With Lizzo’s “About Damn Time” playing in the background, affirmations filled the air – “You get it!” and “Come on, girl!” — as women ran to make them into hoops strewn across a room Monday at a Columbus hotel.

It was all part of a new empowerment self-defense program targeting women of color, with this particular exercise teaching the concept of stepping back from a difficult situation.

Called We are worth defending, the training was offered to 15 women this week by IMPACT Safety, a program of the social service organization LifeCare Alliance. Participants in the course, which ends on Friday, will then be expected to offer similar lessons in the community.

“This training is important to us because we need more instructors of women of color to be able to go into their communities and be able to teach young girls, women, boys and people of all genders how to stand up for themselves and violence-free lives,” said Kendall Trelegan, regional director for the United States and Canada for ESD Global, which partnered with IMPACT Safety to deliver the trainings.

According to National Coalition Against Domestic Violence45% of black women have been victims of physical spousal violence, spousal sexual violence and/or spousal sexual harassment.

Arnesia McMilan, right, high fives Keama Garrett after participating in an activity during a We Are Worth Defending training session at the Hampton Inn & Suites Columbus-Easton.

“Black women have, due to historical trauma and the way self-defense plays out in our communities, a very complicated relationship with what self-defense means,” said Julie Harmon, director of IMPACT Safety. . “It’s an opportunity to explore what’s behind it and see how people want to move forward.”

Empowerment self-defense is specialized self-defense that helps participants develop skills such as boundary setting, assertiveness, and awareness of one’s surroundings.

Harmon said there are very few self-defense instructors who are women of color, not just in Columbus but across the country.

Participants in Monday’s training at the Hampton Inn & Suites Columbus-Easton represented many professions. Among those present were a nurse, a yoga instructor, a personal trainer and a fashion designer. There were physical drills involving an attack dummy and discussions about how to disrupt violence and set boundaries.

Rhonda Cumberbatch, director of the Kaleidoscope Youth Center, uses an attack dummy during a We Are Worth Defending training session.

LifeCare Alliance and ESD Global fundraisers helped offset training costs of $2,500 through stipends and scholarships. Of the 15 women who participated, only one paid the full cost, according to Harmon.

However, the participants’ relationship with the program does not end with this week’s training. Harmon said there was a requirement that each person pay in advance.

“They owe ESD Global 30 hours of free or low-cost self-defense training over the next few years to give back to their community,” she said.

Erica Russell-Averette, 41, a Canal Winchester participant, said her experience in criminal justice as a former probation officer made this training particularly meaningful for her. (She currently works as a professional communications instructor for the Supreme Court of Ohio.)

“I got into criminal justice because I didn’t want to hurt people or lock people up, I wanted to help people,” she explained. “It was more of an advisory role to help people get on the right track and on the right path, and it’s kind of the same way – just empowering people.”

Stephanie Sparrow-Hughes, 54, business and community engagement manager for LifeCare Alliance, who also attended the class, called it “an opportunity to be heard, to be listened to, to share our stories and make other women feel like their lives matter, that we are worth fighting for and we want to spread that message to other black women.”

Sharonda Crome, right, and Mary Culver listen to instructions during a recent We Are Worth Defending training session, which teaches empowerment self-defense.  The specialized program helps participants develop self-advocacy skills, such as boundary setting, assertiveness and awareness of one's surroundings.

The training session was the result of seven months of planning by Venica Miller, 54, from the East Side, program manager for We Are Worth Defending. Miller, who participated in the training, called it particularly suited to Columbus.

“I’m inspired and feel like we’re all ready for a moment like this,” Miller said. “There’s so much going on in the community today. Like in Columbus right now, you know the crime rate is so high – you know, murders every other day – but we can stop some of that. before it even happens.”

Lead instructor Dani Lizano, 33, from Costa Rica, said the trainings have also been lessons in camaraderie for many women.

“One of the things that I really enjoyed here was how this group, they don’t know each other, but after the second – and it’s the third day – it’s like really good chemistry. with each other,” Lizano said. . “It feels like a community.”

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