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Surviving Sexual Abuse: April ‘7even Rich’ Richardson, taking back your power

THE BIRMINGHAM TIMES — The mental and emotional aftermath of sexual abuse can last a lifetime.

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By Je’Don Holloway Talley

Gone are the days of silence and shame in the face of sexual assault and misconduct. America is slowly adapting to a new narrative for survivors of sexual abuse—one that empowers, vocalizes, and offers cathartic relief.

With there being strength in numbers and solace in solidarity, the country has taken a stance in support of the growing movement to lift the veil of secrecy and denial surrounding sexual abuse and sexual predators. #TimesUp, say African-American artists, such as actresses Kerry Washington and Viola Davis, film director Ava Duvernay, and mogul Oprah Winfrey. #MeToo, says activist Tarana Burke.

As silence now equates complicity, silence further cultivates a society ignorant of how sexual assault is so deeply woven into the fabric of America and the lives of women and children. In the wake of “Surviving R. Kelly”—a six-hour television documentary that aired on Lifetime earlier this month, revealing the accounts of several women who have accused the R&B singer of abuse, including keeping them secluded in a house and controlling them with fear and intimidation—women across the country and here in Birmingham have expressed how some of the victim’s stories brought back painful memories of their own traumatic pasts.

The impact is undeniable.

Social conversations continue to expose the need for social change to challenge the norms of yesteryear regarding child molestation, sexual assault, predatory behavior, and statutory rape. The Birmingham Times recently spoke with a group of survivors who have endured the trauma of sexual abuse and courageously stepped forward to share their stories as they navigate the road to recovery.

This is the first of two parts. The second part, which will be published on Thursday, February 7, will feature interviews with counselors and therapists about the impact of sexual abuse and assault on the individual and society.

At age 13, April Richardson fell victim to a respected member of her childhood church in Ensley. As a preteen, Richardson remembers being an outgoing, music-loving, aspiring emcee.

“I can identify with young girls wanting to be in the industry and attaching to somebody in the industry 100 percent because I was that person,” said Richardson, who often goes by the name “7even Rich.”

In the summer of 1997 Richardson was raped by “a fellow church member who was also a recording artist,” she said.

“He begged and begged my mother to work with me for a long time, saying he knew people he could hook me up with, he could get me in the studio, and things like that. … One day, [my mother] finally gave in.”

Her rapist, an up-and-coming gospel rapper at the time, who would be twice convicted for his crimes, had devised a plan to gain the trust of Richardson and her mother to lure Richardson into his care under the guise of getting her more exposure for her career.

“He picked me up with the intent of going to a gospel concert at a local church, but when we got there the concert was over,” Richardson said. “He said he had people at his home that he wanted to introduce me to and that we should go back there, … grill out, and meet some people.

“We went to his house, and that’s when things got weird.

“No one ever showed up, and he began to sexually assault me. First, he had me on the sofa, and then he dragged me to his bedroom. I felt his body weight pressing on mine. He felt like dead weight on top of me. He was this big, 6-foot-5, 200-pound man, and I was really small and thin. … I was a child.”

Richardson, now 35, said she fought with all her might for as long as she could.

“I felt like I failed myself because I’d always been a fighter from growing up in the hood and fighting all the time, and here I am in a situation where I can’t win,” she said. “I really felt helpless. After I saw I couldn’t fight him, I just kind of surrendered. … I laid there and cried.

“After it was over, he tried to get me to take a shower with him, I guess to wash away any evidence, but I wouldn’t. At this point, it was over. I guess he was trying to be nice so I wouldn’t do anything crazy in the moment. … I was like, ‘I’d just appreciate it if you would take me home.’ He said, ‘Listen, don’t tell anybody. This is only between me and you.’”

Once Richardson made it to safety, she told her brother, who was 16 at the time.

“He was in shock and angry,” she said. “He called our mom, [she was at work], and told her she needed to come home.”

Richardson’s mom called the police and took her daughter to the hospital: “The police came, and they did a rape kit.”

Nightmare

For Richardson, the nightmare did not end. The leadership of the church was notified, the members of the congregation found out, and yet her abuser was still welcomed at the church.

“When it happened, I was still going back to that church, and he was, too,” she said. “So, there would literally be times when my rapist was in the sanctuary with me. Because certain people knew what happened, they would try to come get me and warn me that he was there.

“I’m not saying that people have to shun people. I understand that it’s a house of God, but this is where I was around my rapist. He gets to come back with his wife and kids, and literally sit in front of me, laugh, and smirk at me as if it was a joke, like, ‘Ha ha. I got you, and I’m still here.’

“I will never forget the smirk. It’s the same smirk he had when he was on top of me raping me, wiping my tears away, asking why I was crying.”

Richardson’s church offered therapy and counseling sessions, but coming to the very place where she was around her rapist was not conducive to her healing. Asked if she felt coerced into silence, she said, “more like forgiveness. It wasn’t a big deal to [the church leaders].”

“I wouldn’t say [anyone] coerced me into silence, but [they] definitely tried to lead me to believe [the rapist] was empathetic, … trying to make me believe it wasn’t what it was, telling me things like, ‘He’s really sorry for what he did.”

The therapy sessions at her home church only made things worse, she said: “It’s like, if someone witnessed a loved one’s murder and then you take that person back to the murder scene for counseling. How’s that gonna help? “I was shy and withdrawn after that for sure. I didn’t really trust being around a lot of people or being open to meeting new people.”

Aftermath

The mental and emotional aftermath of sexual abuse can last a lifetime, said Richardson, adding that one of the things that helped her cope is knowing that she did not keep silent.

“I actually felt relieved because I just couldn’t see myself living like that and going through that self-torture,” she said. “Something in me just said, ‘I have to tell. I can’t keep quiet about it.’”

The trauma of sexual assault has had an effect on Richardson’s adult relationships.

“It definitely made me feel like sex wasn’t something I had to have,” she said. “I kind of felt like, ‘Eh, I’m good on that.’ I had boyfriends and stuff in school, so it wasn’t that I didn’t trust men, but I could really do without intimacy.”

Richardson said she began to heal when she testified against her rapist after he raped his 18-year-old daughter.

“[For] my offense he got only two years for rape one and sexual abuse,” she said. “Then he got out and reoffended; this time he raped his daughter. … That’s when they gave him 18 years with the possibility of parole in 2022. … I went to the trial. I had to testify.”

Testimony

“Testifying was empowering,” Richardson said. “By that point, I had done a lot of soul searching, and I was a little older. It felt good to look him in the eye and take my power back.”

Richardson said she felt vindicated after people had doubted her.

“When it happened, I wasn’t really believed,” she said. “[Testifying in court] was my moment. It was like, ‘See, I told you.’ That was the most freeing. Just to get an apology from some people who didn’t believe me the first time.”

Richardson said the trauma has given her a way of “digging deeper into my purpose and turning that experience into a positive.”

It also adds to her layers as an artist.

“I’ve put the details of what happened into my music, and some people have come and said, ‘Thanks for being real and honest.’ That helped me, too,” she said.

The song “Labor Pains,” on her 2009 mixtape compilation, touches on her experience and healing, which doesn’t come without prayer and purging feelings: “Deep prayer and actually writing down my feelings, [which come out in the music], was all very therapeutic at that time … and actually still is.”

Counseling

For years, Richardson did not seek help, but that has changed.

“It was fairly recent,” she said. “I didn’t seek professional counseling until my 30s. Praying is great, going to church is great, but sometimes there are things you just need to talk about to somebody who’s not in the church. The older I got, I realized that [seeking counseling] doesn’t make you crazy; it actually makes you sane because you know something is wrong.”

Asked how she feels about the #MeToo and #TimesUp movements, Richardson said, “I love it. At the same time, I feel sorry for a lot of the women that have come out because then people say, ‘Oh, they just want money.’ Still, I love the fact that women are feeling powerful enough to speak up and say #MeToo. I think it’s awesome.”

“Thriving”

Watching the recently aired Lifetime TV docuseries “Surviving R. Kelly,” Richardson said she empathized with the R&B singer’s alleged victims: “First, I just felt anger.”

“I know an ‘R. Kelly.’ This is somebody that was supposed to be guiding and mentoring you. … It made me angry to hear some of the things people were saying about the girls, victimizing them all over again,” calling them liars, saying they knew what they were getting themselves into and they should have left if they wanted to, she said.

As for Richardson, she continues to heal.

“I think my healing process is a journey,” she said. “Will I ever forget? No. I have forgiven him, though, and I told him that personally. One day [before he was re-incarcerated in 2004], he was in my neighborhood. His truck had broken down, and I passed by him. Then something said, ‘Turn around.’ So, I did. I pulled up and said, ‘Hey, I forgive you.’ He was surprised to see me. … He actually mentioned hearing my song on the radio and said, ‘I see you’re doing good with your music.’ … Then I drove off.”

Richardson said she’s doing more than just surviving.

“Survival is taking your power back and using it for the greater good,” she said. “I’m a survivor because I didn’t let that take over my life or end my life. … I’m thriving and surviving.”

This article originally appeared in The Birmingham Times

Business

Mayor Breed, Supervisor Mar Launch Grant to Support Storefronts Impacted by Vandalism

Up to $2,000 in financial relief available to repair storefront vandalism at neighborhood businesses

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SF Storefront Vandalism Grant Program Banner/Photo Courtesy of City of San Francisco Office of Economic and Workforce Development

Mayor London N. Breed and Supervisor Gordon Mar announced Wednesday the launch of the Storefront Vandalism Relief Grant program, which provides up to $2,000 in financial relief to restore and repair damages from vandalism at neighborhood storefronts. The program launches during a time when many small businesses are recovering from the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Opening and operating a successful small business in San Francisco was becoming increasingly difficult, and the pandemic has made it that much harder,” said Breed. “It has never been more critical for us to provide support to our small businesses in every way that we can, which not only means making it easier to open and operate a small business, but also providing relief when they face challenges. With the launch of the Storefront Vandalism Relief Grant, we are letting our small business community know that we have their back and will fight to ensure that they can continue operating for years to come.”

The Storefront Vandalism Relief Grant provides financial relief to restore small businesses impacted by deliberate actions that result in the destruction or damages of storefronts. This program will offer either $1,000 or $2,000, depending on the total cost incurred to repair physical damages. The $1 million program is designed to serve more than 500 small businesses with gross revenue of less than $8 million that can provide proof of damages from vandalism incurred since July 1, 2020.

The fund will directly support small businesses with financial relief in the aftermath of a crime to restore the harm done. The fund will also allow small businesses to make improvements that enhance security and prevent crime. This includes replacement locks, a new security gate, fixing an alarm system, adding new lighting, replacing windows, etchings on windows, and many others. Improvements are available on a first-come-first-serve basis, based on fund availability.

The Storefront Vandalism Relief Grant is one tool in preventing crime and improving safety in neighborhood commercial corridors. The Office of Economic and Workforce Development (OEWD) also funds programs to help small businesses and neighborhood organizations improve safety through ambassadors and activations to increase foot traffic and community patrols. The fund is not meant to replace the loss of stolen goods and does not include damage to shared spaces.

“During the pandemic, we’ve seen a surge in burglaries and vandalism in every neighborhood targeting small businesses already struggling with unprecedented economic challenges. As we work to prevent these crimes and strengthen safety on our commercial corridors, we must also respond immediately to provide relief to mom-and-pop businesses with direct and tangible support as they recover from these incidents,” said Mar. 

“Following requests from businesses in the Sunset, I worked with Mayor Breed and the Office of Economic and Workforce Development to create the Storefront Vandalism Relief Grant and secured an initial $1 million funding allocation,” said Mar. “The fund will provide financial relief to small businesses in the aftermath of a crime to restore the harm done, including direct costs of property damage or getting a replacement lock or new security measures.”

To apply, eligible businesses are asked to provide receipts, photos of damages and furnish a report from the San Francisco Police Department or from 311 in the case of graffiti. Applications can be found by visiting oewd.org/VandalismRelief.

“On February 26 at 4:00 a.m., a burglar managed to break into my small business without activating the alarm. An hour later an opportunistic looter came into my store and stole additional merchandise. Small businesses are already hurting hard from the pandemic and these crimes are a gut punch to small businesses,” said Michael Hsu, owner of Footprint on Taraval.  

“Since hearing about the Storefront Vandalism Relief Grant, I’ve put in my application to get up to $2,000 to help provide some relief to my business. We need more programs like this to support small businesses in our neighborhood that are struggling from being victims of burglary and vandalism. I’m thankful for our city leaders for initiating this program. Together with the community and leaders, we will get through these tough times.”

“Since the pandemic, I have heard so many stories from small businesses that have been burglarized or vandalized. As a small business owner, myself, I feel and understand their pain and loss,” said Albert Chow, president of People of the Parkside Sunset, a Taraval merchants and residents association. “The Storefront Vandalism Relief Grant is a safety net that is critical to ensuring that our small business owners are able to recover.”

Since the beginning of the pandemic, San Francisco has provided immediate and ongoing support for small businesses, including making available more than $52.8 million in grants and loans to support more than 3,000 small businesses, in addition to tens of millions of dollars in fee and tax deferrals, and assistance applying for state and federal funding. This includes legislation introduced and signed by Mayor Breed to waive $5 million in fees and taxes for entertainment and nightlife venues and small restaurants.

“As we reopen and rebuild, many of our small businesses continue to struggle to make ends meet. These challenges can feel almost insurmountable when small businesses also become victims of vandalism” said Kate Sofis, director of the Office of Economic and Workforce Development.  “San Francisco’s Storefront Vandalism Relief Grant will help alleviate the financial hardship caused by deliberate acts of damage to property. It is one of many tools the City has to support our business community and the vibrancy of our neighborhoods as we work together towards economic recovery.”

“The San Francisco Post’s coverage of local news in San Francisco County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.”

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Community

City Wins Case Against Local Real Estate Empire for Systemic Tenants’ Rights Violations

The September 1 decision represents a significant triumph for the city in a case brought several years ago against the owners of a prominent local real estate empire for systematically violating the rights of tenants at buildings their family companies own. 

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Barbara Parker

Alameda County Superior Court issued its final Statement of Decision and Permanent Injunction After Trial in People of the State of California and the City of Oakland v. Dodg Corporation, et al., a major win for the city in a case against a local real estate empire for systemic tenants’ rights violations.

The September 1 decision represents a significant triumph for the city in a case brought several years ago against the owners of a prominent local real estate empire for systematically violating the rights of tenants at buildings their family companies own. 

Not only must the defendants now comply with tenant protection and health and safety laws at all of their properties, but they owe the city and their former tenants significant redress, including financial penalties to the city and compensation to tenants, for their years of unlawful activity.

Said City Attorney Barbara Parker, “Victory in this case means that tenants in Oakland do not have to choose between their fundamental rights and having a roof over their head at any cost. No longer will businesses like Dodg Corporation be able to run roughshod over the people relying on them for shelter, and no longer will landlords feel the same impunity to outright ignore their legal obligations under our local laws.”

When the City Attorney’s Office brought the Dodg Corp. case in 2019, Oakland had long been facing an unprecedented housing crisis. By 2019, the housing crisis was disproportionately impacting low-income households, with nearly half of rental households in Oakland being rent-burdened (i.e., the household spends over 30% of its gross monthly income on rent).

Because of the skyrocketing rents, many low- and middle-income Oakland residents lived and still live under threat of displacement.

Prior to filing the case, the City Attorney’s Office had already worked with members of the City Council and the Mayor’s Office to pass various important laws focusing on protecting Oakland residents, particularly low- and middle-income residents. 

The City Attorney’s Office worked closely with the Council to adopt the Tenant Protection Ordinance (TPO) in 2014, which was amended in 2020 to strengthen the TPO’s protections. But for some abusive landlords, neither the 2014 TPO nor its recent amendments were enough to stop their illegal activities.

For years, the defendants in the Dodg Corp. case owned and operated approximately 60 residential rental properties in the City of Oakland (and owned at least 70 more properties in the city). The lawsuit addressed their flagrant disregard for the letter and spirit of the law with respect to six specific rental properties, where the defendants subjected Oakland residents to grave health and safety risks. 

The owners’ activities included renting units in substandard conditions — including units never intended or approved for residential use — to tenants who were predominantly low-income immigrants, among them tenants whose primary language is not English. 

This predatory business model allowed the owners to profit from renting uninhabitable or dilapidated units, including units that posed severe and imminent fire risks, to tenants who were desperate to find affordable housing and who often lacked the resources to take legal action to defend their rights. 

When tenants were displaced from their homes because their units were so unsafe, the owners further violated the law by neglecting to make relocation payments required by local law, according to a media release from the City Attorney’s Office. 

The case went to trial in early April of this year. In its September 1 decision, the court held that the defendant corporate entities and individual defendants Baljit Singh Mann and Surinder K. Mann exhibited a pattern and practice of violating the Tenant Protection Ordinance, and did so in bad faith, and that they created a public nuisance.

The verdict requires that defendants pay the City over $3.9 million in civil penalties for their egregious violations of tenants’ rights. Defendants must also provide long-overdue relocation payments to the dozens of tenants unlawfully displaced from the six properties at issue in this case. 

Going forward, defendants also may not operate any of their Oakland-owned residential properties in violation of local or state laws. This means the owners must promptly and competently address existing and future violations that jeopardize the well-being of their tenants.

The Oakland Post’s coverage of local news in Alameda County is supported by the Ethnic Media Sustainability Initiative, a program created by California Black Media and Ethnic Media Services to support community newspapers across California.

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African American News & Issues

Jobs, Mental Health, Gun Violence: Cal Leaders Discuss Helping Black Men and Boys

Services include criminal record expungement for some marijuana-related crimes; job training and placement help; mental health treatment; addiction services; housing placement and more.

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Young Black Boy Reading a Book, Stock Photo courtesy of California Black Media

The California Assembly’s Select Committee on the Status of Boys and Men of Color held a meeting last month that brought legislators face-to-face with community organizers to discuss investing in African American and other youth of color in a “post-pandemic California.”

Introducing the various panelists, committee chair Assemblymember Reggie Jones-Sawyer (D-Los Angeles), who is a member of the California Legislative Black Caucus, spoke about the bipartisan nature of the committee’s goals.

He said people from different backgrounds and political perspectives reach agreement when talking about the plight of youth of color because their conversations are based on hard numbers.

In California, per capita, Black men and boys are incarcerated more than any other group; are unhoused more than any other group; are affected by gun violence more than any other group; and in public schools, Black children’s standardized test scores fall only above children with disabilities.

“One of the things that brings both sides of the aisle together is data. What we would like to see is either internal audits or accountability measures to show that your numbers are not only successful but you’re keeping data over a period of time showing your success rate,” Jones-Sawyer said.

Committee vice-chair Assemblymember Tom Lackey (R-Palmdale), a Republican, agreed with this assertion.

“I am looking forward to the instruction that we’re going to get today,” Lackey said. “This is a part of our population that deserves the attention and a much stronger effort than has been displayed in the past.”

The first topic discussed during this meeting was gun violence, as panelists towed the line between cracking down on gun violence and preventing the over-policing of communities of color.

“How can we do this without returning to a punitive approach that grows the prisons, the jails and the criminalization of our community without achieving the public safety we so desire,” asked the Rev. Michael McBride who is known in the Bay Area as “Pastor Mike.” McBride is a social justice advocate and the national director for Urban Strategies/LIVE FREE Campaign with the Faith in Action Network.

The meeting was an opportunity for participants representing community-based organizations to share ideas with legislators with the hope of influencing their decision-making.

As of 2019, California had the seventh-lowest firearm mortality rate in the country. But with the state’s large population of almost 40 million people – the largest in the country — that still equated to 2,945 deaths that year.

“As everyone knows, there are probably too many guns in too many people’s hands who should never probably ever have guns,” Jones-Sawyer said.

Jones-Sawyer addressed the racial element of victims of gun violence in America.

“Many of those individuals were Latino and African American so it behooves us that post-pandemic, we need to figure out what we’re doing, what we need to do if we want to protect our boys and men of color,” Jones-Sawyer said.

He also offered up part of a solution.

“This year we need to infuse the California Violence Intervention and Prevention grant program (CalVIP) with a large sum. We did put in money for a large sum to fund the work that we so desperately need to get not only guns off the street but out of the hands of people who should not have them.”

The second topic on the agenda was post-pandemic mental health care.

Le Ondra Clark Harvey, chief executive officer of the California Council of Community Behavioral Health Agencies, spoke on the intersectional nature of mental health issues in communities of color.

“Historically, Black and Indigenous people of color (BIPOC) communities’ mental health and substance abuse disorder services have been impacted by several factors including access to treatment, cultural beliefs and stigma,” she said.

Largely, Clark Harvey said mental health treatment for BIPOC people has not been preventative.

“When BIPOC individuals do seek help, it tends to be at a time of crisis; at an emergency room, a psychiatric hospital or due to some type of interaction with law enforcement,” Harvey said.

She also spoke about the increase in opioid use, suicide and calls to crisis hotlines for boys and men of color.

Two of the programs in California mentioned during the meeting that are making headway on mental health problems facing Black men and boys are COVID-19 Black, an organization dedicated to lessening the effects the pandemic has had on the Black community, and Strong Family Home Visiting Program, a Los Angeles County-based program that provides in-home family support services.

Wraparound service approaches to care were also discussed as a way to shift “focus away from a traditional service-driven, problem-based approach to care and instead follows a strengths-based, needs-driven approach,” according to the California Department of Social Services.

The last topic of discussion was on career pathways and building generational wealth for communities of color.

Tara Lynn Gray, director of the California Office of the Small Business Advocate, highlighted that most of the disparities in communities of color can be traced to economics.

“Some of the challenges facing boys and men of color stem from economic challenges in their communities and lack of investment for years prior to this administration,” Gray said.

“The pandemic induced economic hardships that we’ve experienced have exacerbated those issues with many businesses closing their doors and roughly 40% of Black and Latinx businesses closed,” Gray continued.

Gray claimed that it is not all doom and gloom, however, as she mentioned what the state has done to assuage these disparities.

“The good news about the challenges we have seen is that our leadership, both in the administration and in the Legislature, have created access to programs, resources and financial assistance for small businesses to help with economic recovery and make an impact on some of the challenges facing boys and men of color,” Gray said.

Gray also spoke about investing in business opportunities for the formerly incarcerated.

Through the California Reinvestment Grant Program CalCRG, for example, the state has been directly funding community-based organizations across California to expand job and re-entry programs for Black and other men of color who were impacted by the “War on Drugs.”

Services include criminal record expungement for some marijuana-related crimes; job training and placement help; mental health treatment; addiction services; housing placement and more.

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