Local women making their voices heard

#BREAKTHESILENCE event on June 8 to encourage community to discuss women’s rights

Voicing concerns: A poster for the #BREAKTHESILENCE event taking place at Lutheran Settlement House is displayed in Fishtown.

By Lindsey Nolen

Following the November presidential election, thousands took to the streets and to the internet to voice their support for women’s rights, and ultimately how these rights may be hindered by President-elect Donald Trump.

Six months later, the Lutheran Settlement House is providing yet another platform for these voices during its #BREAKTHESILENCE event, being held on Thursday, June 8 from 4 to 8 p.m.
Taking place at the Lutheran Settlement House, 1340 Frankford Ave., the event is designed to gather members of the community together to discuss women’s rights at large. Included in the topics will be gender, sexuality, consent and self-care.
Out-of-School-Time Program Coordinator at the Lutheran Settlement House Sam Merkt explained the idea for this event stemmed from the community-based organization’s Students Aiming for Excellence after-school program, “A Community Youth Movement.” Comprised of roughly 18 students who meet at the settlement house each day after school from 3 to 6 p.m., the group is constantly completing cycles of projects, such as an art gallery they held in February on healthy relationships, intended to better themselves and the community around them.
“We also held a group ‘family dinner’ around the time right after Trump was elected, and we asked the students what issues they cared about right now,” Merkt said. “We decided that women’s rights were particularly important at the time, especially because there are a lot of young women currently involved in our program.”
She continued that, after choosing women’s rights as the topic which the students wanted to learn more about and discuss next, the group broke the genre down into smaller individual sub-categories on which each day’s lesson plan, taking place from 3 to 6 p.m., would focus around. Ranging from dismantling rape culture and consent to Planned Parenthood, abortion and even slavery, these topics centered around general womanhood, its history and how it is being impacted by the political climate.
“A lot of high schools are currently eliminating things like sex education from their curriculum, so we feel that it is important that we’re able to talk about these topics in another space that is chosen and safe,” Merkt said. “These students choose to come together every day to explore these different topics, including many of which are thought of as taboo and aren’t readily discussed. It feels important to me that we allow the students to speak up about them.”
In attracting these high school students from all over Philly to the S.A.F.E. group, the Lutheran Settlement House, which was established in 1902, typically puts up flyers and reaches out to guidance counselors and social workers spanning the city. The goal has always been to employ these students to go on and have their voices heard without filters, and while providing them with the resources they need to develop their own voice and healthy relationships. To achieve this, the safe space is provided and instruction is given on both life skills and individual development.
Ultimately, the S.A.F.E. program came as a year-long version of the organization’s Summer STAR Leadership Academy, a learning program that teaches teens ages 14 to 18 about healthy relationships and develops leadership skills to prevent teen dating violence in communities. To intertwine a focus on women’s rights, each week two workshops are held on this topic specifically.
“After our last big event in February was a success, the students wanted to do one on women’s rights that was more workshop-based,” Merkt said. “That’s how we got the idea for the #BREAKTHESILENCE event, and we hope to get as many people out as we can, including other youth and adults who live in the area and who don’t know that this program even exists.”
The event will kick-off with a silent performance where members will stand along the outskirts of the Lutheran Settlement House property on Frankford Avenue with duct tape across their mouths for 30 minutes. Afterward, they will remove the duct tape, symbolizing the breaking their silence, and three spoken-word pieces will be given.
“One will be a story about a woman’s experience with sexual assault and how she overcame it,” Merkt said. “Another will be about overcoming a hard relationship and finding love in oneself, and the last student story will be about the death of her 2-month-old cousin and the experience she went through.”
Overall, Merkt stresses this is an event for the community-at-large, as it allows students to have their voices heard outside the bubble of school, and for society to listen to what they’re saying. Additionally, it will allow the community to see what the Lutheran Settlement House’s S.A.F.E. program is doing each day, while expressing student values and what the next generation of working adults expects to see of the world.
For more information or with additional questions in regard to the event, email Merkt at smerkt@lutheransettlementhouse.com.