Survivors Speak!                  January 2021
A New Year – And Whiplash

We have dates, turning points and new beginnings on our mind.

We were so glad to see the last of 2020, and we started this year with renewed optimism. January 6 began with change in the air  – and then a shocking assault on our Capitol and a parade of grievances made so much more dangerous by the presence of guns. For us, and we know for so many of you, the riotous insurrection in Washington reignited our trauma.

While we are appalled and shaken, we take some comfort in the many voices whose outrage we hope may lead to change. Gen. Colin Powell, former secretary of state, had this to say: "We cannot have people that are running around with guns the way they're running around now. I saw in one of the statehouses, a whole line of guys with machine guns. Why are they allowed to do that? Why is that acceptable?”

We couldn’t agree more. 

Being awash in guns, and letting the Second Amendment be perverted to justify self-styled “militias” that threaten our democracy and peace is not the way forward. We need to de-escalate and work on the kind of disarmament that takes us away from the warlike and out-of-control brink, while allowing reasonable and sensible gun ownership. (Here’s a hint: no military-style weapons for non-military uses).

So what are we doing? We observed Martin Luther King Day on January 18 this month and were buoyed by the words of that great American who had  faith in an arc of the moral universe that bends toward justice. And as he said, "Everyone can be great, because everyone can serve." We are happy to be striding along with you, trying to build a more perfect union.

On Inauguration Day, we were stirred by all those standing against the chaos that terrorized the Capitol just two weeks earlier. President Biden’s address was inspiring, and we are heartened by the policy positions that the Biden-Harris administration has already set forth.  

In this issue, check out news about our new mindfulness program, and how Brenda Mitchell and Mitch Dworet are faring. Read our interview with Desirai Anderson Crow, who describes her excruciating experience as her re-elected husband, Rep. Jason Crow, hid with other Congress members from the mob that terrorized the Capitol. 

We send you our best wishes and love for a new year of peace, happiness and strides forward – together.

Sandy and Lonnie

Congressional Spouse Recounts Her Trauma During Capitol Siege

While the world watched in horror as the Capitol was stormed on January 6, a greater horror was unfolding for the loved ones of those trapped by violent extremists. “I was so terrified,” said Prof. Deserai Crow, who got a series of calls from her husband,  Rep. Jason Crow (D-CO), while the assault was taking place and he was still endangered. “I sat here for the longest 25 or 30 minutes of my life,” Deserai said. Adding to the agony, her two young children were right behind her doing schoolwork, and she was determined not to reveal what was happening.

But the Crows’ story, while traumatic, wasn’t deadly for them. Rep. Crow, a decorated Army Ranger, spent more than a half hour of the siege in the House Gallery, helping others with gas masks, and getting far away from the entrances that the insurrectionists were ramming. On one call, her husband, whose voice sounded different than she had ever heard it, told Deserai that the situation was getting really bad, and they might have to fight their way out. He told her he loved her and their children – and Deserai was more scared than on any deployment he had ever had.  But finally, help came to defend the doors and take all away to a more secure location. Her husband was able to call Deserai and tell her he was safe. 

Read more here

The Road to Healing

We profile two participants in the two-year mindfulness meditation certificate program launched as a collaboration among Survivors Empowered, the University of California at San Diego and Shelly Tygielski, author, mindfulness teacher, and activist.

Each survivor is learning how to teach trauma-informed mindfulness, and each plans to use what they’ve learned to help survivors in their communities heal.


A Grieving Father is Committed to Helping Others

Seventeen-year-old Nick Dworet was killed in Parkland, Florida, on February 14, 2018. His father, Mitch Dworet, says Nick was in love with his girlfriend, and to mark Valentine’s Day he created and exchanged beautiful paper hearts with her. For Mitch and his wife Annika, the trappings of the holiday are now a trigger for pain. 

“Stores are starting to have hearts,” he says. It brings us right back.”

But despite the challenges, Mitch has spent the last two years pursuing holistic healing for himself and his family. His surviving son, Alex, was grazed by a bullet in the massacre at Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School, and is currently a senior there.

Read more here. 

Moving from Darkness Into The Light

Brenda Mitchell’s hopes for the mindfulness meditation program she started in early January are being realized. “It’s great; I’m really opening up. I’m identifying with being present in the moment and understanding what that is.” 

Brenda, who is a pastor and had her son, Kenneth Mitchell, killed by gun violence in 2005, is a lifeline for other mothers who’ve suffered the same trauma. She is a staunch ally of Survivors Empowered, and operates on multiple fronts, with direct support to peers, group facilitation and policy advocacy as well.

Read more here

News Roundup
  • Three Colorado state legislators are planning to introduce gun-control bills. The legislators include Tom Sullivan, whose son was killed in the 2012 Aurora, Colorado, movie theater shooting that also took the life of Sandy and Lonnie Phillips' daughter, Jessi. 
  • Professional athletes who survived gun violence shared their stories with People Magazine. 
  • The National Rifle Association said it was filing for bankruptcy and leaving New York, where it is registered and where it faces a lawsuit from Attorney General Leticia James over allegations that the organization's leaders have misused funds for their own purposes.  
  • The Montana chapters of Moms Demand Action and Students Demand Action are decrying a vote by the state House of Representatives to advance a bill that ends the permit requirement for carrying a concealed handgun in nearly all public places. 

Published in October 2019, Tragedy in Aurora: The Culture of Mass Shootings in America, is Tom Diaz's account of the death of Lonnie and Sandy Phillips' daughter, Jessi, and the political polarization and stagnation behind the country's failure to enact common-sense policies to stem gun violence. 

The book can be found on Amazon here.  

Help For Survivors
  • Survivors Empowered has a roster of dedicated trauma therapists who help survivors of gun violence heal from the aftermath. Visit our website for more information. 
  • We continue to look for volunteers across the country who want to help build coalitions and work with survivors of gun violence in their states. If interested in supporting our efforts, please contact us here.
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