Annual “Take Back the Night” aimed to uplift black voices

Fresno State’s annual Take Back the Night event is a time for students, faculty, staff and community members to gather with one another to advocate for the end of sexual, domestic, and relationship abuse/violence. 

Each year the program is held on Oct. 15 and is facilitated by the Women’s Alliance and the Cross Cultural and Gender Center (CCGC). 

This year, the two groups worked in collaboration with Breaking the Silence, Women’s, Gender and Sexuality Studies, the Fresno State National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), as well as the Student Health and Counseling Center (SHCC).

The event was held via Zoom due to the COVID-19 pandemic, but that didn’t stop over 100 community and Fresno State members from showing up to support the cause.

This year’s Take Back the Night theme was, “Uplifting Black Voices.” 

The night began with the sharing of various resources within the Fresno community. Each resource organization was given time to share about their services and how others can reach out to them when and if needed. 

Resources this year consisted of the Rape Counseling Services Fresno, the Marjaree Mason Center, Fresno State’s Survivor Advocate and Title IX programs. 

Following resources, the group heard from two different keynote speakers. Fresno State’s Zafar Sumler, a member of the SHCC, and community pastor Sister Alexandria shared their stories and their encouragement to all in attendance. 

Traditionally, attendees at Take Back the Night march across Fresno State’s campus in solidarity with those who have faced any form of sexual/domestic abuse. They end their march in the Peace Garden where an open mic is then held for any who wish to share their experiences. 

Although the march wasn’t possible this year, Dakota Draconi, co-founder of the organization Breaking the Silence, provided the group with a video to visualize this important moment and a virtual open mic was available for those who felt comfortable sharing. 

Advisor for the Women’s Alliance and Coordinator for the LGBTQ+ and Gender Programs and Services at the CCGC Estevan Parra said the reason for holding the event via Zoom was because in-person, when a participant shared their story at open mic, a CCGC student coordinator, staff or campus faculty member would offer support immediately after sharing. 

“If it [the event] would have been webinar-style, you wouldn’t have that interaction,” Parra said. “The participants, the attendees, wouldn’t see others’ faces, or [each other’s] reactions, or see all that emotion and closeness and intimacy [from other participants].” 

To accommodate this virtual event, Francine Oputa, director of the CCGC staff and the event’s moderator, supported survivors sharing their stories. 

“You are not alone, we are here with you tonight,” Oputa said to the attendees. 

Parra said that there were over 250 messages of support during the open mic session. He also said that as soon as someone had shared, a breakout room was created with a staff member and that participant to check-in and see how they were doing. 

To close out the program,  Fresno State NAACP President D’Aungillique Jackson and Vice President Mystique Davis led a grounding exercise to help participants feel comfortable and relaxed before leaving the event. 

A grounding exercise is a visuo-spatial exercise that works to help people bring their focus onto what is happening to them physically, either within their surroundings or body. This helps remove themselves from thoughts in their mind that make them anxious and allows them to relax.

Jackson encouraged participants to close their eyes and imagine themselves in a safe space. Words of encouragement included, “Here, I feel loved. Here, I feel cherished. Here is my safe space.” 

At the conclusion of the program, coordinators of Take Back the Night continuously told group participants that help is always available. 

“You are not alone,” Parra said. “There are resources on-campus or off-campus. There are international, national and even local hotlines that are open 24 hours a day, so go ahead and reach out if you need help.” 

Parra said the team worked hard to make sure the virtual event was a comfortable and safe environment for all who attended. 

“We did a really great job at making this event as safe and secure as possible,” he said. “Our moderator, Dr. Oputa, [and] with the contributions of everyone, I believe that we made this space comfortable for folks to actually go and be brave, to use this safe space [as a way] to share their story.” 

A day after the event, Parra sent out words of encouragement to all those who participated in the event. He quoted Frida Kahlo who said, “At the end of the day we can endure much more than we think we can.” 

Correction: Nov. 23, 2020
An earlier version of this article stated that one of the resources offered this year is the Rape Crisis Services. In actuality, it is the Rape Counseling Services Fresno, not Rape Crisis Services.

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