Kenisha Coy knows the difference the arts can make for trauma survivors.
Through her personal experiences with abuse as well as her work with survivors, she was inspired to lobby for an official day of recognition, which Massachusetts Gov. Charles Baker recently approved via a signed proclamation at the State House.
The first “Growth. Overcome. Empower Day” – or “G.O.E Day” will be celebrated across the Commonwealth on October 7, 2019, and Coy’s persistence also propelled G.O.E Day onto the National Day Calendar and Chase’s Calendar of Events.
“I didn’t want a marketing gimmick, but something that would connect those who had been victimized by abuse to unite with one another in collective healing,” says Coy, who is working toward a bachelor’s degree in expressive arts therapy in Lesley’s Center for the Adult Learner.
A survivor of child abuse, Coy has harnessed arts and education as a tool for empowerment throughout her career, which has included directing after-school programs and summer camps and her former role as chairwoman of the Fitchburg Cultural Council. When she discovered Lesley’s Expressive Arts Therapy program, she knew she had found a home.
“The courses have made me more confident in my decision to use the arts to help others who have been hurt by abuse trauma find their own voice,” Coy reflects. “The professors here are really invested, they are so intelligent and inspiring, and boy, do they make you work! It’s by no means an easy educational path, but I’ve had a lot of great support.”
Professor Nancy Jo Cardillo says she was immediately impressed by Coy’s energy, honesty and ability to forge connections.
“She used class assignments and her artistic journal as opportunities to advance victimization as a global issue while exploring her own relationship to the arts as healing agents,” says Dr. Cardillo. “In particular, I recall her presentation on the power of psychodrama and dance/movement therapy to unearth lived sensations and the traumatic body-memory. In my mind, it’s no accident that Kenisha is out there making a difference.”
Connecting and supporting survivors
Coy’s effort to create G.O.E Day is the latest step in her commitment to preventing child abuse and creating sexual assault awareness.
“‘Growing and overcoming’ doesn’t mean you ignore what has happened,” says Coy. “The intention for this day is to connect survivors with services and with other survivors who have had similar trauma to move toward one’s healthier self, which is where the empowerment comes in.”
In 2015, Coy founded My CARE (Community Arts, Research and Education) Initiative. As its executive director, she has organized a variety of exhibitions and events focused on awareness, healing and empowerment. An upcoming collaboration with Walgreens in October 2019 will showcase artwork around this theme while providing donated toiletries for domestic violence programs and police departments with domestic violence specialists.
“Art is an excellent way of aiding in one’s healing journey, and because there are so many different approaches, it gives the survivor a chance to thrive – not to merely exist, but to come alive within themselves,” says Coy.
Coy has witnessed the devastating effects of child abuse, sexual assault, domestic violence and intimate-partner violence on individuals, families and communities.
“I found in my work with domestic violence participants that many had child abuse in their background, or witnessed other types of abuse,” says Coy. “Often, it’s generational and it will continue unless it’s addressed.”
She believes that G.O.E Day will shine a light on different types of abuse and the interconnectivity of pain and trauma.
“I do think it’s important to grieve, be angry and identify the emotions and the voices of victims,” says Coy. “We can’t stop in the pain, but we must be active in our wellness journey. Identifying what that means is an important first step that many aren’t aware of.
“I want to let people know they aren’t alone and that wellness can be achieved.”