Leading and Leaving With Love


In March of 2020, the week of the shutdown, my daughter turned 3 years old. As we showered her with birthday gifts that had been dropped at our doorstep or mailed to us by friends and family who could no longer celebrate with her in person, I came across a hard covered book that had been sent to her by my older brother. As I read it to her, my eyes filled with tears. A few weeks later, I read it aloud to my team. A year later, during a particularly challenging time, I mailed it to a colleague. As I embark on my final days at REACH and try to feel and reflect on everything these last 9 years have meant, this story keeps surfacing in my mind.

Jessica Teperow and her daughter, Nava
Jessica Teperow and her daughter, Nava

The book, The Rabbit Listened, starts with a young child, Taylor, who has just built something they are really proud of, something amazing. But within moments, and without warning, it all comes crashing down. Almost immediately, a cast of characters arrives on the scene, full of advice and directions on what Taylor should do. The chicken wants Taylor to talk about it. The bear projects how angry Taylor must feel and demands that they yell about it together. One by one, the animals share their advice: to laugh about it, to forget it ever happened, to throw it all away, to destroy someone else’s creation. But Taylor doesn’t want to do any of those things, so one by one the animals walk away, with looks of disgust, frustration, disappointment, until Taylor is alone. After the others have gone, the rabbit slowly and quietly approaches Taylor. The rabbit sits beside them close enough for Taylor to feel the warmth of the rabbit’s body. After sitting together in silence, Taylor asks them to stay. The rabbit listens. The rabbit listens to Taylor talk, rage, cry, remember, laugh. The rabbit listens to Taylor plan to throw it all away, to pretend it never happened, to act out towards others. And because the rabbit listened, Taylor is able to move with and through their emotions and move through and with their grief. The book ends with Taylor beginning to imagine building something new. ‘I can’t wait,’ Taylor tells the Rabbit. ‘It’s going to be amazing.’


In March of 2021, in recognition of the anniversary of the shutdown, I had the honor of presenting a workshop entitled, ‘Sustaining ourselves, Sustaining our Movement’ hosted by the Massachusetts Office of Victim Assistance (MOVA). The process of creating that workshop felt like the culmination of the last two decades of my work. In it, I shared this concept: When we feel cared for and cared about, we are capable of innovation, transformation, and so much more. When I think about the work that I have been a part of these last 9 years at REACH, and the growth and transformation that I’ve witnessed in our organization and in the communities we partner with, I know that it was made possible because it was rooted in caring, it was grounded in love.

When I interviewed for this position, I was told that what the organization needed was someone who could be dropped out of a plane into any group and start a conversation about domestic violence. Despite my fear of heights, I knew that was a task I was made for; I have spent the majority of my life engaging in conversations about gender-based violence. Those conversations have sometimes been a short encounter in which seeds of connection- to this issue and to each other- are planted. Sometimes those initial interactions have been the start of a strong foundation of a long-standing partnership. All of these conversations have always felt like a gift, because they are inherently rooted in connection, another opportunity to build or inspire a healthy relationship- the vision we are working towards.

Brené Brown, a researcher whose work focuses on shame, vulnerability, and leadership, reminds us that we often mistakenly see ourselves as thinking beings who sometimes feel, when we are really feeling beings who occasionally think. When we enter a conversation or training with a mindset of proving how much we know or trying to get our message across, we risk severing the opportunity for meaningful connection. When I am invited to present a workshop or to support others in creating programming, I often ask the questions, ‘what do you want your participants to feel, to know, and to be able to do coming out of this training?’ I start with feelings, because while our objectives may be focused on increasing knowledge and skills, our ability to achieve those goals is directly impacted by the participants’ experience. It requires that we embody a relational approach- even for short engagements- and avoid creating experiences that feel transactional. Each and every interaction is an opportunity to convey how much our stories and experiences matter. It’s why I seldom have nerves walking on stage or meeting with a new community partner. I know what a gift it is to share space with others. I know that the people I am meeting have so much to teach me. And I know that what I have to offer has value, because I am sharing the sacred truths and wisdom that have been passed down to me, so that I can share and communicate it to others.

A colleague asked me recently if I ever question if we are making a difference. I don’t question it; I know that this work is transformational, because it has forever changed me. I am leaving REACH carrying these experiences that have seeped into my bone marrow, changed me on a cellular level. Being the Director of Prevention Programs at REACH was my dream- actually working here with my colleagues and supervising my dream team… it’s been so much better than I ever imagined. It is because I have felt so believed and believed in, that I have been able to dare to keep dreaming.

To my colleagues in this field who may question or doubt the impact you’re having, who wonder if you’re doing enough, please remember: we do not need to be superheroes. We just need to be rabbits. Because rabbits make changing the world possible. To my REACH team, it has been my greatest honor to listen and learn from all of you. As I think about what’s on the horizon for this place and for all of you, I can’t help but reflect Taylor’s words: I can’t wait. It’s going to be amazing.