Five years ago today, I was preparing to light a firecracker in front of a live audience. And not just an actual firecracker, but the spark inside of me. On July 31st, 2014 at the 2nd Annual Dinner of The Firecracker Foundation, I shared my story of surviving sexual trauma.
In 2011, I graduated from high school and moved from my suburban home in Southfield, Michigan, to live in a foreign campground in Kalamazoo to be a Camp Counselor. Upon arriving at camp, the Asst. Camp Director, a Black man, greeted me and was adamant in being the “mentor” I’d never had. Fresh into my 18th year of life, I accepted his offer of companionship, not knowing what would come instead. Waking up in the middle of night in a room of campers to him sexually assaulting me, witnessing him manipulate staff to get me alone, grooming me using my coming-of-age to befriend me and keep me quiet—this was his mentorship.
In 2012, after two summers of joy with my students and assaults from the assistant director, I’d finally told. There were two extreme responses to what felt like stepping on glass every time I spoke the word, “he sexually assaulted me”. The first was love and support. People shielded me, got angry for me, hugged me and cried with me. The other, the most memorable, was harsh accusations and attacks. A combination of friends, family and law enforcement told me that I was an active participant in my own attacks. That I wanted it. They used my sexuality as a weapon to discredit my story and my voice. They said there was no way I didn’t want it.
In 2014, I took advantage of every opportunity to get help as I could. I was enrolled in group therapy for male survivors of sexual trauma, weekly one-on-one therapy sessions with a therapists and a sexual assault counselor, and visiting my trusted professor and friends. Through my counseling sessions, I told my therapists that I was very passionate about speaking my truth. I wanted to inspire others. Matter of fact, I needed people to know that men are survivors of trauma, too. The current statistics state that Men in College, ages 18-24, are five times more likely to be victims of sexual violence.
The Firecracker Foundation, based in Lansing, Firecracker Foundation “honors the bravery of children who have survived sexual trauma by building a community invested in the healing of their whole being.” They provide teen survivors with therapeutic yoga, counseling, and other support services that build a necessary community. Each year they honor 12 survivors through creative storytelling and the release of their Soulfire Calendar (I was featured in the first calendar).
The 2nd Annual Firecracker Dinner took place in a clubhouse, ironically in a forest area. It gave me an eery feeling of the camp. I stood in front of an intimate crowd of people: my friends, strangers, supporters, survivors, and in the second row sat my grandparents. With my words, my pain and my tears I attempted to paint a picture through my speech the pain living in through the intersection of being young, Black, queer, and a survivor of sexual trauma. The lighting of this firecracker, I thought was the conclusion of this chapter of my life.
Five years after giving my speech and 8 years after the survival of my first summer of camp, the perpetrator, the predator, the man who remained nameless for all these years: Michael Parker has been convicted. He is now a registered sex offender in Michigan, convicted of CRIMINAL SEXUAL CONDUCT ASSAULT WITH INTENT TO COMMIT SEXUAL PENETRATION. He’s in the Tier 3 category, the most severe and dangerous sexual offenders. The record shows he was non-compliant in the process and received a fee violation. He will be on the sexual offenders registry for life.
And I should be celebrating that justice has met this animal face first but my heart sank to the ground and I sobbed when I heard the news. Is this the feeling of justice and conviction? I’m unsure. But, what I do know is this feeling is confirmation that I underestimated the lasting impact of not being believed. I’ll never forget traveling to the police station on a cold and rainy day, only to be told that it was a “sad” story but “I played a part in it”. Or people close to me saying that it was just a story to
explain me coming out. But this news was reassurance that I was not a lone sheep, but one of many.
Five years later, I still haven’t forgiven Michael. And the truth is, I never will. He doesn’t deserve an ounce of my forgiveness or my grace. Survivors should be weary of the narrative that floats around that forgiveness is a pre-requisite to healing. Healing is about us. I made it a point to acknowledge the destruction he’d caused in my life and then de-centered him from my healing. I am the spark.
Five years later and the spark still shines. Brighter than ever. While at the same time, I do acknowledge that Michael’s conviction reveals that healing is a lifetime commitment. With that, I’m doing what I’ve done all these years. I’m moving forward. I’m living unapologetically in my truth. I’m speaking boldly. And I’m using my firecracker to spark a million others.
Donate to the Firecracker Foundation here.