Ed. Note: Champions of Change is a weekly initiative to highlight Americans who are making an impact in their communities and helping our country rise to meet the many challenges of the 21st century.
There are moments etched in my mind like snapshots from last week. I went to Washington to be honored with 14 others as a Champion of Change for my work in trying to end sexual assault and domestic violence. One moment I remember clearly is walking up to the steps of the Eisenhower building. There were so many steps, and as I was ascending them I thought about all the people who have walked up and down them trying to change the nation and make a difference. It was like being in an invisible parade of people who believed they could make a difference, and it felt both grounding and inspiring.
I remember handing one of the staff members of the White House travel kits from Thistle Farms, the social enterprise of Magdalene. The journey the kits made to get to the White House was incredible. The products inside the kits are all made in Nashville by residents and graduates of Magdalene at Thistle Farms. Magdalene is two year residential community with six homes for women who have survived lives of violence, abuse, prostitution, addiction and traumatic childhoods. The average age the women of Magdalene are first sexually assaulted is between the ages of 7 and 11. There are currently 35 women from Magdalene who work and run Thistle Farms.
I knew handing the kits over didn't mean it would ever end up in the hands of our Vice President, but they had made it to the White House! The actual fabric of the kit was hand sewn in Lwala, Kenya, by a cooperative that partners with Thistle Farms. I spent a couple of weeks there this summer meeting all the sewers and listening to the stories. The women sit and sew and talk about the violence and poverty they have known and how making the kits is an avenue toward freedom, not just for themselves, but for their children. One of the women working at Thistle Farms commented as I was leaving with the kits, "From the crack house to the White House, what a journey." It’s taken about 15 years, but our kits did make it all the way to the office of the Vice President. It makes me dream about other goals and ventures.
And I remember the panel, lined up against the curtain, shoulder to shoulder, with all the other champions and listening to the common war stories that are unique in their telling and experience in individual communities. It was almost like a graduation, with speeches and handshakes. Like all graduations, the walk there was long, the steps were steep, and it felt surreal at moments to be sitting on the stage with the image of the White House behind our heads. My final statement at the ceremony sums up what I take from that day back into the work, "This work is my joy and this honor gives me renewed courage to keep seeking that hallowed space in which the universal issues of violence are born on individual backs and love still endures and heals. Thank you."
Becca Stevens is the founder of Magdalene, a residential community for women who have survived lives of violence, prostitution and addiction and Executive Director of its social enterprise, Thistle Farms.