We build women’s collective power in the U.S.

November 17, 2022

Grantee Partner Spotlight: Healing to Action

by Sheerine Alemzadeh

The Ms. Foundation is proud to support our grantee partners, who are at the forefront of organizing and creating solutions that improve people’s lives and bring us closer to achieving a true democracy. The insight and perspective they provide is invaluable. The Q&A below was generated by Sheerine Alemzadeh, Co-Director and Co-Founder of Healing to Action.

Healing to Action builds the leadership and collective power of the communities most impacted by gender-based violence to achieve economic and social equality using the resilience strategies survivors already possess. Healing to Action is an Activist Collaboration & Care Fund grantee partner.

What brought you to this work? 

I started out as a public interest lawyer representing survivors of workplace sexual violence. During that time, I co-founded the Coalition Against Workplace Sexual Violence, a collaboration uniting Chicago’s labor and anti-violence movements to address sexual violence against low-wage workers. People in the Coalition voiced the need for a survivor-led, multicultural, response to prevent gender-based violence in their communities. 

In 2016, Karla Altmayer and I co-founded Healing to Action (HTA) to respond to this call to action. Our mission is to end gender-based violence (GBV) through building the leadership and collective power of the communities most impacted – people of color, people with disabilities, low-income people, immigrants, and LGBTQ+ people. We achieve our mission through leadership development, grassroots organizing, and capacity building in collaboration with survivors. 

How do you connect/collaborate in your community? Who are your key partners? 

We are committed to working closely with organizations that represent the communities disproportionately impacted by GBV — organizations that focus on racial justice, economic justice, immigrant rights, disability justice, and those that seek to eradicate other forms of inequity. We recognize that it takes time to build trust to form partnerships, therefore we often start from a place of relationship-building between our staff, leaders and the organization’s constituents. As people have the chance to share their stories and create trust with each other, we transition into more strategic collaboration and partnership. Through these partnerships, we are able to connect with survivors, build coalitions of support for our survivor-led campaigns, and develop political education opportunities for our leaders. 

What are you learning or what are you teaching? 

We have two core programs that we developed in collaboration with low-income, immigrant, and undocumented survivors to build the collective power of survivors – our Healing Generations leadership development program and our capacity-building program for movement partner organizations. Our curricula educate survivors about the root causes of gender-based violence, including white supremacy, ableism, and capitalism, so that they can better understand the conditions that lead to violence and organize against them. They also receive skills-based training on topics like supporting trauma survivors, bystander intervention, and communicating about gender-based violence. Finally, they learn about core principles of community organizing, and look at case studies of survivor-led campaigns. 

Tell us about a recent victory or something you’re proud of

We are really excited to launch the Survivor Power Institute this fall. This program is the latest iteration of our capacity-building work, and was developed to respond to a growing demand for our training and technical assistance by organizations working for racial, economic, and gender justice. This intimate, two-day offering will enable a cohort of participants to lea\r\n \the foundational principles for Healing to Action’s survivor-led work. Organizers, advocates, and leaders participating across different movements will collaborate to explore the root causes of gender-based violence, build concrete skills for supporting survivors, and co-create a critical dream space to imagine new iterations of survivor power.

What can philanthropy do better and/or how can individuals be helpful allies?

The best way to be an ally is to be curious. The problems we are working to solve are so complex, and no single organization or individual can be the solution. Creating accessible avenues for organizations like ours to explain our work to potential funders is really important for small and growing organizations. As a potential funder or donor, keeping the door open to learn from people you don’t know or approaches you haven’t tried is critical to support the innovation that’s needed to end an entrenched problem like gender-based violence. This openness is something we try to practice in our own work, and we focus on finding partners who share this value. 

What gives you hope? 

HTA’s survivor leaders give me so much hope. They are bold and fearless in building vulnerable relationships with each other, trying new skills, and truth-telling to people in power. At the collective level, seeing how a shared identity of survivorship has given leaders a sense of pride and purpose reminds me that even when carrying deep wounds, we can grow and flourish with the right community. 

One of our leaders said it beautifully: “HTA has allowed me to meet warriors that are strong as an oak. We are seeing the fruits of the plants that we have grown together.”