After being locked in his own bathroom after a surprise home invasion, Marcel Anderson quickly became the victim of sexual assault and physical abuse. From the time Kamilah Johnson was a child until she was in her 20s, she faced rape from family members and significant others.
Both speakers shared their stories at Take Back the Night April 5 in the Student Activity Center Salons. The event brought awareness to speak up about sexual assault for sexual assault awareness month.
The Center for Wellness Promotion and members of the Interpersonal Violence Prevention and Education Committee organized the annual event.
“You are here to reclaim the night… You’re ‘perfect as it is’ personhood,” said Dr. David Spano, the associate vice chancellor and director for health programs and services.
In addition to their stories, the two speakers shared their process of healing and important issues our society faces with understanding the reality of sexual assault.
Anderson is the founder and CEO of an organization that mentors young men, has a ministerial license, a degree in Special Education, records gospel music and was involved in a home invasion that changed his life from that day forward.
The tragic event left him in pieces, attending therapy sessions, seeking support groups and finding his relationship with God, who he says is the reason he survived.
Anderson compared a victim of sexual assault to a driver in an automobile accident, emphasizing the importance of focusing the attention on the driver rather than the damage of the car.
“That’s what we have to focus on when we’re helping people who have the damage on the outside of a sexual violent situation,” said Anderson. “But most of all, we have to recognize that their inner part is just as important. And that’s where the healing starts and takes place.”
He recalled a memory from 2009; a car hit him abruptly on the highway pushing him off the road. The car flipped, spun and eventually landed on all four wheels. Anderson was not injured, but the car was completely damaged.
“The outside of our bodies can be damaged and bruised, but it’s the driver in us that can win and move past,” said Anderson.
As he continues to travel to various communities, mentor different men and spread the story of his past, he reminds victims of sexual assault they are not alone by instilling a strong message. Recovery is difficult, but it is possible.
“It was prayer and friends and family that helped me to get through the situation,” said Anderson. “The support of a family was great because I talked to many survivors across the world and every survivor doesn’t have the support of their families after experiencing something like I did.”
In closing his speech, Anderson sang a verse from one of his songs about survival that left people standing and clapping. Johnson, the second speaker, is the Executive Director and founder of the Sexual Assault Services for Holistic Healing and Awareness (SASHA) Center in Detroit.
Without knowing how to say “no,” Johnson constantly faced rape.
She dropped out of high school, smoked weed, fought people in almost every disagreement, even tried to land a career as a rapper.
“I was doing it all, y’all. All of it. And I ran from myself for years. I swallowed the trauma for years, and sometimes I still am processing in real time the trauma,” said Johnson.
At the age of five, four police officers they referred to as the Big Four dragged Johnson’s single mother with schizophrenia out of their house in N. Detroit. Johnson watched her mother be stripped naked and thrown into the back of a cop car with all white men.
The next time Johnson saw her was in a supervised mental facility about six weeks later.
“She was a sight to see in behold for my five-year-old eyes… I was flooded with feelings of despair and hope, feeling unable to control my own circumstances but holding onto what I knew was possible for me and my sisters and ultimately for my mother which was a healing,” said Johnson.
Johnson eventually started to see things look up after landing an internship with the Detroit Police Department. She wanted to integrate her traumatic experiences with the work she did with the police.
Eventually, she became the founder and executive director of the SASHA Center, an organization that reaches out to populations that have been silenced in many ways.
“We’ve been silenced because of racism, discrimination, oppression and marginalization and a lot of times, even in our own families, we’re taught to keep it quiet,” said Anderson.
Despite the trauma, the abuse and the memories, Johnson has the fight and the commitment to making a better life for herself and others.
“I’m a sexual assault survivor multiple times… And I know that healing is possible,” said Johnson.
Jarrell Anderson, assistant director for minority student support services, attended the event in hopes of bringing awareness and educating students on the power of a story. His job allows him to work directly with students every day.
“I think there are a lot of educational pieces that can come out of this and be used in other places,” said Jarrell.
He emphasized the power of mentoring and resilience as two strong abilities, especially for college students.
“The power of actually being a resilient person and being a person that can rise from their circumstance and move forward from that,” said Jarrell. “I think that can be used in a lot of different ways, especially with the education of college students around those topics.”
Although Jarrell is not a sexual assault victim, he believes it’s important to stay educated and aware so that those victims always have someone fighting for them.
“The question was asked ‘Where is the outrage?’ Hell if I know,” said Johnson. “But what I do know is some of the reasons we should be tired, disgusted, broken, exhausted and ready to take the issue of sexual assault and unpack it for the mere fact that some survivors have not had the chance to take it or tell it anywhere.”
Toward the end of the night, the Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia fraternity sang Lady Gaga’s new song “Til It Happens to You,” a piece written for a documentary on campus rape.
ROTC cadets then led the group on a candlelight walk to the Student Union where a speak out took place with poems, experiences and spoken word.
If you or someone you know is a victim of sexual assault, the Counseling Center and Center for Wellness Promotion are two confidential resources on campus. You can receive various areas of support through http://wellness.uncc.edu/interpersonal-violence/how-get-help.