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Healthy Relationships: A Pathway to Transformative Intersections

Blog post Guest Blogger: Emily Austin, Director of Policy and Evaluation, Peace Over Violence

At our Stand With Me Youth Summit last Wednesday, 150 adults and students came together to have critical conversations about how to create safe and affirming schools. This Summit came about after attending Futures Without Violence’s Someone Stood Up For Me Summit in May 2014. After that event, we wanted to keep the ideas and connection going—so the Los Angeles City Attorney’s Office, Los Angeles Unified School District, Violence Prevention Coalition of Greater Los Angeles, Peace Over Violence, Joe Torre Safe At Home Foundation, Coalition for Healthy Teen Relationships, and other community partners came together to bring a similar experience to Los Angeles. Our Summit highlighted the need we all have to connect and build community around healthy relationships. What was amazing about the day was the synergy and agreement that we need to do more of this—we need to take more action to connect our issues of teen dating violence, bullying, community and gang violence, sexual assault, and the school to prison pipeline to each other, and we have to commit to connecting with youth.

We rarely create those places to share ideas, experiences and struggles, even though the idea of healthy relationships connects gender, class, race—and it allows us to make space for all of those intersections. It allows us to talk about the relationship between intimate partners, friends, parents, and community members. And it urges us to see the whole person, not a problem to be solved or a barrier—but a person with basic needs to connect, love, and be loved.

Youth and adults care about having better, healthier relationships. We saw at the Summit, that our community is ready to engage in intergenerational problem-solving for this unifying goal. During our Community Trust panel we witnessed youth leaders and the Chief of Los Angeles School Police see each other and listen to each other. During a discussion on policy change, we heard the City Attorney voice the need for prevention, not just prosecution. And at the end of the day, youth who have survived and thrived after violence, shared their road to empowerment and voice. All these stories and moments highlight the need to push and pull our prevention work into the myriad concerns our youth and communities face today.

I know that our strength is in the intersections and the collaborations—not just youth, not just parents, not just community members, not just advocates, not just the government officials. Our power comes from our relationships, our connections, our histories, our experiences. And our ability to shift and change social norms comes from the intersections and the aligned momentum of all these critical players. During the Summit, we asked our youth and adult stakeholders to #MakeAChoice2 #StandWithMe2015: they filled out pledge cards, took pictures with signs, and let us know how they want to continue this work. They demonstrated accountability and solidarity to turn these ideas into action. And we are committed to helping them do that hard, rewarding work.

All day long, from various lens, we learned about the struggles and solutions for healthier relationships throughout LA. There is amazing work being done already, and now we are that much closer to standing together for change. Now we need to build, create, and nurture more places where the interconnections can be explored, and where all voices are heard. We cannot do this work alone, and this work will not last if we do it alone. We need to engage different sides to have the hard conversations and the solutions-focused conversations. Because really how can we promote healthy relationships without living that reality of connecting, communicating, compromising, and caring in our movement? Let’s walk our talk together, towards a meaningful future that recognizes that teen dating violence does not occur in a vacuum—it occurs in our homes, schools, and communities. It occurs in relationship to community and gang violence, disempowered youth, racism, over-policing/under-supervision, parenting, school cutbacks, social media, global unrest, and human heartbreak. The promise is in recognizing the connections, and the opportunity is to nurture healthy relationships.

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