By Hayley Crandall
We Are Here MKE, a diverse collective composed of culturally sensitive programs and resources, announced a campaign earlier this month aimed at amplifying Milwaukee-based, people-of-color-led domestic and sexual violence support.
“People need to know we are here,” Antonia Drew Vann, executive director of The Asha Project, said. “We are the least recognized, the least valued, the least funded, the least supported but these are excellent programs doing excellent work.”
The collective is made up of the following programs available to those in underrepresented communities:
• The Asha Project
• Our Peaceful Home, a project of the Milwaukee Muslim Women’s Coalition
• UMOS Latina Resource Center
• The Hmong American Women’s Association
• HIR Wellness Institute (Healing Intergenerational Roots)
• Diverse & Resilient Room to Be Safe Anti-Violence Program
• Gerald L. Ignace Indian Health Center
The need for this campaign arises from a mixture of issues that have been brewing up together.
Drew Vann saw time and time again that as families and communities were suffering, the same mainstream programs were being highlighted. They had the media’s focus, Drew Vann explained, leaving the culturally specific programs in the background.
Drew Vann recognizes that some victims don’t always trust the system, resulting in them getting stuck in dangerous positions which continue the cycle. She emphasized that the group has nothing against mainstream violence support, but it felt that these tailored programs needed to be lifted in the hope that victims see there are other options and receive help.
“When we have police officers talking about that they have problems, some victims won’t take referrals to mainstream programs,” Drew Vann said. “That told us that victims are being locked within their community because they don’t know other services exist.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has also exacerbated circumstances regarding domestic and sexual violence. Not only have the stay-at-home orders raised concerns, psychological toll and persistent inequality can also fuel violence, Drew Vann explained.
“All of these things serve for a perfect storm so that’s when I started calling the individual programs and they shared some of the same things I was seeing,” Drew Vann said.
Encouraging the utilization of culturally specific programs ensures that victims receive support from groups that have expertise regarding partner violence and a personal understanding of cultural customs.
“The culturally specific programs have the experts in the field,” Drew Vann said. “As well as [experts] on the cultural nuances, norms, within this cultural communities.”
While these programs work tirelessly and endlessly with victims, many of them don’t have the big connections or resources to get their message out there, she explained.
“We lack the social capital,” Drew Vann said. “A number of us don’t have those kinds of links to garner that kind of support so we’re hoping that we gain support from this project.”
Currently, the campaign consists of social media advertising and a website. It launched with support from Milwaukee County DHHS Community Resilience CAREs funding and a personal backing from Wisconsin Rep. Gwen Moore, but continued awareness is needed to help the initiative go even further, Drew Vann explained. She hopes funding will increase, allowing for advertising expansion onto billboards, bus cards, print and other media formats.
Drew Vann also has no plans of keeping this mission focused in Milwaukee. A real visionary, she hopes to replicate We Are Here in other Wisconsin cities, such as Racine or Madison, knowing that there are many programs doing meaningful work yet struggling to get support.
For those in challenging positions, Drew Vann stresses the key first step is to reach out for help.
This initiative hopes to show that there are routes and services available to those in tough positions. All available information for the programs, including ways to reach out for help, can be found on its website, https://weareheremke.org/.