Historic Black Women’s Truth & Reconciliation Commission at the UN | Omega

The United Nations in New York City convened the Black Women’s Truth & Reconciliation Commission to give black women a platform to testify about being sexually assaulted, in a historic and first-time event. 

For four days in the spring of 2016, the United Nations did something they've never done before. They hosted the Tribunal of the U.S. Black Women’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission (BWTRC) as a part of the International Decade of People of African Descent at the United Nations. The BWTRC is the first organization to focus on rape and sexual assault against black women in the United States. 


On April 28, Omega Women's Leadership Center (OWLC) then-manager (now assistant director) Sarah Urech attended the opening event, which was hosted by Black Women’s Blueprint, a nonprofit organization that attended the OWLC's Women Serving Women Summit in 2012. Black Women's Blueprint envisions a world where women and girls of African descent are fully empowered and where gender, race, and other disparities are erased 


Three by three, women came to the stage and spoke testimonials of abuse by family and community members, as well as by the institutions that are designed to protect and defend them but don't necessarily do so. After each testimonial, one of the commissioners would come up from the side of the stage to issue a formal acknowledgment: "We see you; we hear you; we thank you," followed by an individualized appreciation. Many of the women stated, "This is my story, and my experience. But it does not define me." Then they proceeded to narrate what did define them—the perseverance to get a college degree, the courage to break the cycle of violence in their family, the capacity to help others through motivational speaking, the love of music, and more. 


Urech was greatly moved by the event, saying, "Much of the day, there were tears running down my cheeks. Certainly they flowed in response to the sheer horror of and grief for what the testifiers had survived, especially the ways in which the law enforcement and justice systems failed to support them. But more powerful than that, I felt courage welling up inside me; strength from their strength, hope from their hope. The initiative felt like a rising up—rising up in the face of trauma, violence, and systemic, long-term, cruel racism and sexism. Rising up as individuals and rising up as a community. Rising up to take charge in this world of systemic inequities and, as we teach at the OWLC, truly Do Power Differently®, for the good of all of us."


Women from around the world attended the BWTRC event, which was five years in the making and involved national grassroots activism, direct service healing practice, and participatory action research by Black Women’s Blueprint and survivors across the country. 


The BWTRC was born from discussions between women and girls of African descent—many denied access to or assistance from the criminal justice system—who felt that public recognition and acknowledgment are necessary for personal and collective transformation. The BWTRC first took place in New York City, and later in other cities, including Washington D.C., New Orleans, Mississippi, and Chicago. Their mandate is "Truth. Justice. Healing. Reconciliation." 


 



 

© 2016 Omega Institute for Holistic Studies

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