Following the November presidential election, thousands took to the streets and to the internet to voice their support for women’s rights, and ultimately how these rights may be hindered by President-elect Donald Trump.
Six months later, the Lutheran Settlement House (1340 Frankford Ave.) is providing yet another platform for these voices during its #BreakTheSilence event on Thursday, June 8 from 4-8 p.m.
Gender, sexuality, consent and self-care are all on the table for discussion as community members with come together to chat the current state of women’s rights.
Sam Merkt, a program coordinator at the Lutheran Settlement House explained how the idea for this event stemmed from the organization’s Students Aiming For Excellence (SAFE) after-school program. The initiative known as “A Community Youth Movement” is comprised of roughly 18 students who meet for three hours after school at Lutheran Settlement House.
“After our last big event in February was a success, the students wanted to do one on women’s rights that was more workshop-based,” Merkt said. “That’s how we got the idea for the #BreakTheSilence event, and we hope to get as many people out as we can, including other youth and adults who live in the area and who don’t know that this program even exists.”
The event is scheduled to feature a silent performance where members will stand along the outskirts of the Lutheran Settlement House property on Frankford Avenue with duct tape across their mouths for 30 minutes. Afterward, they will remove the duct tape, symbolizing the breaking their silence, and three spoken-word pieces will be delivered.
“One will be a story about a woman’s experience with sexual assault and how she overcame it,” Merkt said. “Another will be about overcoming a hard relationship and finding love in oneself, and the last student story will be about the death of her 2-month-old cousin and the experience she went through.”
The impetus for all of this?
“We held a group ‘family dinner’ around the time right after Trump was elected, and we asked the students what issues they cared about right now,” Merkt explained. “We decided that women’s rights were particularly important at the time, especially because there are a lot of young women currently involved in our program.”
Merkt said that after choosing women’s rights as the topic, the group broke the genre into smaller individual sub-categories on which each day’s lesson plan would focus around. Ranging from dismantling rape culture and consent to Planned Parenthood, abortion and even slavery, these topics explored general womanhood, its history and how it is being impacted by the political climate.
“A lot of high schools are currently eliminating things like sex education from their curriculum, so we feel that it is important that we’re able to talk about these topics in another space that is chosen and safe,” Merkt said. “These students choose to come together every day to explore these different topics, including many of which are thought of as taboo and aren’t readily discussed. It feels important to me that we allow the students to speak up about them.”
In attracting these high school students from all over Philly to the SAFE group, the Lutheran Settlement House typically reaches out to guidance counselors and social workers in addition to posting flyers. The goal? Empower students to go on and have their voices heard without filters while providing them with the resources they need to develop their own voice and healthy relationships.
Ultimately, the SAFE program came as a year-long version of the organization’s Summer STAR Leadership Academy, a learning program that teaches teens ages 14-18 about healthy relationships and develops leadership skills to prevent teen dating violence in communities. To intertwine a focus on women’s rights, each week two workshops are held on this topic specifically.
Overall, Merkt stressed that #BreakTheSilence is an event for the community-at-large, as it allows students to have their voices heard outside the bubble of school, and for society to listen to what they’re saying. Additionally, it will allow the community to see what the Lutheran Settlement House’s S.A.F.E. program is doing each day, while expressing student values and what the next generation of working adults expects to see of the world.
#BreakTheSilence | June 8. 4-8pm. Free. Lutheran Settlement House, 1340 Frankford Ave. lutheransettlement.org