Students march against sexual violence at Take Back the Night event

Students+march+against+sexual+violence+at+Take+Back+the+Night+event

Jonah Sandy

Participants in May 2nd's Take Back the Night event lit candles to symbolize overpowering the darkness of sexual violence and assault.

Jonah Sandy, Editor-in-Chief

On Thursday, May 2nd, Blake hosted its second-ever Take Back the Night event. This emotional and empowering evening was well attended by a group of students, faculty members, and parents that filled up nearly half of the Juliet Nelson Auditorium.

The emotional and empowering event was organized by members of SIAC, the Justice League, and by other students. Student event planners sat alongside Planned Parenthood Teen Council members Nina Lillehei ’14 and Hayley Evans ’13 at tables in the senior lounge, welcoming students and faculty members to the event and providing pamphlets with sexual violence resources. The mood was light as attendees socialized and made posters at a nearby table before being ushered into the JNA for the commencement of the evening’s program.

An introduction to the topic of sexual violence read by Alisha Litman-Zelle ’13 was followed by the reading of sobering survivor stories, a mix of personal accounts from within and outside the Blake community. The stories ranged from prose to poetry and were read by male and female students from all four grade levels.

Tori Johnson ’13, read a spoken word poem, entitled Choices: “Are you afraid of killing the mood? That giving her a choice won’t get her nude. I beg to differ, what’s sexier than hearing her say yes. Smile, kiss her, then unlacing her dress. It’s the questions, the choices, that gives us all our voices.”

The group then marched in silent solidarity across Highway 94 to Loring Park, where they broke the silence both literally and symbolically with a rendition of Leonard Cohen’s “Hallelujah,” hands joined in a circle.

The song was followed by a call-and-response that sought to emphasize the impact of sexual violence on all people and empower both allies and survivors. “I am NOT a victim,” shouted Nicole Kozlak ’13 and Johnson, who both shared their stories of sexual violence with the school in assembly speeches earlier this year. “I am NOT a victim,” the group responded. “I am a survivor.”

The group marched back to Blake singing songs and celebrating, braving the chill of Minnesota May as dusk settled over the pedestrian bridge and the “Cherry and the Spoon.”

By the time they arrived back at Blake’s courtyard, the sky was nearly dark, but the lack of wind in the courtyard allowed for the lighting of candles, symbolically illuminating and eradicating the darkness of a night corrupted by sexual violence.

The evening concluded with one final candlelit song—“Home” by Philip Phillips—and a speech by Kozlak. “After giving my speech, I learned that there is no shame in talking, no shame in sharing, no shame in breaking the silence and letting the truth come out,” said Kozlak in the center of a circle of supportive and loving peers. “This community embraced my story of sexual abuse with open arms—making me feel loved, respected, and appreciated for who I am—secret and all.”

“We are here to acknowledge the truth: sexual abuse and sexual assault happens. And it happens here in our country, in our community, at our school, and in the place we call home. It happens to those we love, those we respect, and those we admire. It happens to us. Together, we have come here tonight to say to each other and to the world: this is real, and this matters to us. We’re here to reclaim the night.”

“Together we must unite to encourage each other and ourselves to move past the discomfort, the shame, the disbelief and the thousands of other reactions that keep us, and this issue, in silence. Together, let’s empower survivors and supporters to keep on talking, keep on sharing, and keep on shattering the silence.”

Blake’s first Take Back the Night was organized two years ago by Tyler Leslie ’11 and Zoey Gold ‘11, leaders of the Upper School’s since-defunct Genderation X club. In conjunction with the 2011 event, Blake was given the title of one of the organization’s “ten points of light” across the nation, the only high school to be given this honor.

During the 2010-2011 school year, nationally-renowned speaker and Take Back the Night board president Katie Koestner gave a powerful symposium at Blake, personalizing the immediacy and importance of putting an end to sexual violence and helping to generate interest for the TBTN event that would take place later that year.

For more information on the Take Back the Night organization, visit www.takebackthenight.org or read The Spectrum’s April In-Depth center spread on sexual violence.