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From Pain to Resilience

PCDN Global

April 25, 2018

Written by Monica Curca

Originally shared by InsightShare here

In the summer of 2014, Ferguson, Missouri was burning. Michael Brown had been killed by law enforcement, and soon Eric Garner, Tamir Rice, and John Crawford. Many others would lose their lives by the end of that year. The country was on fire. In America, at least one person is killed by law enforcement every day. Of the officers involved in these murders, only the officers that killed Oscar Grant at Fruitvale Station, Oakland, CA, were found guilty. In the first months of this year, nearly 200 people have already died at the hands of law enforcement. While these events are largely covered in the news, the authentic stories of these families impacted by police brutality have not been told.

I began working on law enforcement accountability when I met Theresa Smith in 2013 as an organizer for OCCCO-PICO. Theresa is the mother of Caesar Cruz who was killed by law enforcement in 2009. Together with many allies we worked on local and statewide policies, in addition we worked to change the narrative around families impacted by police brutality and looked for opportunities for Theresa to tell her story. The Path: From Pain to Resiliencea participatory video project came out of that work and hearing from other mothers of the movement and family members that also needed the opportunity to share their stories and finally have ownership over how their stories are told.


And so, on November 17th, Participatory Video workshop participants, mothers and loved ones, Theresa Smith, Rhanda Dormeous, and Laurie Valdez, joined Activate Labs’ Director and facilitator, Monica Curca, and Thor Morales of InsightShare in Pajaro Dunes, California for 3.5 days. Together we began to change the public narrative by sharing stories, learning videography skills, and most importantly, experiencing the powerful and transformative process of Participatory Video.


Activate Labs always centers those directly impacted by oppression, poverty, and violence in our work. We center their stories as they speak their truth and create their own transformation. This project maintained this practice of support, as we listened and followed the lead of our participants: the mothers of the movement. We knew that no one understands their pain, needs, and paths to healing more than themselves and that required our flexibility and openness to the process. The first challenge was time, instead of a regular 10 day workshop we only had 4 days and so we compacted everything into three full days of training and video making with the rest of the time for travel. It seemed like an impossible task to create this healing space, deconstruct the issues the mothers cared about, develop a story with a creative storyboard, identify key ideas and messages the mothers wished to convey, and of course edit and stylize the video in preparation for a public screening. Not to mention, this feat was to be completed by three women who had never in their lives held a camcorder or even worked on video editing software. We were conscious of the time restraints because at the end of the day these women had lives to return to, lives that have been complicated by the death of their loved ones and responsibilities they could not leave attended for too long.


Our participants were carefully chosen, they are:

Theresa Smith, the mother of Caesar Cruz, never chose the life of an activist, but this path chose her. Born and raised in Southern California, Theresa’s parents met in the Orange Groves as migrant workers from the Philippines and Mexico. Life was never easy for Theresa but when Anaheim Police killed her son, Caesar Cruz, her life was never the same. On December 11, 2009 Caesar Cruz was fatally shot by officers of the Anaheim Police Department on the basis of a false tip from a police informant. He was shot 15 times in the back by five officers while he was still strapped in his seat-belt. Cruz was a husband and a father of five. The city of Anaheim eventually settled with Caesar’s family after a lengthy court battle but failed to acknowledge any wrongdoing on behalf of the city or the officers. Theresa Smith knew a settlement was not enough to make up for her son’s loss. She participated in local rallies and vigils, connected with other mothers and families grieving their own loved ones, began speaking at local and national events, and started a weekly support group in her garage. In 2010, Theresa founded the Law Enforcement Accountability Network (LEAN) to support other mothers and families in her situation and advocate for changes in the relationship between law enforcement and local communities.

Laurie Valdez is many things: a single mom, a great friend, an activist, an advocate and a tenacious warrior for justice. She is also the founder of Justice4Josiah.org., which was created after the murder of Antonio Guzman Lopez by SJSU PD on February 21, 2014. Named after her 4-year-old son, who lost a father that day and was sentenced to a lifetime of pain and emotional and mental suffering. Laurie has been a strong voice for her children and ALL youth being exposed to police violence in schools and their communities. Laurie has dedicated her life to raising awareness and educating the community and society on a myriad of social justice issues. She works to fight against policy that criminalize our youth, incite violence, and cause more harm than good to the children. She has been on various panels on policing and the community divide, she has presented at workshops for youth and know your rights trainings. She organizes and unites families in the Bay Area in California to share their journeys towards justice.

Rhanda P. Dormeus is a retired registered nurse. She is a mother of one son, three daughters, and nine grandchildren. She was employed as an RN and practiced in the areas of psyche, adult orthopedics, and medical surgical nursing care until 2014 when she suffered a life altering cerebral vascular accident. After a lengthy recovery she dedicated her time to her family, especially her grandchildren. But on Monday, August 1st, 2016 her life of retirement as she knew it changed forever when her second oldest daughter, 23 year- old Korryn Gaines, was murdered by Baltimore County Tactical Force Officer 1st Class Royce Ruby. Unfortunately, there was no indictment for excessive force handed down, despite the fact that Korryn’s five year-old son was shot not once, but twice. Now, Rhanda’s plans have been altered. She is now an active member of the organization, “Coalition of Concerned Mothers”, a group dedicated to offering support, encouragement, and enlightenment to the experienced and inexperienced enduring the senselessness surrounding community and police terror.

Our process, like other participatory and experiential workshops on peace-building and transformational leadership begins by creating not safe spaces, but courageous spaces. This means that each participant not only feels secure, but also to have resilience and power to show up, even in difficult conversations. In addition to creating the right environment, Activate Labs implements the Frame Design Process, a set of exercises and experiences. The Frame Design Process is centers those directly impacted by violence, poverty or oppression in mind. It is an experiential and participatory design, using methods, exercises and processes that facilitate all aspects of the design process; discovery, ideation, design, implementation and reflection. With three full days to workshop, film, edit and screen we certainly had our work cut out for us.

Core to the Frame Design Process is building community and trust. We like to say we move slow at the beginning to move fast during the workshop. Meal times were powerful moments of sharing and workshopping began with exercises such as the positive name game. We had gatherings using circle exercises and used grounding exercises to transform painful and triggering moments. After trust was established, skill building games and exercises to learn how to use the camera, tripod and types of shots were brought in throughout the first day, we used InsightShare’s activities found in their “Handbook for the Field.”

The process to develop a storyline and choose the focus began with discoveryexercises like ‘Photos’ a story sharing process, building the altar to loved ones and ‘concentric circles’. Next, we facilitated a few activities to ideate and start imagining the story all three mothers wanted to tell. For ideation we used story circle exercises and a brainstorming exercise called “100 Answers.” The exercise also builds in consensus so that within thirty minutes diverse groups arrive on one focused story to tell. The design process included participatory video exercises like “road to the audience” and “storyboarding.” In addition, we created relationship maps of the storyline, mapping impact, policy, target audience and the three stories in the room. By the end of the first full day, the participants had designed the story and learned key skills about filming, tripod use, and type of shots. They had also practiced and recorded a few vignettes answering the question: “what resilience is” with film.

Each morning we gathered for breakfast, cooking together we continued to build community and share stories. Some of the most honest conversations happened during this unique time, the 3rd day of the workshop, the participants decided they wanted a witness camera to document breakfasts and conversations as the exchanges had been so rich.

The process of implementation and reflection included cycles of filming screening, editing, refilming, and rescreening, each time iterating the type of story that was being told and reevaluating the impact and results. The video the participants created, focused on telling the stories of the lived experience of those who remained, their traumas, struggles to receive accountability, the harassment they faced from law enforcement, and the way their own families and communities would make non supportive comments like “just move on.” It was important to the mothers for the audience to hear how the suffering occurred not just the day their loved ones were killed, but since those days the suffering has continued. To tell this full story, an exercise we did together was particularly powerful. We called it “24 hours” it was a 3–5 min story of the 12 hours before their loved one was killed and the 12 hours after. Before the end of the workshop we evaluated the process and worked through reflection exercises. When workshops are facilitated, an evaluation helps return the power back to the participants as they provide feedback and it is an important source of lessons and best practices that Thor and myself value deeply.

As a facilitator, the most important aspect for me is that all participants felt heard and powerful- even in the midst of the pain and trauma. It was powerful to hear back from Theresa, Rhanda and Laurie, how the process was one of the most transformative ones they had participated in. It also was key for us to establish an intent to hold space, enter with intention, and ground the experience. A month after the Path: from Pain to Resilience workshop was completed, Thor and I co-hosted a Live Facebook event where we interviewed the mothers on their experiences.

Our vision for the future of the “Path: from pain to resilience” is to work with the mothers that attended and supporting them as they prepare screenings of the video. In addition, the hope is to co-facilitate with Theresa, Rhanda and Laurie in their communities with other family members who have lost loved ones to police brutality, and supporting others who want to come forward and share their stories. We are so grateful for the support of our funders, the Unitarian Universalist Service Committee and the California Endowment. Also thank you to InsightShare for supporting this project and Thor for his collaborative work.

Monica has done our 6-day course in PV facilitation thanks to our Bursary Scheme. It has been wonderful for us at InsightShare to see how she used those skills. One of our Associates, Thor Morales, has supported her during the implementation. For more information on our upcoming courses, click here.

Learn more about Activate Labs here: www.activatelabs.org

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