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Survivors are the most powerful and effective advocates in the anti-violence and anti-oppression movement. At Tahirih, we believe that survivors should be centered as advocates for themselves, in their families, and in their communities. 

Our Tahirih Houston office has developed an innovative program called Kitchen Table Conversations to build power and create collective action led by immigrant survivors of violence.

Our First Year 

The goal of the Kitchen Table Conversations is to create a community of like-minded individuals that have the desire to end violence in all its forms and build a framework for collective action in Houston that will advance safety, dignity, and equality. All the participants are immigrant women and allies that have suffered violence in one way or another throughout their lives. Tahirih seeks to give them the tools to envision a safe future for themselves and their communities while also providing them with support and connecting them to resources to make that vision a reality.

Our curriculum focuses on learning and unlearning, healing, building confidence, creating community, and collective action. We meet monthly and begin the conversation by discussing what safety looks like, what violence is, and a broader vision of what could be done to end violence and obtain safety for themselves and their communities. The conversations have covered a broad range of issues ranging from gun violence and its impacts; to the concept of collective liberation and how it can be achieved; and the importance of self-care.

Kitchen Table participants holding signs at a protest against gun violence.

We also held a healing retreat to provide an opportunity to give voice to personal stories that are impacting participants’ growth. As immigrant survivors with a personal connection to violence, it is essential to create spaces for collective healing. We recognize that the connection between activism and mental health goes in both directions – survivors must be able to heal and prioritize their wellbeing in order to engage in advocacy efforts, AND engaging in collective advocacy is often an important part of a person’s healing. We, therefore, sought to create a space facilitated by one of the participants that focused on generational trauma, how to heal wounds, deepening our friendships, and understanding our shared vision of a better world. Participants were able to open up and create a trusting, inclusive, and safe space for everyone present that helped build trust and collective power.

Finally, immigrant survivors themselves envision and direct the group’s collective action. They imagine a bold vision for what safety looks like for their communities, determine what issues they care about, and put in place a plan of action to arrive at their goal. Their insights and opinions are what is most important to find collective solutions to combat the violence in our communities.

Our Impact

KTC participants hold up Enhanced Library Card photo IDs.

Early on in our Kitchen Table Conversations, participants identified how a lack of government identification documents made them feel less safe. Working together with participants, we developed an advocacy campaign to create an Enhanced Library card to serve as a valid form of photo identification in the County and enhance their sense of safety. We worked through how to craft a public comment, how to testify at Commissioner’s Court, and how to do advocacy online through social media.

The campaign was a huge success! The library system implemented the Enhanced Library Card with a photo ID and the Harris Health System accepts them as a form of identification. We are currently advocating for the Harris County Sheriff’s office to accept the Enhanced Library Card as a valid ID and statewide COVID rent relief programs have begun to accept the ID as well.

It has been beautiful to witness the evolution of women who were initially apprehensive about getting involved and are now excited to join in advocacy efforts and make their voices heard. One participant, Sofia, initially didn’t feel like a leader and didn’t feel as though she had enough confidence to be involved in advocacy efforts, like many others in the group. Through the Kitchen Table Conversations curriculum, Sofia gained enough confidence to share her story in front of advocates from all over the country. In 2022, she co-led a workshop on survivors at the forefront of collective liberation at the 2022 Texas Association Against Sexual Assault (TASSA) conference. TAASA has invited the Kitchen Table Conversations workshop to present again in 2023 and another participant will be sharing her success story of how they grew into a bold leader and advocate in her community.

Sofia presenting at the TASSA Conference with Tahirih staff member Alondra.

Lessons Learned

As we finish up the second cohort’s first year, we have learned some important lessons about building a community of survivor advocates and doing collective action.

  1. Healing is advocacy. The survivors who participate in “Mesa Redonda” are directly impacted community members, which means they have a personal connection to violence. They or someone close to them is a survivor, and therefore, conversations during meetings can be triggering. Our goal is to ensure we hold space for folks to heal and decompress and feel comfortable being present in the space. That’s why it is now a must to include some form of healing activity in every meeting.
  2. Justice looks like opportunity for themselves and their families. One of the best topics we’ve explored is what participants hope for the future. All the participants had similar answers: They all want to feel safe individually, they want their families to be safe, and they collectively want safety for their communities.
  3. Security in knowing about issues that affect us. To understand collective action and move towards collective action as a group, we all needed to learn more about our city and our county and the issues that affect our communities. Participants shared that they feel secure in knowing about local issues that affect them and their communities.