*TRIGGER WARNING* This story discusses issues of sexual and domestic violence against women.
At Common Roots Cafe in Uptown Minneapolis, bright beams of sunrise peered into the glass windows of a small conference room. Chatter amplified throughout the small space. As young professionals gathered for YNPN’s Breakfast of Champions, it was hard to identify the speaker from the participants.
Sarah Super, the speaker for the morning’s breakfast, blended in effortlessly. Dressed in a lavender button-down and a wide smile, she sat kitty-corner from the head of the table. Before the breakfast even began, Sarah was swapping stories with the women and femmes who filled the room.
Sarah Super is the founder of Break the Silence, a non-profit organization offering support to victims of domestic violence. And after hearing her story, it was clear that her thoughts and experiences around privilege and trauma shaped the beginnings of her own social movement.
“Why are all the teachers White?”:
the beginnings of understanding race and privilege
To start the breakfast, Sarah reflected on her childhood in an extremely culturally and racially homogeneous neighborhood in Saint Paul, Minnesota.
“I grew up in a Catholic, Irish neighborhood of Saint Paul. I grew up in a bubble of homogeneity and privilege,” she said. “I began to see the world for how it is—and not for how my neighborhood was—when I volunteered with a charter school in downtown Minneapolis. I was serving homeless and highly mobile kids in kindergarten and first grade, and really started to challenge many of my own concepts around privilege and race. I thought: ‘Why are all the teachers white, and all the kids Black?’”
These questions essentially became the building blocks for her undergraduate career. As Sarah began her time at the University of Minnesota, she declared a Sociology major and Social Justice minor, thinking that she would find the answers. In the end, it just helped her ask better questions.
After graduation, Sarah beamed as she reflected on her first job out of college, working under previous Breakfast of Champion speaker, Anita Patel, at the YWCA’s Racial Equity Program. Through that work, she was able to gain a better understanding of race and privilege. But it was her time as a yoga instructor that helped her open up another dimension of her work and pave the way for Break the Silence. She learned to understand the effects of trauma—including, eventually, her own.
Listening to our bodies — and each other
As Sarah spoke, the rising sunlight pushed further into the small room. She adjusted seating to block the light from shining directly into anyone’s eyes.
“On nights and weekends, I would teach yoga,” she said. “I was still having these conversations around race and privilege, and so I would pay attention to people’s bodies. I thought about who feels comfortable here? Who feels stress or trauma or feels unsafe? My college education didn’t equip me with an understanding of what I now can say is trauma, or even the intersection of how our bodies experience traumatic things.”
Sarah returned to the University of Minnesota for her Master’s degree in Liberal Studies, driven by her inquisitive thoughts on trauma. She worked full time at a child neural research center, and there she was able to define and identify trauma. She then went to Boston for the summer where studied at a trauma research center and became certified to teach trauma-sensitive yoga.
Later, in 2015, she experienced real trauma of her own.
“I had an ex-boyfriend, who I’d just broken up with. He was never violent in our relationship,” she told the room. “But when we broke up, things began to escalate. After a few weeks, he broke into my apartment, hid in my closet, waited till I fell asleep, woke me at knifepoint, and raped me and cut me.”
“I went to the hospital and began to think, ‘I didn’t know one other person who had been raped.’ And that level of silence made me feel so alone; but at the same time, that experience was so painful, that I felt I had to tell people.”
So Sarah began to tell her story to her closest girlfriends, her supervisor, her colleagues, family, and was overwhelmed by all the women who said, “me too.”
“By telling my story, that gave them permission to tell me theirs. It’s in part what fueled me to speak out.”
Breaking the silence
After telling her story, Sarah continued by sharing reflections on founding Break the Silence.
“I began to realize the silence around sexual violence. I also recognized the privilege of me telling my story. I was able to reach really ignorant people because of the experience of who I was and what happened—I wasn’t drinking, I was in my own home, all the signs that invalidated the myths that somehow justify sexual violence in our sick society. I have the privilege of being believed and I used that to bring people along and talk about, ‘Hey! This isn’t how this usually happens.’”
“I never wanted to be the voice for sexual violence. I wanted to create platforms for survivors.”
Break the Silence works by creating public memorials for survivors, hosting truth-telling events and an online photography project, and organizing protests in public spaces to give survivors more options to heal. It grew quickly, and soon the silence of that first traumatic night was replaced by the sounds of hundreds sharing their stories around sexual violence.
As she finished her story, Sarah laughed about perhaps talking too much, and asked to hear from the YNPN participants.
One participant raised her hand and asked how she could implement and foster a trauma-informed workplace. Sarah smiled and paused before diving into her answer.
“We have no neutral interactions with people,” she said “What we do will rebuild agency or trust, or trigger some trauma. Being trauma-informed should be common knowledge and includes offering choices in a trauma-informed way. The easiest way is to say, ‘Do you want to do this? If not we can do something else.’”
Another participant wanted Sarah’s thoughts on what it’s like to start an organization.
“I’m really just a girl with a Facebook page,” she responded. “That’s how Break the Silence started. But really, you should think about fiscal sponsorship and have someone else who manages your money.”
As the breakfast came to a close, many participants had the same final question: “What’s next for Sarah Super?”
“I’m writing a book, but I’m struggling a lot emotionally these days, as I approach the 3 year anniversary of my rape. My attacker is in prison, but I don’t know if I would want to be as visible when he comes out. Either way, I’m ready to always stand with survivors.”
Sunshine Bacus, Integrity Living Options
“I learned so much just from talking with Sarah, who is a rape survivor, and hearing her own experience. One thing I got out of it is that we need to be having these conversations with people because that is the only way we can move towards a better society.”
Jacqueline Brooks, Women’s Congress for Future Generations
“This was my first time attending the YNPN Breakfast and it was powerful. It was a reminder that there are actual real stories behind these nonprofits in the Twin Cities. I appreciated the honesty and vulnerability that Sarah came in with, which isn’t something you always get in the nonprofit sector.”
Amanda Pike, Epilepsy Foundation of Minnesota
“It was great to hear Sarah talk about the different platforms that are available for survivors, as well as learning about trauma-informed leadership and workspaces.”
Nichelle Brunner, Writer
J Olson, Photographer