By Kathy Brophy, Wellesley High School Fitness and Health Teacher and 2019 Ruth and Virginia Bigwood Voice for Justice Award Winner
I was recently honored by REACH Beyond Domestic Violence with the Ruth and Virginia Bigwood Voice for Justice Award at their Annual Meeting this past May. When Laura, REACH’s Executive Director, walked into my first period class to let me know, I was surprised, honored and humbled. Little did I know that a class project, “Everyone Has a Story” would actually come full circle and allow me to share a part of my own story. I am not one for small talk, so let me get to it. I have been teaching for 26 years, I am very comfortable in front of a high school class, I love teaching. But now, I was going to be in front of an audience, all adults, receiving this recognition and I was going to have to say something that meant something… Deep breath… What I was able to put into words since the Annual Meeting was this: “Thank you to REACH for helping me when I didn’t even know I needed help.” I’m in a wonderful marriage and have a loving, caring wife, I have two beautiful and kind children, I have a successful career and I have some good friends. So why would I need help? There is this thing called trauma and, well, you can’t hide from it. I do not hold any formal degrees in this topic, but I have certainly lived through my share and I have also done a lot of reading and training around it. Teaching has allowed me to direct my energy out; and if it is going out, it doesn’t stay in… or does it?
During my acceptance, I shared an experience that happened to me as a child. The audience was filled with mostly strangers… Those strangers, along with my family and friends that were there in the room that night, listening to me, and just “being” with me, allowing me to stutter a few times, hear my voice crack, seeing me in a way where I didn’t have it all together, seeing me clearly uncomfortable and totally vulnerable. Several of them came up to me after and either hugged me or shook my hand. There were some amazing moments with complete strangers and my loved ones (who had never heard my story before), with what seemed like an experience of seeing me for the first time.
When Jessica, REACH’s Director of Prevention Programs, asked me what it felt like to share my story and actually say the words, the first thing that came to mind was, “well the cat’s out of the bag now.” That is how I felt… I didn’t have to hold it in anymore, I didn’t need to explain any of my why’s…
My former student, Rachel Thomas is another big part of the story behind my why… It will be 15 years this July since Rachel’s murder by her ex-boyfriend. The loss of this beautiful, strong, smart, black woman touched me deeply and moved me to action. Her dream was to be a teacher, and she let everyone know about it. I was lucky enough to have her as a student and coach her starting in junior high school. I was able to absorb all her goodness and now try to pass on her teaching: “You are never too tall to bend down to help a child.” ~Rachel Thomas~
I love my life and I have so much to be grateful for. I am going to share a part of my speech that allowed me to reflect on some things that I have learned and what this award means to me:
- Being a Voice for Justice is a lifelong and ongoing process.
- Power Up has allowed loss and pain to be turned into action, a space for students to learn, reflect, share, be vulnerable and show courage.
- Teaching this class is a huge privilege and with that comes responsibility. A responsibility to support students on their own journeys to be seen, heard and validated. An example of this is the recent activism our students of color and their allies demonstrated at Wellesley High School to bring awareness to the racism that exists and the fact that it’s time for people to listen.
- I want to continue to use my privilege as a white, cisgender, able-bodied, teacher to lift up those voices that are disenfranchised and marginalized.
I am overwhelmed with gratitude, love, strength, and inner peace. I have been fortunate to have people catch me and keep hold. I can honestly say that I think about what happened to me every day. If you are reading this and you have a story, there is someone that will listen, there are people that care and there are people that will catch you too… If you haven’t found that listener, call the REACH hotline at 800-899-4000…. If you are one of the “catchers”, your healing ability is magical and there are plenty of people that need to be caught. To everyone that was in the audience on May 23rd at the REACH Annual Meeting, may all the love you showed to me be sent right back to you.