Investing in Immigrant Survivors as Change Agents

By Tahirih Justice Center in collaboration with JAD

As part of the Safety and Justice Challenge, JAD is partnered with three organizations in Harris County to reduce racial and ethnic disparities within the criminal justice system. In an effort to raise awareness of the work of this work, we’d like to profile one of our partners that is aligned with our goal through their support of survivors of crime. The lived experiences and insights of immigrant survivors of violence and/or crime are central to community solutions to prevent and reduce further harm, yet few opportunities exist for survivors to contribute to efforts to address racial and ethnic disparities in the justice system. Our Kitchen Table Conversations program invests in survivors as change agents. Facilitated by Alondra Andrade, Tahirih Justice Center’s Community Engagement Coordinator, and Guadalupe Fernandez, Tahirih Justice Center’s Houston Policy and Advocacy Manager, with increasing support over time from survivor-leaders, the monthly Kitchen Table Conversations gathers approximately ten regular participants to tackle issues of safety and justice; deliver leadership development (political education, advocacy skills, and anti-oppression trainings); and convene healing circles. Events are currently held remotely and hope to be in person once it is safe to do so.The Tahirih Justice Centers advocacy team is committed to addressing interpersonal violence within the larger context of institutionalized violence and oppression that impacts our communities by building collective power among survivors, advocates, and allies. To achieve the goal to create a safe and inclusive Harris County for all, it is important to build community with survivors. Kitchen Table Conversations is a space for community building and establishing networks of support to respond to the unique needs of immigrant survivors and their families. Building community was especially challenging as the COVID-19 pandemic lingered on. Despite this, Tahirih has found immense success in community and power building through our remote engagement-- which has led the team to be creative in considerations of accessibility. Participants log on to the virtual community while they cook lunch or care for their kids which allows survivors to participate in dialogue even when childcare or transportation may normally be an issue. The group connects survivors to each other and to supportive networks. So far, the monthly Kitchen Table Conversations have allowed participants and Tahirih staff to generate a shared understanding of gender-violence and how it individually and collectively affects women, trans and gender-nonconforming people. As partners, Tahirih staff and survivors are analyzing what will alleviate the problems caused for individuals and survivors as a group (actions, resources, campaigns, etc.), and how to prevent reoccurrence. When systems around us continue to fail, it becomes clear that we must value community solutions, the informal solutions. The solutions that participants have shared give value to both individual growth and learning on the personal level, as well as collective healing and mutual support on the shared issues they want to address.Collectively, we are charting a course of action to create change in our community. Our philosophy is that people are empowered to become leaders through education, support, and practice. We validate each survivor’s knowledge and experience, help them recognize and respect others’ similar experiences, and harness that knowledge for change. Tahirih Justice Center is grateful for the Justice Administration Department’s work and support in centering community and safety to reimagine a better Harris County for all.