When you google “ways to empower others”, you get an overwhelming number of lists that number anywhere from “6 Ways to Empower Others to Succeed” to “50 Little Things You Can Do to Empower Other People”. I think it’s hard to sum up “the way to empowerment” in a single list; it’s something that requires so much time, energy, emotion, and intangibles. And, as I see in my practice, it is so much harder to achieve empowerment when everything in your life that was supposed to protect you has come crashing down around you.
On my Community Pediatrics rotation, I spent a morning touring, learning about, and meeting staff at the Julian Center, a comprehensive organization serving victims of domestic violence. The Julian Center is the largest of its kind in Indiana and has been in operation since 1975. The organization has worked with tens of thousands of people by empowering survivors of domestic and sexual violence and creating a community where every individual is safe and respected. One of their major goals is providing an affirming environment to the people they care for through shelter, positive staff, and a reinforcing environment. As a medical resident spending only a morning at the Julian Center, it is hard to get the full experience of all the ways that they work to improve lives; even so, I immediately saw the impact that art has on the environment of the center in both subtle and obvious ways.
After arriving at the Julian Center, the first room we entered was the room where they teach art classes. Both clients and staff take classes across artistic mediums which incorporate healing into the creation process. Our guide explained how participating in art classes provided clients with feelings of strength and opportunity through expressions of their creativity. The room was dominated by a large abstract painting with a collage of smeared background colors with dominant, sharply drawn blue lionesses in the foreground. Definitely a powerful piece showing identity and strength amid chaos. Art was visible and impactful throughout the rest of our tour through imagery on wall paper and colors of rooms to quotations to sculpture. Purple hues on wall paper and flower arrangements imparted feelings of comfort and safety. The children’s room had adjacent quotations from Malcolm X and Dr. Seuss which inspire both strength and creativity when viewed together. A sculpture of dozens of handprints put together shows the support that human-to-human interaction can provide through the power of reaching out to others. The most powerful piece of art was incorporated into the sidewalk behind the building, not visible from Meridian Street. The beginning of the sidewalk starts with scattered black and white shards without order. Walking down the sidewalk, you see changes in the color and flow of images with messages:
I have the right to be treated with Respect
I am Empowered
Choose to Live… one day at a time
Breaking the Cycle
The end of this poem concludes with a picture of the shards coming together, now filled with color, reminiscent of stained glass.
While I have not experienced the amazing human interactions the same way that thousands of people in the need have at the Julian Center, I did get a sense for how much purposeful artistic imagery adds to the environment. Strength, Opportunity, Creativity, Comfort, Safety, Respect, Survival. All themes that staff have spent countless time displaying throughout the center that represent all the human interactions that go on inside to help victim achieve empowerment.