidarity: Collective Healing, Collective Liberation” featured Donna Hylton, Jason Davis, Jessica Peñaranda, Luz Marquez Benbow, and Steven “Humble” Mangual. Each panelist shared their own experiences with violence and trauma; how those experiences inform their healing work, and how their work helps them heal. The panel touched on healing from sexual violence, incarceration, racism, sexism, homophobia, and more, and the panelists shared solutions for how survivors of violence can be heard, centered, and empowered.  

Thank you to everyone who attended and shared how we can work towards healing equity, thank you to our sponsors—Neighbors in Action, Healing Works, Common Justice, and the Kings County District Attorney’s Office—and a big thank you to St. Francis de Sales School for the Deaf for hosting.