By: Micah Hobbes Frazier
thinking about or planning the future with imagination or wisdom.
“a visionary leader”.
inspired, imaginative, creative, inventive, ingenious, innovative, enterprising.
a person (or organization) with original ideas about what the future will or could be like.
i remember first meeting generation FIVE in 2001 when i started working for the Harm Reduction Coalition as the Training Coordinator for the SFDPH training program contract. my job was to coordinate a quarterly training calendar for service providers under the HIV Prevention section of SFDPH, and work with trainers to develop both content and their facilitation skills. At the time Staci Haines, a Co-founder of generationFIVE, was co-facilitating trainings on the connections between trauma and drug use for the quarterly calendar. that is how i was introduced to the organization and its vision to end child sexual abuse within five generations or 100 years. Over the next 10 years my relationship with generationFIVE deepened. first i began attending trainings to increase my knowledge of child sexual abuse (csa) and understanding of trauma. Eventually i became a training assistant, and then a lead trainer of the 3-day training on Child Sexual Abuse and Transformative justice. in 2007 generationFIVE hired me as staff and as a program team member to help develop and build our TJ work in different sectors. that summer we released ‘Towards Transformative Justice’, and joined our partners in bringing CSA and TJ work to the first US Social Forum in Atlanta. i finally left the organization completely in 2011.
generationFIVE has a long history of bringing together and working with many different leaders, communities, and movement sectors. the organization itself was started after a series of 13 community meetings that engaged over 100 community leaders in the question: “what would it take to end child sexual abuse within 100 years?”. As the work grew, and deepened collaboration became a core principle and practice toward building transformative justice more broadly. this is reflected most in the collaborations and partnerships leading to the writing and publishing of ‘Toward Transformative Justice’ and the TJ workshop series at the 2007 USSF in Atlanta. Additionally, our study into action process and efforts to build TJ Collaboratives in the Bay Area, Atlanta, and New York reflected a strong commitment to collaboration. organizing, and building in this way allowed for a depth of knowledge, creativity, imagination and experience that greatly enhanced the thinking and practice of TJ.
2. Willing to Take Risks
generationFIVE was at the forefront of articulating child sexual abuse as a social justice issue, and addressing it through community organizing and movement building instead of through service provision or the criminal legal system. This was a very new approach in the field of child sexual abuse response and prevention at the time, and not widely understood (or accepted) by funders or other organizations doing work around child sexual abuse. even today only a very small group of community leaders/innovators are working to address and end child sexual abuse in transformative ways similar to generationFIVE. additionally social justice and movement building organizations were not yet working on, or even talking about child sexual abuse as a social justice and/or movement issue. trauma and especially child sexual abuse were still primarily considered personal issues not political ones. however, the ‘Towards Transformative Justice’ document clearly articulated the connections between csa, systems of oppression and state violence in ways that had not been done before. and it issued a ‘call to the left’ that challenged social justice movements to understand child sexual abuse in a political context, and to include an analysis of trauma in their fight for liberation. the journey was not easy. navigating constant funding challenges, pushback from state institutions, isolation from more traditional csa response/prevention work and inside of social justice movement spaces, etc. took a heavy toll on all of us. yet despite all of that and more, we were not afraid to be “the first” or “the only”, and continued to take risks that we knew were necessary for the vision and the work.
although generationFIVE was very successful in bringing people together, we were not always good at actually working well with others. partners did not always feel respected or well treated, and sometimes we reacted, mainly out of fear, to control how TJ was built and implemented. at times we acted as though we were the only experts and knew best which felt arrogant and dismissive to our partners. often we moved too fast, and didn’t take the time to truly get input from people we were working with. i believe that fear and lack of trust made it difficult for us to truly collaborate in the way we wanted to. because we were working around intense trauma and violence everything felt so big and the stakes always felt so high. holding the weight of that triggered a contraction inside the organization that sometimes negatively impacted how we interacted with, and related to others. certainly that was not our intention, however, that does not change the serious impact of how we sometimes behaved and operated with our partners.
2. Unsustainable Organizational Infrastructure
visionaries are not always good at managing the practical details of implementing their ideas, and we definitely struggled in this area. like many others the co-founders of generationFIVE decided to create a 501c3 organizational structure to build their vision. however, non-profit status made us part of an institutional system that ultimately created challenges that were harmful to our work, and did not allow the organization to create or maintain a sustainable organizational structure. the majority of funders and foundations did not understand our work, or value our approach. those that did were often too afraid to fund us because of the innovation of the work, or unable to because we didn’t fit into their funding categories. Additionally the funding world itself is not set up to fund long term change, especially the kind of focus on long term change that creating a world without child sexual abuse requires. most funding relationships last 3- 5 years at best let alone 5 generations. There were times when staff did not get paid on time because the organization did not have the money to do so. there were times when people were asked to contribute significant amounts of time and labor for free because the organization did have the money to pay them. at the time of my leaving in 2011, the organization was still in debt to its founders. this type of financial uncertainty created a level of chronic instability that negatively impacted the organization and the work.
meeting the current needs of individuals/communities experiencing violence while working towards building the long-term vision – we don’t have what we need to deal with violence and trauma happening right now:
one of our biggest challenges in building transformative justice work was the complexity of holding both the vision of where we wanted to be and the realities of where we currently were. when responding to incidents of trauma and violence we were asking people to think, believe, and act in ways that moved us towards the vision. however, the current conditions people were navigating most often did not reflect that vision, or even necessarily share a commitment to it. the reality was (and continues to be) that we didn’t have many of the things we needed to actually effectively practice transformative justice on the ground, no matter what our vision was. we didn’t have the resources (alternatives to prison, safe houses, healing/change models, etc.), level of acceptance and buy in needed, power to assert leverage (different than force), political backing, or organizational capacity to bring transformative justice to scale in ways that could meet the levels of trauma and violence people were actually experiencing. sometimes it was very hard to still hold on to the long-term vision when people you love and care about are experiencing trauma and violence right now.
all organizations have strengths and challenges. no one is perfect and perfection should not be the goal, we have to be able to make mistakes. however, we must also acknowledge the very real impact and harm that happens inside of many organizations doing visionary work. often we are afraid to openly name the harmful dynamics or ways of being, however, this only serves to hurt the vision not protect it. what i learned most through my work with generationFIVE is the necessity of having strong systems of support and accountability in place from the beginning to deal with things that come up. because they will come up. as an organization we had a lot of support, however, not a lot of accountability. there were no individual or organizational community partners that were actually holding generationFIVE leadership accountable for the mistakes that were made and harm that was caused. ultimately that caused many great people to leave the organization, and/or not want to work with us. vision alone is not enough. building visionary futures requires that we also stay connected to the present moment and current reality of people’s lives. it requires that we remember that how we get there is just as important as the future we are trying to create. most of all it requires us to be courageous. courageous enough to believe in and move towards something we might never see in our lifetime. and most importantly courageous enough to admit that even though we may have incredible vision we don’t have all the answers, don’t always know the way, and sometimes make mistakes that cause harm.
those were extremely transformative years for the organization and for me personally. along the way generation FIVE’s vision also became mine, deeply developing and shaping my current work around trauma and practice of transformative justice. i am extremely proud of the work we were able to do and the contributions we made to the development of transformative justice (TJ) and community accountability models more broadly. however, i also hold the contradictions that existed inside of the organization and the complexity of the ways in which we did not succeed, and even caused harm. so when i received this opportunity to write about building visionary ways to address violence and heal trauma, i knew i had to write about generation FIVE and transformative justice. this piece is not about transformative justice itself, but rather a partial reflection on the path that generationFIVE as an organization took to build TJ as a way to address violence, and heal trauma. it’s about some of our organizational strengths and challenges in trying to build a visionary future of a world without child sexual abuse using a visionary approach transformative justice.
i’ve chosen to focus my reflections on the years 2007, when i was hired as staff, through 2011 when i left the generationFIVE. those were the years that i was most deeply involved with the organization, and the years we were most active in work around building TJ. what i offer here are reflections from my own perspective based in my long history and many years of direct experience with the organization. i can’t speak for the many other staff, program teams members, volunteers, partners, supporters, etc. that worked with and/or engaged with generationFIVE over its 12 years of active operation. reflection and evaluation are incredibly important for all visionary work. so that is what i offer to you here. a reflection. an evaluation. a reflective evaluation from someone that was right there doing the work. my hope in offering this piece is that it will serve as a useful tool for others engaged in creating visionary futures, and building visionary ways to address violence and heal trauma.