I have the pleasure of working with The National Crittenton Foundation. Sometimes their work can be hard to describe and very often the girls the organization works with are placed into stereotypes. We fail to look at the root causes and why they end up in the places that they do.
I went to a screening of a story that mirrors the life of many of the girls that Crittenton agencies work with: “Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story.” By coincidence, I sat down at Busboys and Poets next to a woman who was pregnant in a Crittenton home in the 1940s. She was unmarried at the time and her family sent her away to gave birth and she gave her son up for adoption. “You just didn’t have a baby out of wedlock back then,” she said. I asked if she ever tried to re-unite with her child, and she said that she learned he was killed in the Vietnam War.
I have re-posted a blog entry by Jeannette Pai-Espinosa, president of The National Crittenton Foundation, who reflects on the movie, bringing us insights from her decades of experience working with girls and young women at the margin.
March 21, 2011
Today 16-year old Cyntoia Brown is facing life in a Tennessee prison for killing a man who picked her up for sex she was exploited into providing. Like so many girls living at the margin Cyntoia’s complex life story includes multiple generations of sexual and physical abuse, addiction, sexual exploitation, poverty, and serious mental health issues. The documentary “Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story” that aired in early March on OPB underscores the legacy of violence and trauma into which many girls and young women are born. Cyntoia’s grandmother was raped by her estranged husbands’ best friend and gave birth to Cyntoia’s mother, Gina Mitchell. Gina became pregnant at 16; drank heavily while pregnant; and admits to being raped, to being an addict and suffering from serious mental illness issues. There’s more, but you’ll have to see the film for the complete story.
If it weren’t for the use of actual interview footage with Cyntoia and others you might think this family’s story is too horrendous to be true. There are countless places at which support and help could have made a difference for this extended family. Cyntoia may have been the one to pull the trigger but the cards were stacked against her when she was born by the two generations that came before her.
As this film airs, I have the honor of being in our nation’s capitol with young women from Hawaii, California, West Virginia and Florida whose childhood, trauma and challenges mirror that of Cyntoia. But rather than “facing life,” they will take a private tour of the White House and share their stories with Congressional representatives. Bold, courageous, smart, articulate, and proud–they are more powerful than they know. As they learn, laugh and struggle together, they are healing and they are healers. They will speak their truth and defy those who tell them they cannot succeed. They are still on their journey to discovering their potential but they are determined to stop the destructive cycles into which they were born.
Unlike Cyntoia, these young women found their way to the programs and services they needed to heal, thrive and lead. Sadly, when budgets are strained these are the first things to be cut. I could cite for you a long list of ways you can give and make a difference––but then you already know the drill. The problem is I don’t want you to just give–I want you to care. So no list, instead do one small thing that will take no more than 5 minutes out of your busy schedule: go to www.AtTheMargin.org and watch the “Get the Facts,” two minute video about violence and girls and young women in this country, and if you are moved, if you care and you believe in the power of their potential then get up and do something about it!
The National Crittenton Foundation