By Purnima Bangera, Director of Communications and Development
My Life My Choice was honored to bring the More Than a Survivor photo exhibit to Boston’s City Hall from October 7 to October 16, 2015, and was so grateful to the Mayor's Office for hosting. On October 7th, we held a celebratory opening night that brought together city officials, community leaders, and like-minded supporters to honor the strength and resilience of the women photographed in the exhibit. Featuring stunning portraits of twenty-two women (including our Associate Director, Audrey Morrissey) who are all leaders in the arts, politics, science, nonprofits and more, the exhibition showcases the leadership of survivors in their communities. It presents their images and words as a powerful antidote to contradict the stereotypes of survivors of commercial sexual exploitation as perpetually broken and forever limited by their trauma. The More Than a Survivor exhibition honors their diversity, beauty, strength, accomplishments, and leadership, and celebrates their present and their future. Our staff was so moved by the women showcased in the exhibit that two of our Survivor Mentors decided to share their own stories:
Survivor Mentor Charel Murrell is much more than her story. She first caught the fashion bug at seventeen when she transformed an old pair of jeans into shorts and a top. “I got so many compliments on it,” Murrell said, “that I went out and got my own sewing machine and began to sew. I just trusted that I knew how.” The first outfit she made with her new machine was a purple suit, and she hasn’t stopped sewing since. “I sew at least five days out of the week,” Murrell said. “I make clothes for myself, my family, my son. I’m trying really hard to perfect my craft because this is going to be my business one day.”
Eventually, Murrell plans to open her own store, specializing in clothes for women and children. In order to reach that goal, she continues to expand the number of people she is making clothes for and to learn more about the business side of the fashion industry. “This is a new part of my life,” she said. “What I went through doesn’t define who I am; that stuff is in my past. When I wake up in the morning, I don’t think about what happened to me. It was a stumbling block, and I refuse to be bound by it. This is my future.”
Latiana Appleberry began working as a Survivor Mentor at My Life My Choice almost six years ago. Today, she is our Mentor Coordinator, pursuing her Bachelor of Social Work at Salem State University and applying to accelerated Master of Social Work programs at a handful of universities in Massachusetts. While her experience as a survivor first brought her to My Life My Choice, it is her knowledge and skills that have propelled her forward. “All this has nothing to do with my story,” Appleberry said. “It has everything to do with my training and education.”
After completing her Master of Social Work, Appleberry plans to continue to give back. She hopes to be a licensed clinician and work with women transitioning out of adolescence and “the Life.” Her goal is to provide programming that helps with employment, housing, substance abuse, and reintegration into the community. She would like to work with men as well and says, “Ultimately I want to branch out to men that feel it is okay to buy and sell women, and to provide awareness and help for them too.” By reaching out to everyone involved, Appleberry hopes to tackle every aspect of commercial sexual exploitation. “I am doing this in spite of my story, not because of it,” she said.
Like Charel and Latiana, all of our Survivor Mentors are more than survivors and their trauma does not diminish or define their accomplishments and aspirations. Same holds true for all our young survivors, who are future leaders, as they make their way toward having their voices heard and fighting back against stereotypes. They stand strong and say they are More Than a Survivor. I hope you stand with them.