Empower

The Secret Flower Project: Sexual Assault Awareness Week at Healthy Hood

If you follow me on Instagram, you know how obsessed I am with Healthy Hood. Aside from the fun dance videos by the incredible Jorge with @BeVisual30, Healthy Hood is a nonprofit organization whose goal is to bridge the mortality gap between low- and high-income neighborhoods. Did you know that statistically, people in the south/west sides of Chicago will live 20 years less than people of the north side of Chicago? Yeah… that’s not okay.

So What is Healthy Hood?

Healthy Hood is a dance and fitness studio in Pilsen that offers $5 classes to the community. Partnering with the Youth Health Service Corps, Healthy Hood is more than just a place to get sweaty. It’s a safe space to “exercise the body, educate the mind, and awake the conscience.” For instance, this past winter when it got REALLY cold (like negative 50 degrees cold), founder Tanya Lozano canceled classes and opened her doors to homeless people for a warm place to sleep and eat for a couple of days, then helped them find additional shelter when it warmed up to a steamy zero degrees. They do it all.

This past April, they featured a ton of events around sex to start conversations and provide access to important information around often taboo topics. The “Let’s Talk About Sex” series collaborated with Align Chats, Moms’ Moment, and Shapeshifters by JD to cover topics like Living Single, SEXpectations for 16-19 year olds, Sex(you)ality for female pleasure, and A MOMent for Sex for mothers. They covered it all at very affordable prices so that everyone has a safe space to learn about topics they might not cover in school or at home.

When I heard that Celeste Muniz, an intern with Healthy Hood, was hosting an event for Sexual Assault Awareness Week, I told her I wanted to help any way I could. I’ve written in my book and on my blog about the assault I’ve experienced, and healing from that has been a huge part of my personal growth. When I offered to help, I assumed she might need help designing a flyer or setting up for the event. But, she asked me to speak on the panel. Uhhhhh… okay?!

So What is the Secret Flower Project?

From the words of Celeste:

“The Secret Flower Project is an event that was meant to address, define, and educate people on sexual violence while healing through the arts. Flowers are different in their own beautiful way, and every flower has its own different scent, come in different shapes and sizes. There are experiences like sexual assault that people just do not feel comfortable disclosing, and I wanted this event to allow people to disclose their stories but also know that what is said will remain within the walls of Healthy Hood.”

I was super nervous. When Celeste sent us the questions to review, I started crying. There’s so much to say around consent, rape culture, and healing, and I wasn’t sure what exactly I wanted to say. She had brought together a variety of ages, backgrounds, and races, and when it came down to it, I just wanted everyone attending to know they could control their story. They may not be able to control what happens to them, but they can control how they respond, how they heal, and how they inspire change for others to break the cycle. I wrote my book, shared my journey, started therapy to learn how to say no (omfg I struggle with saying no to literally anyone about anything!!!), danced at Healthy Hood to move my body in a fun and safe space, and now I want to empower other girls and women to take control of their own stories.

When I arrived at Healthy Hood, I was still super jittery. Christina Willborn, one of my favorite people and an instructor/Events Coordinator at HH, joked that I would be the first one to cry during the panel. I wholeheartedly agreed, and I made sure to take some CBD before we started to calm my nerves a bit.

So How Did It Go?

Surprisingly, though, I didn’t cry the entire time. Maybe it was the CBD, but I felt so powerful sharing my story. It’s not often I feel articulate speaking, yet I felt strong in every word I said. Whether it was talking about what consent means to me, how rape culture reflects women’s roles in society, and my own story of being assaulted multiple times with stories I’ve never told beyond a couple of people closest to me, I realized that I truly do own my story.

I had multiple people approach me after to tell me that it felt like I was sharing their story. That gives me serious chills every time. First of all, because I hate that anyone else has experienced what I’ve experienced, but also as a reminder that we really are never alone. Without community, it may not be possible to feel security after experiencing trauma.

After the panel, I got hugs from Tanya and one of my best friends, Ema, and then a few artists shared their music and poetry to the group. We all heal in different ways, and we will all heal together.

Now What?

I was so inspired by all the conversations we had that evening, and I’m sure I’ll dig into each more over time. But for now, I’ll continue to reflect on my personal growth, as well as what love and respect truly means to me.

Interested in trying a class or event at Healthy Hood? Follow them on Instagram, and seriously check them out sometime. Aside from helping a great cause, they’ve become a family to me, and I love them so much. I’m so proud of you Celeste for your first event! ❤

Xoxo,

Mary

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