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Washtenaw United: Joy and justice for Juneteenth 2023

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Survivors Speak founder Trische' Duckworth
Survivors Speak
Survivors Speak founder Trische' Duckworth

In 2018, Trische' Duckworth founded Survivors Speak as a platform that brings a voice to taboo topics and social injustices, through the arts, community conversations, mobilizing communities, and/or any creative platform that are discovered. Furthermore, Survivor Speak believes in amplifying the voice of an individual, the community, or an injustice. After pursuing higher education and community engagement through the field of social work, Trische' vowed to use her own personal experiences as fuel for change.


David Fair: This is 89 one WEMU, and welcome to the Juneteenth edition of Washtenaw United. Juneteenth is a national day of recognition commemorating the emancipation of enslaved people in our country. It was first celebrated in Texas before becoming a national day. It was June 19th of 1865, in the aftermath of the Civil War, slaves in Texas were finally declared free under the terms of the 1862 Emancipation Proclamation. Well, here we are, nearly 160 years later, and the push for equity and true equality remains a work in progress. Our Washtenaw United guest today is an activist continuing that work in our community. Trische' Duckworth is the founder of Survivors Speak and is a member of the Black Lives Matter movement. Trische', thank you so much for joining us on this day.

Trische' Duckworth: Thank you so much for having me here with you.

David Fair: A part of today is about reflection: reflecting where we've been, where we've come, and the blood, sweat and tears spilled to get to this point in history. What do you reflect upon to say?

Trische' Duckworth: You know, when I reflect, of course, I reflect on where we've been. I reflect on where we are. But I also reflect on the hope for the future that we can have if we continue this very hard work.

David Fair: Well, Survivors Speak's mission, in your own words, is to bring a voice to taboo topics and social injustices. You've also said it is an organization that was born out of personal experience. What is your experience as living Black in Washtenaw County today?

Trische' Duckworth: You know, ironically enough, we've come a long way, but we still have so much further to go. And when I look at things like institutional racism, when I think of the foundation of policing, when I look at some of the inequities of resources, especially those that don't make it to 48197 and 48198, I see just how much work we have to do. So, while I would say we're not back in chains, right, we are in a place where we need to continue to strive for freedom and Black liberation.

David Fair: It's really interesting because part of the journey in that fight for equity and equality is very individual and personal. We all have to take a long, hard look at ourselves and identify shortcomings and then become accountable to eliminating the personal barriers that also serve as obstacles to tackling the external and systemic challenges you're just talking about. What has your journey taught you about Trische'?

Trische' Duckworth: You know, that's a great question. One thing that I can say I've been blessed to find on this journey, I'll tell you, you know, just very briefly, you know, I experienced a lot as a youth. I was raped at 13 and a half years old. I traveled and done a lot of things in life that I wasn't necessarily pleased with myself, but I'm grateful because I found love for myself. I found grace for myself, but I also found accountability. You see, the thing about it is, no matter what has happened to us, we have to be accountable to ourselves to dig ourselves out of any hole that we may have gotten into. And so, that's what my life has taught me is that, through being accountable, I can continue to grow every day, even if it's not the greatest or even if I'm not where I want to be. I'm not where I used to be. And I can continue to grow through that mark of accountability.

David Fair: Our Juneteenth edition of Washtenaw United and our conversation with Survivors Speak founder Trische' Duckworth continues on 89-1 WEMU. And you mentioned that after a period of reflection, a part of the day also needs to be spent looking at where we are and what the future may hold and how we get to a better place. So, when you stand and speak in your activist voice, what do you identify as top priorities when we look at those social inequities?

Trische' Duckworth: You know, what I identify as top priorities would be, first, we need to start listening to the voice of the community, those that have been brushed to the side and don't often get to raise their voices. See, I can and have been blessed to stand before bodies of legislators and speak, right? There are so many people whose voices have never been heard. And until we start to hear from those that are closest to the problem, we won't have the best solution. So, people know what they need. They know what they want. They just don't sometimes have the words to put it into because they've been silenced for so long. So, as an agency, we've made it our mission to continue to try to help reawaken the voice of the community, because we've got to get to these tables where decisions are being made for us without it.

David Fair: When it comes to systemic injustice, these are not Black-born issues. These are inflicted issues that require change in people of all colors and all people listening. During the height of the Black Lives Matter movement, the number of white allies and supporters seem to grow in significant ways. And people were not only talking but were listening. In your observations, have the numbers held strong?

Trische' Duckworth: That's a sad, sad question for me because I believe that people in their hearts want to see change, but, because I believe this work is so hard and very uncomfortable, people start to say it once it gets uncomfortable. And so, you know, all we can do is continue to just press forward and continue to work alongside of those that are still here in the fight and ready to continue this very, very hard work. This is not fluffy work. It's a sloppy work that we're doing. We need to press in harder because the community, parts of our community, are really suffering. And they need us more than we even realize.

David Fair: One of the things that strikes me is that it sometimes seems to take a tragedy to inspire change or involvement like George Floyd and the hundreds of other names we do know and the even greater number we don't. How, in your opinion, can we build greater unity and move forward together without having to wade through more blood?

Trische' Duckworth: You know that question is about to move me to tears because the world stopped when George Floyd died. And everybody saw the travesty. Everybody saw the pain. Everybody saw the murder. And everyone was enraged and wanted to do something about it. And so, I call those moments reactive moments. We've got to get to the point where we are just as enraged about knowing that systemic racism is still with us. It doesn't have to take a tragedy. We have to be proactive moments to continue this work, to bring about change. It's hard. You get weary. You get tired. But we've got to do it. We all have a debt to pay to humanity.

David Fair: Once again, you are listening to Washtenaw United on 89 one WEMU, and we were having a Juneteenth conversation with Trische' Duckworth. Trische' is the founder of Survivors Speak. And, Trische', you know all too well, in the last month or two, the Black Lives Matter painting in Ann Arbor's Bandemer Park was desecrated with graffiti. Now, the repairs were made very swift because of some caring community members. I believe you were involved with that. But it's hard to erase overt acts of racism. What do you take away from such incidents still occurring?

Trische' Duckworth: You know, it's even beyond that. As a matter of fact, I just opened up some mail the other day. It was sent anonymously, and it said, "All lives matter, you moron!"

David Fair: And it was never our contention that all lives don't matter.

Trische' Duckworth: Exactly. But see, here's the thing. If someone gets upset when you say, "Black lives matter," then they don't really mean all lives matter. And it's not even anything to be upset about, right? It's just a message to remind us all that we have so much work to do when it comes to building racial equity within our community.

David Fair: So, as we look at that, there are clearly people in the community that believe that the "all lives matter" is the more appropriate statement. Given the opportunity to sit across the table and spend some time having conversation, what is your appeal to them to, perhaps, show that in that statement of "all lives matter," Black lives don't matter as much.

Trische' Duckworth: You know. I guess I would have to say that, of course, all lives matter. But the need for us to have to say Black lives matter lets us know how much work we have to do. So, saying that my life matters as a Black woman does not invalidate anyone as another ethnic background. It just says that me as a Black woman in America, I face racism, I face hardships, I face discrimination along with so many more of us. And so, we have so much work to do. So, if all lives matter, then we need all hands on deck to build racial equity in our community.

David Fair: Well, you say there is so much work to do. What are the work plans for Survivors Speak and Black Lives Matter this summer in Washtenaw County?

Trische' Duckworth: We are actually repainting a couple of the murals in Ann Arbor, and we are building a documentary about the Black Lives Matter street murals because they are more than just words on the ground. And so, we want to just kind of express to folks what the need is to continue the work. And also, we're building and being proactive throughout the summer, building for the fall, where we'll have Tim Wise back for Getting Real about Race. We're doing a four-hour workshop, so that we can continue to build with each other in growth and in racial equity.

David Fair: May the conversations continue and continue fruitfully. Thank you so much for the time today, Trische'. I truly appreciate it.

Trische' Duckworth: Thank you so much for always uplifting the community. We appreciate you.

David Fair: That is Survivors Speak founder and Black Lives Matter activist Trische' Duckworth joining us for a Juneteenth conversation. For more information, visit our website at WEMU dot org. Washtenaw United is produced in partnership with the United Way of Washtenaw County, and we bring it to you every Monday. I'm David Fair, and this is your community NPR station, 89-1 WEMU FM Ypsilanti.


Survivors Speak

Survivors Speak Resources

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Volunteer Washtenaw


United Way of Washtenaw County has partnered with Survivors Speak to amplify the voices of underserved populations in our community through the Justice Fund.

The purpose of the Justice Fund is to disrupt systems, policies, and practices that perpetuate poverty, racism, and trauma by coming alongside historically excluded communities in Washtenaw County as they build power, agency, and resilience.

In 2022, UWWC invested in the work of Survivors Speak through a $50,000 grant used to help all Washtenaw County residents (with close attention to the most marginalized) through direct services and large-scale advocacy efforts.

Through their utilization of an adaptable, grassroots "boots on the ground" approach, Survivor Speak's services are able to grow and change to meet the evolving needs of our communities.

WEMU has partnered with the United Way of Washtenaw Countyto explore the people, organizations, and institutions creating opportunity and equity in our area. And, as part of this ongoing series, you’ll also hear from the people benefiting and growing from the investments being made in the areas of our community where there are gaps in available services. It is a community voice. It is 'Washtenaw United.'

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Contact David: dfair@emich.edu
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