With chants, artwork and colored armbands, hundreds of community members gathered at the Greater Ithaca Activities Center for the 40th annual Take Back the Night to raise awareness of sexual violence.
Take Back the Night is a march, rally and vigil hosted by the Advocacy Center of Tompkins County, which provides domestic and sexual violence services. The event was a call for an end to intimate partner and sexual violence in the community and world. Its theme of “Light Out of Darkness” invited the survivors to take back their voices and move toward healing.
The gymnasium, where the rally was moved due to thunderstorms, was lined with handmade posters and an art installment made by sexual violence survivors in Tompkins County as a part of The Clothesline Project, which provides awareness and a space of healing. Attendees wore armbands — purple to identify as survivors and blue for allies.
The crowded space was charged with resilience and empathy as speakers and performances alternated throughout the night.
Representing the City of Ithaca, Leslyn McBean-Clairborne, the deputy director of GIAC and Tompkins County Legislator, started the night by sharing her own story of growing up in a culture of domestic violence, an act which she called a demonstration of “love.”
After her own reflections on her experiences, McBean-Clairborne asked the audience to do the same, to support survivors and to change the culture of silence and complacency.
“It’s time to get that light out of darkness,” she said.
The recounts were poignant as attendees shared their own experiences in solidarity. With reminders that documentation of any kind was prohibited to preserve confidentiality and anonymity, survivors took to the stage while the crowd listened silently.
“The speak out is the heart of Take Back the Night,” Naomi Barry, lead community educator at the Advocacy Center, told The Sun. She commended those who “have that bravery to come on stage … and share their story in front of a room full of people.”
“When you have a bunch of allies in the room, when you have this sense of safety in the room — that’s powerful,” she said.
Posters covering the walls and speakers gave constant reminders to survivors of their community’s unfaltering belief and support. These reminders of unity created a safe space and resource in a celebration of strength in solidarity, Barry said in her introduction to the crowd.
“I was touched by how intergenerational and inclusive of a space this was,” Emma Hewitt, the Take Back the Night intern, told The Sun. “Different groups come together … to make sure that there’s space in our community for survivors to speak out.”
After the event ended, the unity remained as the crowd lingered with long hugs, messages of support and invitations to join for a “chill night” hosted by Planned Parenthood of the Southern Fingerlakes.
The solidarity and warmth pervaded the event, which began with two small, but noisy marches — one from Cornell and one from Ithaca College — through the thunderstorms and towards the Activities Center where a rally and the vigil followed.
“How powerful is that?” Barry said. “We are going to march and bear witness regardless of the weather, and we’re going to be loud.”
For more resources on sexual assault and domestic violence, call the Advocacy Center of Tompkins County’s 24/7 hotline at (607) 277-5000.