It was junior year of high school and I was waiting near the parking lot for my aunt to pick me up. I must have missed her because I had been waiting much longer than usual. That’s when he rolled toward me on his bike and sparked a conversation.
It wasn’t weird or unfamiliar. I knew him. We went to school together and he was well-known by everyone that I knew. But, the conversation took an alarming turn when he eased off of his bike. He lowered his voice and his hands started tugging at my shirt and pants. I pushed him away and told him to stop, but after a few moments, we were on the concrete, tussling. When I finally got him off of me–or he just gave up–he hopped on his bike and wheeled away.
I was terrified.
I don’t remember being in tears, but I was in shock. I ran straight into the gym where the fellas were having basketball practice. I let them, and the school counselor, know what happened.
Immediately, they went on a hunt for him.
Honestly, I’m not sure if I ever fully processed that I was this close to being raped. And while I knew him from around, he was a stranger in that moment. His actions were unrecognizable.
My coping strategy? I created an audio piece about the incident when I was in college. Before that, I performed the spoken word poem aloud during an open mic session at a coffeehouse near my mom’s house in Michigan.
And now, as a journalist, I’m sharing it here.
The memories of that day hadn’t played in my head for quite some time. However, with the current controversy surrounding Nate Parker and his 1999 rape allegation resurfacing, I haven’t been able to shake that terrifying moment from my mind, especially after Parker spoke with EBONY about the issue of consent.
While folks debated about Parker on social media, I have been mute and almost numb to the entire situation. But Gabrielle Union just changed all that.
The actress, who co-stars in Parker’s film The Birth of A Nation, wrote an op-ed in the L.A. Times that explicitly stated, ” As important and ground-breaking as this film is, I cannot take these allegations lightly.”
Union was raped at gunpoint 24 years ago while at work, and in the film, her character is also raped.
Her choosing the role meant something deeper than just signing on to a “brilliant script” with a powerful character. For Union, the choice was made to “speak to the audience about what it feels like to be a survivor.”
She explained: “My compassion for victims of sexual violence is something that I cannot control. It spills out of me like an instinct rather than a choice. It pushes me to speak when I want to run away from the platform. When I am scared. Confused. Ashamed. I remember this part of myself and must reach out to anyone who will listen — other survivors, or even potential perpetrators.”
Her words, and the emotion that comes through in her essay, reminded me that high-profile individuals and celebrities are human. They hurt too.
Through spilling her truth and sharing her honest thoughts regarding Parker’s debacle Union has furthered the conversation on sexual assault, rape, and consent. She has placed her experience at the forefront, inviting us to engage in this discussion knowing that even through the pain and difficulties, you can come out a survivor.
The day I was violated outside of school could have taken an even more devastating turn; thankfully it didn’t. My heart goes out to those who have endured such pain. May peace find you.
Thank you for sharing your truth, Gabrielle. May it continue to inspire others to do the same.
Read Gabrielle Union’s entire essay, here.
LaToya “Toi” Cross is the Senior Editor/ Entertainment and Culture for EBONY, EBONY.com and JETMag.com. You can catch this laughing creative sharing work, art and capturing life via her iPhone 6 via her handle of @ToizStory on Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.
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