Tashmica Torok is a nationally recognized survivor activist working to end child sexual abuse. She is a powerhouse fundraiser and movement maker who has raised thousands of dollars and countless volunteer hours in support of her work.
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David: Oh my goodness. So excited for today's conversation with Tashmica. Who are you?
Tashmica: My name is Tashmica Torok. I am the founding co-director of the Firecracker Foundation.
David: Mm-hmm. Who are you?
Tashmica: I am an adult survivor of child sexual abuse and incest who has been working for years to create the conditions that would've prevented the harm that I experienced as a kid in my own community.
David: Who are you?
Tashmica: I am the mother of three gender expansive children. I'm a wife. I am a sister. I am a friend. And I am an artist.
David: Who are you?
Tashmica: I'm a storyteller. I'm a little bit of a trickster. I do love mischief. And I'm also a gardener.
David: Who are you?
Tashmica: I am someone who loves to learn new things. My friends say that a quote of mine would be, I have a book for that.
Like, I always have a recommendation for a book or something that you should read or listen to or get into.
David: Who are you?
Tashmica: I am someone who has struggled her entire life with invisible disabilities and finding community around disability and someone who is incredibly resilient and. Fighty, that's a word that I sort of made up.
I'm a fighty person, a contrarian, a born hater, even though I practice restorative justice.
David: And finally, for now, who are you?
Tashmica: I am, let's see, who else? Oh, I love to cook. I'm a bit of a kitchen witch. If I can grow it in my garden, I'm gonna Google how to make something out of it. And so I am always just exploring. I'm an explorer, I'm an adventurer. I am curious,
David: my goodness, so many intersections, so many juicy things that we're gonna get into about how restorative justice plays a role in so many of those things.
But it's always good to start off with checking in. So to the fullest extent that you want to answer the question right now. How are you?
Tashmica: Let's see. How am I? I'm excited to be here. I'm excited to meet you, David. I am feeling good this morning. I I am medicated. I went for a walk. My hair was straight but then I went for a walk and it's rainy in Michigan.
And my, my hair went right, right back to its natural fit. And today was the day that we turned in my daughter's name change petition with the state. Mm-hmm. So that's pretty exciting. So it's been an all together, pretty exciting good day so far. How are you?
David: Oh, thank you. Not everybody always turns that around.
I am well asterisk, right? I think. Mm-hmm. Some, I think my friend Christine introduced me to that framework of like, you know, There are lots of things that are going well in my life personally and as the world around us continues to literally burn and figuratively mm-hmm. In so many of those other ways.
Admittedly as the parent of a one-year-old, I am on less sleep than I would like to be. But that is just the life of this stage of parenting. And so I am, I'm living with, with all of that. But like you said, medicated, I'm appropriately caffeinated and really excited to be here as well. I, I was feeling so it wasn't shame, not guilt.
It was like, Whatever is less than that of like, oh, I should be better. Especially when, you know, in my, like, research and looking into you and your work, one of the things that you've got on your LinkedIn is like militant self-care. And that's something that has been a struggle for me. Like, I don't know that balance ever truly exists in life where you're like spiritually, mentally, physically, emotionally, like tending to all of those things and you're at a hundred in all of those places.
Mm-hmm. But it's something that I aspire to in setting those boundaries for myself and asking what I need from my community to meet those needs for myself is something that I struggle with. I'm curious, you know, as somebody who is doing a lot of hard work that takes a toll physically, mentally, spiritually, emotionally what does militant self-care mean for you and help you stay at that level of wellness that you described this morning?
Afternoon where you are.
Tashmica: So I started using the term militant self-care a million years ago. I don't even remember when I first started using it, but what it means to me today is that it's a form of milit, a form of self-care for people who are in the trenches. Mm-hmm. I think. Doing the work that I do, it's not an optional thing.
And I know I don't love army language, right? Mm-hmm. Like militant. And at the same time, I really needed something that reflected the urgency and the responsiveness that I needed to practice when it came to caring for my body, for my mental health, for my, for my family and for all of those yucky self-care things that we don't really wanna do, but that we have to do.
And I, I mentioned in earlier that I am a contrarian and sometimes I'm just fighting myself. Like it's not other people getting in the way of my practicing self-care or self tending. It's my own nature, my own not wanting to feel the reverberations of whatever feelings. Have come up throughout the day and trying to disassociate and try, there's just so much going on all the time that for me it felt very critical that the language matched like the urgency with which I have to approach taking care of myself doing this work.
David: Yeah. What does it look like to have conversations with people in your life or maybe like those internal conversations with yourself about like, this is the boundary and this is the way that it's gonna be. Bye bye bye. Yeah.
Tashmica: You know, I had the worst year last year. My mental health was just not good and which is why it took me this long to respond to your email as an invitation.
And I just couldn't quite. I couldn't quite get both feet on sturdy ground. Like, it just felt like constantly I was just getting knocked over. And I ended up sending out a message, an auto email to everyone that was like, I will respond as I'll let you know as soon as my body lets me know, like what's gonna happen.
Mm-hmm. Because I don't actually know that this meeting that I sent two weeks ago how I'm gonna feel in two weeks. And that became a very real interruption in my life that I had to accept because you have to take care of your body and I have the gift of being able to set those boundaries. Right.
Yeah. And so the how is that you do it, like the how is that? You just have to do it? The difficult part, but also the part that I felt like was very informative is watching people respond to that. It taught me a lot about the people who could work at a pace that was humane. Mm-hmm. And the people who were like, yeah, yeah, yeah, that's great.
Can you send me this thing by five o'clock? Or, you know, pushing against boundaries. And it really determined who I continued to build relationship with, who I wanted to work with more consistently, because it was a strong indicator of who could actually hold those boundaries with love and push against boundaries when something was urgent, but really understood like what was urgent and what they could hold on their own.
Yeah. So complicated lifelong practice. But yeah, you just, you, you just gotta do it. Just gotta do it.
David: Yeah. You know, you, you said in there, you know, you're fortunate enough to be in the position where like you can take that space. How would you quantify being in that position? Right? Because that looks different for everybody, right?
And mm-hmm. I am in the same. I'm, I'm in a similar position where I think a lot of the expectations that I have for being responsive to people are expectations that like I'm putting on myself, not necessarily that other people mm-hmm. Like, are putting on me. And when I think about like the material conditions of my life, it's like, nah, bro, you can, you can chill.
Like it's okay, you can actually wait. But like, what is, what is it that like helps remind you that like, oh no, it's okay. Right. Like, like what are the things that you rely on or like remind yourself of that, like, it's okay to step back. It's okay to take the space for myself, you know? Yeah. I'm gonna go ahead.
Tashmica: No, I love multi-part questions. That's how my brain works too. I'm always like, I have one question in four parts. I, I think number one, I am held in community with people who deeply understand. That people's brains don't all work the same way. Mm-hmm. And we want to give space and make the work accessible for all survivors.
And so if we're going to do that for others, we're going to do it for ourselves too. And one of the things that I really believe is if I am in control of this space, in a world where I don't have control over a lot, most spaces that I have to encounter mm-hmm. Just as an adult living in the United States of America.
Yeah. Then the space that I create is going to be a liberatory space to the best of my, the best of my efforts and energy. Like if, if I'm creating spaces that are not accessible to me, then they're not gonna be accessible to other people either. And so that has felt really important. And. It's not easy.
I think sometimes, I was just talking to friends about this, that people will say, oh, well you're the boss, so you can do, like, you can just do whatever you want. And just like you said, no, I'm my worst enemy. I am a high achieving survivor of abuse who needs to prove that she is valuable. So even when I'm like taking a break, I'm, my mental is saying, no, you need to get up.
You need to ha like you have to keep pushing, you have to hustle. It actually takes more work for me to set my own self down than it does to tell other people to do it. Like that's easy. So like, oh yeah, I can create that culture for other people. And I did that before where I was like, no, no, no, no, I've got it.
Yeah. And I'm burning myself down and like watering everyone else. You know?
David: I mean, same, same, same. And you know, it leads to, for me at least, like, resentment in burnout, right? And like mm-hmm. We only have ourselves to blame, especially when we have like a supportive community around us. And I don't wanna like mm-hmm.
Stay here for the, the entirety of our conversation. But, you know, upfront when you had like that militant self-care right up there is like, I know that this is a conversation that I need, and I know lots of people listening are in positions where they're doing care work professionally and also in their personal lives, and so, mm-hmm.
Whoever you are, whoever's listening to this. Yeah. If you need to even turn off this podcast wherever you're doing, just to like take a moment for yourself. We're not going anywhere. There's a pause and un pause button. Exactly. Take that time.
Tashmica: Oh, thank you. Yeah. And I would say that no one can love you, like you can love yourself.
And that was something that I had to really think about. Like I was looking to lots of different things to meet needs that I hadn't even really fully identified because I didn't take the time to think about what is it that I need in order to continue to work at this pace. And, and not answering that question.
Meant that I was floundering in my care for myself. And so really sitting with like, how much can I work? And, and work means a lot of different things, right? Mm-hmm. So like, I can send a thousand million emails, but like, how can I sit in community with my people and be fully present and available to the best of my ability as someone who has lots of responsibilities?
And I think that that has really been a question at firecracker that has guided us through creating this culture. And it's a question that my co-director, Tara, lifted up in our retreat, our staff retreat in 2020 at the beginning of the pandemic, which is, what do I need to be? Well, mm-hmm. What do, and that question, I, I could ask myself that question three times a day because, you know, first of all, Honey, please eat breakfast.
Like I am one of those people that will like just run into my day and I have to be like, no, we are going to eat some breakfast. We are going to drink our coffee, we're gonna play a math or a memory game. Cuz that helps my brain like, come on. You know? And then throughout the day I'm like, Nope, I have to.
Like, I just, and it's always, I know I keep saying I have to eat, but like for me, that's a real struggle. I get hyper-focused and I'll forget to eat. And then I'm like, why am I so angry?
David: Yeah. You know, and like, you know, those things change like season to season, right? Depending on what's going on in life.
I'm reflecting on like I was a person who like didn't eat like that, but like, now that I have a kid, right? Like, oh, I, I'm feeding you. Well, we're eating basically the same thing. So like, I guess I'm eating too now. Yeah. Right. Yeah. And like, you know, those things show up at different times in different stages of life for folks and.
You know, whatever it is you need to do within the context of your community and with the resources that you have available. I, I love what you said about, you know, no one can love you the way that you can love you. You know, I often talk about as much as restorative justices about the way we are in relationship with other people, building, strengthening relationships we do in equity and trust, as well as doing that repair of harm when it happens.
The first relationship that we have is the one with ourselves. And if we're not tending to that we're not living these restorative ways of being very well. Which brings me to the question that, like we often start the podcast with is that, you know, you've been doing work that could be called restorative justice for a long time, but it was probably before you even had language for it.
So from your perspective, how did this journey get started for you?
Tashmica: I think my entry point to restorative justice was, The many, many years as a child who grew into a teenager, into an adult holding the question of like, what, what could have happened differently? How could my father, who as my perpetrator, have been held in community differently in order to prevent the harm that happened to me?
And I, that question for me really came up because I loved my father. Mm-hmm. I, I loved my father and I have to wrestle with that reconciliation of having a deep love for someone who caused me tremendous harm. And I think that restorative justice to. Has been a place where those two things can live.
Where I can be angry and resentful and furious and, you know, all of those things that I still am sometimes. And then on another round I can be gracious and thoughtful and curious about possibility and open to the fact that my father was a human being who had his own story and his own trauma. And then on the next one I can just be pissed about it.
And I think that's what has really kept me on the path, is that, on this path of like exploring restorative justice and practicing it consistently, because we're all full, like full people, right? We contain multitudes. I cause harm. I am harmed. Like these are all things that, that are within me, and I needed that space for myself, but I needed it also for my father, which then became space to help me understand other people who were causing harm and allowing me to be in space with people who have caused harm and hold that as a piece of humanity rather than pushing it away.
David: Yeah. You know, you shared on in previous conversations that your father passed when you were eight and it took away the possibility for that kind of reconciliation to happen, you know, and I imagine going, holding that tension of like the what if, the what if. As great as it's been for like helping you be expansive and imagine like what could be in like having this broad perspective, it also has to have this there's this duality where it's like you're never gonna get those answers.
And that is the case for so many people who experience violence of this kind or lots of other spaces. How do you encourage people who aren't gonna get those answers from the people who caused them harm to move forward in community? Hmm. And I guess it was a leading question by like throwing community on there.
Tashmica: Yeah, no, it's okay. I, you know, I had the gift of sitting down with a 17 year old last week. I This, this teenager made a poster board for Black History Month and it was all about me. And I was so humbled and like, honestly the best award I've gotten, period. Like it was so beautiful. And the reason why she said that she did it, she was so inspired by the story that I was willing and able to just go around the world telling my story about what had happened to me and how someday she would like to do the same thing.
And I, you know, I wanted to demystify for her that like, I'm a 42, almost 43 year old woman whose father passed away when I was. And whose family believed me right away, even if they didn't know what to do, they, they to my face, they believed me right away. And wrestled with everything else behind closed doors.
Right? My father had no impact on my life beyond that. And people just loved me. Even if, when they didn't have what they needed to help me, they just loved me. And I never want someone to feel like where I'm at now is like where they should be. Mm-hmm. You know? And I never want especially young people to look at me and be like, oh, this is healed because she Oh, she is.
You know, she's figured it out. She's asked these questions and you know, even though she's not gonna get the answers you know, she's still moving forward. And there is a piece of that for sure where I often think about. Even since I was little, I was like, how convenient that he got to die. I was like, I mean, wow.
What a way to get out of it. You know? Like, he has to do none of this work. Mm-hmm. All of this work has been on me. And also I think that our, I know that scientifically speaking, our brains, our default is to tell a story. Like we are always writing ourselves a story about what we're gonna do today, what we, you know, what we think about other people, what other people are thinking about us.
Like, these are things that we, we do. And so there's no way that I would've ever been able to live a life without questions because of how my story unfolded. And there was no way that I was ever going to be able to get all the answers that I want, because the answer that I want is, I want someone to be able to tell me why.
Mm-hmm. And like, yeah, we'd all like to know why my, you know, why my sister-in-law died of cancer. Why my dog got hit by a car, why my kid got in trouble at school. And the answer is too complex. Like I'm never g even if my dad were still, we're standing right here, which is with the survivors, that's often the case, right?
They're able to be in some kind of process, whether it's a court process or a safety where they're just trying to stay away from them, like whatever that is. And they're not getting answers that are satisfactory, right? Like there's, I don't know that there is an answer that isn't a million answers. Yeah.
And so I think coming to a place of acceptance around not knowing is probably what I would encourage people to start to embrace. And. That in, in the situation where someone is, that is not taking responsibility or is not available to take responsibility, you get to write that story. Like you're, you're the one who's determining how you're going to feel about those things and, and where you can see humanity and, and where you can't.
We're all human, like trying to figure it out. And so I think there are parts that I just have had to let go of. Like, I'm not gonna get that answer. It's not gonna come to me. And, and move forward with, with what I do understand and what I, what I think I know.
David: Yeah. I'm reflecting on a conversation that I was having with some young people.
I was introducing them to concepts of restorative justice and they brought up, what about sexual assault? Mm-hmm. And, you know, With, with this community of, of young people. You know, sexual assault happened to one person. Right. But that community's impacted and the person who caused harm in that situation is no longer a part of that school community, right?
Mm-hmm. And nobody got answers. Right? And there wasn't a response from an adult community that mm-hmm. Like, was adequate enough for for the students who were one, the student who was directly impacted, but like the other students who were impacted as well. And I don't think that there's a level of answer that would make people feel good, safe, justified, I think.
Mm-hmm. That's acceptance of non closure. Is inherently a part of some life in general, but like when we're thinking about restorative justice and like what people need when harm happens, like sometimes like we need understanding, we want answers, we want all these things. And like sometimes that's just not gonna happen.
What are the things that we can do to move forward in a good way anyway? Right? What are the things that we can do within the context of our community? And so, you know, the conversation that I encouraged them and, you know, the adults that were supporting them was like, all right, so what is it that we need to, you know, transform the conditions here to make you all feel like this is an environment, an environment where this kind of thing won't happen and it will be dealt with.
And you will be safe and you have the ability to share with people when things do happen. You'll be believed and all those kinds of things. And you know, that's the ongoing journey that, you know, a school community is on, which is a lot more complex than you know, just what individuals are going through.
But it's th this non closure piece, as much as we like to, like, Hey, restorative justice is when you like sit down with these two people, they share all the things. Mm-hmm. And like everybody's needs are met. We have agreements, we follow up on those agreements, and they all live happily ever after. Like Right.
Even in those, yeah. It's a expeditions, right? Sure. It doesn't, it doesn't always end up that way of Right. And that's, I'm hesitating to say, that's okay. That is what it is. We have to accept
Tashmica: it. It is what it is. Yeah. Yeah. And I think that's why I said you know, you get to write that story because the legacy that my father left for me is not my legacy.
Right. Like, although there are definitely consequences of his behavior, I. Am not an abusive person. Mm-hmm. Right. Like, I am someone who is raising our kids in a safe, liberatory, loving home. And that will be a part of my legacy. I will, I will always have had the, the experience that I did. I will always be someone who, yes.
Has really shaped her life around doing this work, which sometimes I'm like, really, this is really what you wanna do for the rest of your life. And at the same time, I feel this ur this sense of urgency around reshaping the kind of culture that allows children to be so harmed in so many different ways out of, out of love.
But then doesn't that also sort of reshape my father's legacy because I'm still his daughter? Yeah. And so in some ways I think that. Me doing the work to take care of me, to make sure that I am feeling good, that I am working towards healing, not just for myself, but for my family, and for my extended family and my community.
Reshapes that story, reshapes the outcome. And that's really the only thing that I truly had power over is move. What was going to happen next, what was going to happen moving forward. And even in, in restorative justice, we, we often talk about like maybe the circle isn't with a person who caused harm.
Maybe it's with a parent who didn't believe them. Mm-hmm. Or maybe it's with, you know, and people representing an institution that, that didn't follow up, right, that didn't do what they were supposed to do. And so there's so much work to be done. When sexual assault happens that I think sometimes we focus so hard on the person who caused the harm, which of course that makes sense.
We would want that person to, you know, acknowledge the harm, repair the harm, and go forth and do no more harm. Right? Like that's the, that's the thing. And so much hurt happens to the community in many, many different ways that I feel like sometimes that not knowing or not being able to have the person who caused harm be a part of the process is, I mean, not even sometimes.
I mean, I feel like that's very sad. And also there's so much room for repair and, and reshaping the conditions that sometimes that has to be the focus of the work because this other thing that we really want, like you said, is just not going to happen. And we can only. We can only do what we can do, we can only do what is accessible, what is consensual.
Yeah. What we have capacity to do. And sometimes that's just not on the list of things we can do.
David: Yeah. I mean, logistically, even within the context of firecracker, you know, we had a conversation off recording about like, you know, services that y'all offer and services that y'all don't because you know, what is the thing that we can do, right?
Mm-hmm. While attending to the needs of survivors is not going to necessarily heal a culture of misogyny and, mm-hmm. Patriarchy and, you know, domination of people with less power across all intersections. It is what we can do right now. And so not everyone who. Experience not all survivors should or are tasked with starting organizations, mm-hmm.
Making this their life's work too. I'm just gonna read the mission of Firecracker to like honor the bravery of children who have survived sexual trauma by building a community invested in the healing of their whole being. That is not every survivor's work. Why is it yours?
Tashmica: Oh, why is it mine? I, I think it's mine because I choose for it to be mine, number one, I guess.
David: Why did you choose for it to be yours?
Tashmica: Yeah. No, I'm like cuz I made this choice. I think because I have always had a deep appreciation and desire for justice. Mm-hmm. For. Knowing that people who were hurt were going to be cared for. And part of what started me on this journey, outside of just being really naive, having unrealistic expectations, was that I started going to therapy when I was in my thirties and I assumed that things were very different in the ways that child sexual abuse was approached.
Mm-hmm. And responded to. And when I started doing research about it, I found that it wasn't, and mostly my first response to that sort of unchanged environment was why are children and their families responsible for paying for therapy after experiencing this violence in community? Yeah. The community should be the one caring for these tiny humans that were hurt.
And it was just like, that was the thing for me. And I don't know why, honestly, it when it came down to finances, because it really does not come down to finances anymore for me. But I, what, there was something in my spirit that was just like, this is not fair. And maybe it was just an extension of how I, you know, I was going to therapy and I was pretty pissed that I was 30 years old going to therapy for something that happened to me when I was a kid and I was in all this pain and anguish.
So it may have even just been a reflection of, I hate that anyone has to go through this. And so if I can make it easier for children to start younger to, to, if we can intervene on their mental health earlier and support them and believe them earlier, then I really am reshaping the future. Because when we don't respond to child sexual abuse, and I don't mean like kick the door down, which first of all doesn't ever happen, but like, I don't mean like a police response.
I don't mean cps. PS I mean like when community does not respond appropriately by believing a child, caring for the child, making sure that a child or a teenager has access to the resources that they need, we know that there are long-term impacts that have an intense negative impact on the community, right?
Like we know that there's addictions, mental health concerns increase suicidality, and then you layer on top of that. All of the reasons why white supremacy is harming our children. Both our black and indigenous children, other children of color, children with disabilities children who are gender expansive.
All of that pressure on children who, you know, we're talking one in three girls and one, it's still like the same numbers we've all heard, but my kids even say to me, mom, it is way more than one in three. Like, they're, you know what I mean? So our kids are living an experience where they're disclosing to one another.
Mm-hmm. And their reflection is that it's way worse than what adults think. They understand about what's happening to kids in the world. And that feels untenable to me, not just for our future, but for our present. That there are children in the world right now who are harmed by society, harmed by their families.
And they don't have access to resources because we also live in a country that does not prioritize mental healthcare or any type of healing care. Let's be honest. I mean, we don't, like, not even the medical industrial complex, like the, none of it, we don't care about any of it if we have to pay for it. So I just don't like that, and I wanted it to be different.
So it's different for a few people in Lansing, Michigan.
David: Yeah. Well, I mean, you know, you speaking to the naivete, right? I think I heard you share that, you know, the first foray into this like, hey, I'm gonna raise $6,000 for therapy for, for some of these kids. Right. And the work has grown since then. Mm-hmm.
To include so much more. How would you define the work of Firecracker Foundation now?
Tashmica: So the Firecracker Foundation will celebrate 10 years in July, and we have been in a chrysalis stage with my co-directors and my colleagues and the board throughout the past three years or so. And we are coming out of it with the full acknowledgement that we are actually a healing justice practice site.
We are a space where children and families can receive direct services, but where our impact is actually more widespread, both nationally, statewide, and locally around teaching people lots of different healing justice practices as well as still maintaining a focus on child sexual abuse.
David: Yeah, speaking to the, we, there's this much problem and we can do this. I'm curious about the conversations that y'all had about, there's all this that needs to happen and this is what we can do. Like, how did you come to, these are the things that we're working on. And I think, you know, the, the, the layer onto that question is, you know, you've said co-directors a couple times within the context of this conversation, and I know firecracker is not structured as a typical non typical hierarchical, non-profit.
So I'm curious about, you know, the conversation in general, but like the decision making process that y'all made as you grew from like, I'm just gonna fundraise $6,000 to where you are now.
Tashmica: Well, we just, we just got a hungry, hungry Hippos board game, and we just put all the things in the middle and Whichev, whatever, got eight.
That's what we decided we were gonna do. Whoever could get to it fast, we created a relay race. No. In circle, I mean, we circle a lot at Firecracker. All of our meetings are shaped. We d we actually don't use the label of meeting. We have co-director circles. Mm-hmm. We have staff circle. And so we sit with one another and we practice listening and we practice being interconnected and sharing leadership and sharing decision making and.
Even if some of us, mostly me, have to be arm wrestled about what we cannot do in the circle, it becomes pretty apparent what we have capacity for. And so there's a lot of circling. There is a lot of long planning conversations where we have just really sat together and, and thought through, yes, and what are the pr, how is this practically gonna actually happen?
And one of my favorite questions that we often will ask is, yeah, great, but who's gonna do it? Because everyone has wonderful ideas about what can't like possibility. We are optimistic and we. Wanna help, right? Like, so there's never, never an end to the list of things we wish we could be doing. And also, we don't wanna die doing this work.
Like we don't want to hurt ourselves or hurt others in service of ending child sexual abuse. We don't wanna replicate harm. So that's ultimately, those are some of the ways that we make decisions. But I'm like, if you are my colleague and you are responding to my insomnia email at 3:00 AM out of fear or out of some misplaced sense of loyalty or just feeling like that's what we gotta do in this world.
No, please, please don't. Please do not. I, I do not want that for anyone at all. You know what I mean?
David: So, yeah, I mean, just on that last piece, it's like, What does that say about, like, back to our conversation about like militant self-care, like what are you modeling for people? Or at least be like sneaky enough to like schedule Sunday for 8:00
Tashmica: AM I know.
Listen, I told you I'm a contrarian, right? And I, so my, my fix to that is I've just told people I have insomnia. So I'm asking you to manage your notifications because there are some times where my work is gonna have to happen between one and 3:00 AM because I know that the next day I'm gonna be at 40% because I didn't sleep.
So I am begging you Yeah. To please. No. Well, and honestly, it really has come down to. And everyone on our team has a practice of doing this, of managing our notifications. It really is. That is a true thing that we all do, where I'm like, oh, you're out of the office. And Tara is really great about this.
But Carolyn too, Carolyn is my other co-director where they're like, okay, you're leaving, so make sure you set, you're out of office. Make sure you set, you're out of office on the project database. Who needs to know so no one contacts you? So we do manage our stream of communication very proactively because I, I am not the only one who gets insomnia on this team.
David: I, I think, like, you know, this is generally speaking to. The, the intense amount of care that people who are doing this type of work put in to, you know, what, for some people like, would define as like a job like this is, this is like a place where you draw a salary, but it's also right. Mm-hmm. Life work that you've defined as part of your life's work and like to give it as much, and you want to give it as much as you want to.
And, you know, circular conversations about, you know, having conversa, I'm curious, like you, you started to allude to it a little bit, but like, what are the conversations around like, what we will do and what we won't do as like our professional capacity, like within the context of my job description, right.
Because I know, like I remember on the Mission Control podcast that you were mentioning, right? You know, you're ex, you were. Too much, right within the context of the organization and like setting those boundaries for yourself meant like trusting other people with this work and trusting that other people would know their boundaries as well.
I'm somebody who is growing a small organization, right? Functionally the team is like salaried people is me and them. I work with like a bunch of collaborators. And so like, this is more of a personal question than maybe anything else, but, you know, what was the process of letting some of those things go?
Trusting people and trusting people to know their boundaries and still do the work in a good way.
Tashmica: It's an ongoing, it's an ongoing practice. And fully transparently, I have. First of all, I was raised by a mother who did everything. Mm-hmm. Right? Like, and then, and the only reason I even bring that up is because I just had a conversation with my brother about this, because I was frustrated about trying to teach something that I know and then people not being able to pick it up right away.
And he was like, he is also starting, he's starting a nonprofit in Houston because apparently he doesn't learn by listening to me. It's a athletic nonprofit for soccer coaching. And he was like, yeah, I asked people to do it. And then like, before they even get a chance to try, I'm like ripping it back from them because I don't even, like, I can't even watch them trying to do the thing that I want them to do.
And so I would say, number one learn how to teach what you do. Which is really hard for some of us who have these skills that have just been baked in because we have just been doing them for so long. We don't even think about how we, how we got to have the skill in the first place. Because when we first started, we were also floundering and like trying to figure it out.
But we've gotten so far, that's why they say that experts are not good teachers because we forget all of the steps that got us to the place where people are now trying to learn from you to get to that place. So patience, number one. Learning how to teach what you do and also learning how to let go and bite size pieces because truly I think one of the things that, you know, I, I feel like I hurt my own feelings by thinking that I could just give someone something.
And they were gonna be like, oh, she wrote a manual. Now I can do it exactly the way she did it. Like the point should never be that people do it exactly the way that I do it, first of all. Mm-hmm. And also, it takes time to pick up new skills. Like people have to practice them, they have to be in it to do it, and there's no way for people to catch up with you.
So like, letting that go to like, there are other people who have built the same skills that may be able to step into your shoes and do things because they've been doing it the same amount of time. But by and large, it's a really unrealistic expectation for someone who is new to the work or new to your organization or whatever to just jump in and be.
Yeah, I can take that off your plate. Yeah, yeah, no problem. I mean,
David: I think a lot about some, some of what you said and getting away from expert language, but like experienced person. One of the things like within the context of Amplify IJ that I've been wrestling with a lot is I'm trying to teach people about restorative justice, but nobody is going to go through, none of them are gonna go through the journey that it took me to get to where I am.
Right? No one is gonna go no one is gonna go work in an employment program where helping people find work, finding high levels of difficulty working with folks who had criminal records, like mm-hmm. No one's gonna. Start from there, then go to the Googles and figure out all the roots of the criminal legal system like sorry, mass incarceration and the war on drugs like it, right?
And this is like as a 23 year old, like baby professional. And then decide to go to grad school across the country, right? Spend that time in grad school to go. Talk your their way into internships with people at Cook County Jail, people at community-based legal centers, people at community community resource hubs, mm-hmm.
Beg your way into trainings sit at the feed of elders, right? Mm-hmm. Do data entry for elders in exchange for like, all of all of these things, just to be like in proximity to people who are doing the work and like absorbing as you go, right? Like, I can't quantify that in a document, right? I can't quantify that.
Mm-hmm. In a, in a, like a series of videos, right? It is about, mm-hmm. The relationship and the work like the accompaniment through the work as, as you're continuing to do it. But it's always helpful to be reminded of that. Like, you know, like, you know it in, you know it when you say it out loud but the reminder's always helpful.
Tashmica: Yeah. And these are brilliant people. Mm-hmm. Like the people that I work with, I have deep respect for and really enjoy working with them and really have, you know, in the past three years, we've really spent so much time building relationship and listening to one another and getting into. You know, spaces where we can share work.
Mm-hmm. So it's not even like, this is 100% on me, like, where I'm like trying to figure out how to be a person who has a team. Mm-hmm. A person who has a team that is committed because I can't catch up to them either, right. Like, I can't be them. Yeah. They have a unique set of skills that they have built over their time, whether baby professionals or wherever you fall on the spectrum, they have their own lived experience and professional expertise that I'm constantly learning from.
So it's just, it's hard. It's it's a, it's a challenging thing and I think it's also so supported to. A individual hierarchical leader that none of us have the, the encouraged like training and ability to just jump into shared leadership because no one taught us how to do that. Yeah. We were put in group projects, but like no one was manage, you know what I mean?
Like, everybody hates group projects. Well, I mean,
David: and I can tell you and I were both the people who were like, all right, you do this, you do this, and I'll do the rest of all of this. Right.
Tashmica: Exactly. I mean, I, I told my kids I, because I'm forgetting which one it was that was in a group project. Because my kids are unschooled, so they're not in school.
So I don't even remember what this was in reference to, but they were like, oh, I just hate working with other people. These people won't do whatever. And I was like, baby, get ready. Cuz life is a group project. Like they try to tell you in school. Mm-hmm. That it's just, oh, you do this group project. No baby.
The whole thing is a group project. So you conflict resolution, relationship building, time management, delegation, get it in, learn it cuz that's how, that's what it all is at the end of the day.
David: Yeah, yeah. 100%. How, like, I think like speaking to, you know, this restorative justice life, right? Mm-hmm. Outside of the context of firecracker maybe with family, maybe with other people you're in relationship with, how has restorative justice been a part of the way that you do your life?
Tashmica: So I feel like restorative justice. Is sort of a container for the way that I move in my life. And I, I say that because there's so much both as a parent and as a friend. That restorative justice has really supported the way that I even think about relating to the people that I, that I love and care for, and the way that I think about people who I do not like,
you know, like, and how I interact with them and what my how am I in right relationship with my values while doing all of these hard things? Because being a parent is not easy. Being partnered with someone is not easy. The work that I do is not easy. And so there are lots of sticky spots. And then on top of that, doing, you know, any type of local organizing.
So one of the things, it really is about those values. Like I feel like there's something about the circle process and, and thinking about your values so consistently that it helps you make those decisions that you need to make about how to move forward and also provides time. Like I often say that I feel like there's just not enough time in the way that our society has been constructed for us to make good decisions.
Mm-hmm. For us to dream, for us to change our mind, for us to grieve, for us to have joy and play. And so, One thing that restorative justice has also taught me is like, I have time to breathe and, and give more time to thinking through my responses. And I, I bring that up because as a parent, it's really quick to be, you know, it's really easy to be like, you're wrong, you're bad, you're grounded.
We don't ground anybody. But I'm just saying like, as an example, like these are things that it's easy as a parent to use power and control. It's easy as someone who is a, a professional who's a co-director to use power. Mm-hmm. Right? Like, these are places where I have influence and power at home and in my community.
And I think that a part of restorative justice for me has again been that touchstone and reminder that we're all humans having a human experience, including my kids. And how they're showing up in their lives and what they want and what they do. And the same for people who cause harm and who are annoying or who are using restorative justice in ways that I think is not okay.
It just has, yeah. It's given me space to be like, okay that cannot be my work. Right? Or this is the way that I'm gonna navigate the situation according to my values.
David: Yeah. You know, we've, we've talked around ideas of restorative justice, but we haven't, one, I'm curious when those ideas were formally introduced to you and like, how do you define it for yourself now?
Tashmica: So, I was originally. By becoming one of the inaugural cohort members of Just Beginnings Collaborative. And when within that collaborative we're all survivors of color working to end child sexual abuse. And three of them specifically did restorative justice practices in their work. Sonia Shaw Saja fa, bga, and, and strong Oak.
And so as a part of our convening, we did circle practice together. And some of that had to do with relationship building and sh sharing the practice. And some of it had to do with some internal conflict. So really just learning like, oh, what is this? What is this thing that we're doing in circle?
This is interesting. And then taking it home, right? Like learning about it and then deciding, okay, well I'm gonna go to a training, so I go to a restorative justice training. Which I didn't particularly enjoy. And I think the reason why I didn't enjoy it is because the person facilitating the training queued in on the fact that we do work around sexual violence and was trying to talk about it.
And it was, it was coming, it was not good. It was, it was just not. It was from a place where they didn't have a wealth of experience. And it was, it was rough. It was a rough, it was a rough moment. As a matter of fact, one of my colleagues was sitting across from me in the circle that, you know, as a part of our training and she was like, I thought your head was gonna explode.
And I was like, it was just Anyway, it doesn't matter. But it was rough. It was not a, it was not a great experience. But I still was like, no, this is, there's something here. And I think the reason why at that moment I was like, Ooh, there's something here, is because we had started doing work around title, title ix.
Mm-hmm. And because the schools are not doing the right thing most of the time when it comes to Title IX complaints, I, and many of those complaints are not something that law enforcement will follow up on. I was like, is this an intersection where restorative justice can live and support these youth in.
Getting the justice and accountability that they're seeking, holding process for people who are willing to take accountability. And it's all sort of like in this gray area with, of legality, right? Like where it's not gonna go to the court, so the police are leaving it alone, the school doesn't wanna deal with it Anyway, so that was kind of where I was mentally when I was starting to explore this.
And I thought a another reason was because at this age, things that are happening might not escalate to some of the acts of violence we see as these youth become older, right? As they get more independent and have access to wealth and can do more harm. So I was like, this might be a brilliant. Place to do that culture change work, to do the intervention in support of these kids.
So then we invited Suga to come and do a training at Firecracker. So we had a three day training with members of our, our community. And then we were like, wait, we're not ready to take on conflict. Like we, we need to do some internal work on ourselves, some relationship building. And we have a lot of there's a lot of restorative justice being done in the state of Michigan.
There are some really beautiful centers that are, you know, doing the work. We, you know, it's, it is in the community and also, In our local community. It's not necessarily, it's like in, it's in institution, I guess is what I'm trying to say. Like it's in the school, it's in the courts, it's, you know, it's behavior modification sometimes, right?
Like it's all these different things, but it's not in, it's not been integrated into the community in a way that feels like there's a shared understanding of what it is, how we're practicing it, when you know, when is it you, any of that. And so we were like, okay, we actually need our internal community to understand it and practice it.
And then we need other folks around our community. Who are not plugged into these institutions to also experience it and understand it before anyone is like, oh yeah, I just, you know, I just did a harm and now I would like a assert. Like, why would they ever ask for that? Mm-hmm. They don't know the alternative exists.
Yeah. So we're now in the phase where we're starting to move towards circle training more cir, circle keepers, and moving into providing more circles in the community because now we feel ready, but I think we overestimated. No, I, I will say we underestimated that restorative justice is not a model that you just put over something and then all your problems are solved.
Right. Like you mentioned it earlier, it sounds like a children's book. It is a deeply human process. It is a relational process and it's a process that takes time that many people cannot always afford. And so we had to, we, we are still thinking through many of the ways that this work can be sustainable because we know what we can do and what we can't and we cannot hold circles for the entirety of Lansing right now.
Sure. Or even, you know, even 12 people in Lansing that won. Mm-hmm. So, yeah. So I think that's sort of my formal introduction. And now we're, you know, just in the process of moving to that next logical step of growth.
David: Yeah. How would you define restorative justice to somebody who you would maybe be introducing the work?
Tashmica: You know, at Firecracker we really, this may be something that people don't necessarily agree with, but we actually don't try to describe it to people as much as we invite people to participate. Because of course I can, I can tell like restorative justice is, and you know, like there's like definitions for it all over the place, but we want our community to have an embodied experience with it, which is why we have our meetings or circles, which is why when I facilitate a group, it's a circle because we're so much more focused on how do we give give people an example of what it feels like before.
We try to tell them what restorative justice is and train them because there's already a, a thing in people's heads around like, oh, we're gonna address conflict. We're gonna do this. Like, no, no, no, no. We're just gonna build relationship restorative justice. To me at its, at its, you know, root is really about sitting down together, deeply listening, deeply, sharing and being able to hold complexity together and being changed both as an individual and as a collective in service of the work.
And so I think that would be like, if you were to ask for Tamika's definition, I think that would probably be the closest thing I would come to giving a definition.
David: Yeah. That was beautiful. That was perfect. It was what was meant to be shared as we, as we shared. That's right. Yeah. As you've been doing this work what's been an oh shit moment, either like a thing that you like did, was like, oh my gosh, I can't believe I did that.
I wish I did something different. Or it could be like, ah, shit, yeah, I did that and it was awesome. I think like, while you share like something that you said brought up some while, sorry, while you think about it, something that you said brought up an o shit moment for me and I think, you know, at the very beginning of Amplify RJ.
So like, I think like April of 2020, may of 2020 I did this training public facing about like restorative justice in response to sexual assault. And like you sharing the story of the person who was like wholly unqualified to be having that conversation, I was like, oh yeah, that was me. That was bad.
That was like, that actively caused harm to some people, right? Mm-hmm. Yeah. I'm laughing at it right now out of discomfort. And I think, like while I have very strong roots in restorative justice philosophy, practices, values, mm-hmm. Without, to offer a public facing training, without having a relationship with people who you're holding that space for is something that's really dangerous.
Right. Because Yeah, for a couple reasons. One, just like. They probably had a bad experience with restorative justice. Mm-hmm. And like mm-hmm. Yeah. That was not handled with care that it, the, the level of care that it should have been handled with. Two, just the things that that brought up were people, and even though like I know these frameworks, not doing that with partnership with somebody who knew the intersection of restorative justice and but we weren't doing child sexual abuse, but like sexual assault mm-hmm.
Work was a mistake. And, you know, lessons from that is know your limits, right. And collaborate mm-hmm. When you need to, or pass things off when like they're not for you mm-hmm. To do. Just your story sharing. Your experience being introduced to restorative justice in a way that wasn't trauma sensitive.
Informed responsive and resonated with like me. So I had to get that out there as my Oh, shit. What, what, what's there for you?
Tashmica: Oh my gosh. I definitely have had I remember one time I was invited to hold a circle and I shared like an anecdote that was definitely not, like the people in the room were not ready for that story.
Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. You know, like it was like way too far. And I think it really just scared people and shut them down. Mm-hmm. Right. Like, so I forgot to mention that one of the things that I've done in the, in, in the past few years was sit in circle within a prison with people who had caused either sexual violence or domestic violence or both.
And I think I, I, I think I remember feeling so much coming out of that space that it took me like a year to really integrate that whole experience. And I remember being in a circle with a bunch of people, and I mentioned that hearing people admit, like in this present setting, admit that they had caused harm.
Was like transformational for me. I guarantee you, for everybody in that circle, not, I can't guarantee everybody, but for many people they were not excited about that anecdote at all. And I felt later you know, later I was just like, that was, there is something about restraint in this work. Like knowing what when to, when to shut the fuck up, to be honest.
Like when you don't need to say a thing. Mm-hmm. That just because it was meaningful to you doesn't mean that it's gonna be meaningful or is necessary in a, in a different space. Yeah. And so that was definitely one of my oh shit moments. And I wonder if it was for you, like where like as literally as the words came out of my mouth, it was.
That is not a thing that I should have shared in this space. These people were not ready for that. I wish I could have been like, just pulled it back, like those silk scarves, pull it back and stuff it into my sleeve. But that was definitely an oh shit moment. Yeah. I think
David: go ahead. No, go ahead. I, as you're sharing that, I think a lot about how facilitation of this work is not like doing this healing work is not necessarily the time for you to do your own healing.
Right? Right. I'm not saying that healing can't happen for you while you're doing it, but being a facilitator, being a teacher in that moment, it's not about you. Right? Yeah. And like, just because like this is the story that's on your heart or the thing that's coming to mind doesn't mean that it's the thing that the space needs to hear.
Right. Know your audience. And I think. There. The only way to learn that is like experience, right? Yeah. And you know, sometimes like there's, especially when you're working with people who you don't have relationships with, like vulnerability, like that can be used as a tool for connection. And sometimes it can have like the exact opposite effect.
And so like, no hard and fast rules, but definitely things to consider as we continue doing this work.
Tashmica: Yeah, no, I I definitely That is so true and it's also incredibly humbling, right? And I think that that's such an important part of the circle to me is that. You know, I say, I say the wrong thing sometimes.
Like I'm not, like there's no perfect healer in a circle because the thing that you need to hear might come from this person who's not in the work, right? Yeah. Like that. That's to me is part of what is. So, it it's that level set of everyone in here has something to offer. Yeah. Everyone in here has a wisdom to offer.
Everyone here has a story to share. And some of us maybe shouldn't share the story that's on our mind, but, but like, this is, that is what we are like as human beings. And I think with the ways that institutions try to make things one size fit all, and it's like the messiness is the truth. Like that is actually what we are is humans.
With a complex experience trying to heal, trying to support others in their healing. And it's gonna be a little messy and imperfect. And I have recently been reading the Future Is Disabled and it's a beautiful book, but one of the things that I, that has been lifted up by the author is how disability community and how there's abled panic and like how people who are able-bodied are panicking all the time about things not going right and how disability community is used to things not going right.
So they're more patient. Mm-hmm. They take extra time. And this feels like one of those things, like restorative justice to me feels like that space where it's like nobody has to panic what comes into the space is supposed to be here. That was a lesson I needed to learn. Like I needed to learn that lesson and I am sorry that that lesson harmed other people or made them fearful.
But that circle taught me right? And, and now, like you said, now I know that was not, it's not the place where my healing needed to take center stage. So I appreciate also the lessons and humility that circle has, has given me even whether I wanted it or not.
David: Yeah. This questions is hard in a different way.
You get to sit in circle with four people living or dead. Who are they and what is the one question you ask? The circle?
Tashmica: Ooh. Hmm.
My immediate response is I would sit in circle with my ancestors and I don't know their names, so I would never be able to tell you who they are. But that's who it would be. It would be my ancestors. I think the question would be, who are you? Mm-hmm. Who are you? Because, you know, as as the descendant of enslaved people, I know that I, my survival is a miracle.
Like the fact that I exist, that I am, that I am here was an act of resistance that was survived. And I'm just so curious about what my, does my resilience match the resilience of my ancestors? Like, do we all have this humor? You know, like, did we all like, have we all. Been the way that, that I am with my siblings.
Like I it doesn't matter wherever we are, but if there's a song playing, we're singing it together, right? If there's a joke to be made, we will climb over each other to make the joke. We are a joyful people and I'm just so curious. And, you know, we go back to questions that will probably never be answered, but I think that if I had that opportunity, I'd wanna know and I'd wanna know if, you know, my ancestors were also kitchen witches.
Like healers. Like what did healing look like in my family before I got here, before colonization and violence stole us from our homelands like, Yeah, I'd be that, that's definitely who I'd wanna sit in circle with. So figure it out. David. If you could get that together for me, I'd really appreciate
Yeah, yeah. Let me go consult a couple. Yeah,
you didn't know that that was the benefit of this podcast. Time, time, travel, and and here they're no entering the chat now.
Tashmica: It's like the Ellen show. You just walk them out. Now all of a sudden I'm like, oh goodness.
David: If only, if only. But I think like, if only. I think you already have some of those answers for yourself, right?
You just articulated some of those things. You don't get to be in the fortunate, maybe unfortunate position of me like flipping that question back on you because you already did like a very good job of sharing that at the very beginning. So sneaky, sneaky on your part. We're coming towards the end of our conversation and there's two more questions.
Who's someone that I should have on this podcast and you have to help me get them on?
Tashmica: So I think you should definitely talk to Sujatha Sujatha bga. She and I will absolutely send an introduction. And then another person that I think you should talk to is Angel McKissick from the Metro Detroit Restorative Justice Network.
She is at the Detroit Justice Center and I will also send you an introduction to Angel.
David: Love it. So excited for those connections. And finally, how and where can people support you and your work in the ways that you want to be supported?
Tashmica: So people can find me online. I'm literally the only Tamika Toro that exists on this planet which is both a blessing and a curse.
David: Pull up your TED Talks from 10 years ago.
Tashmica: Exactly. Like there's just, you could find anything I've ever done. So just know that I am, it's probably me. And if it was a mistake that was made, it was definitely me. So I'm the only one with the name. But you can also go to the Firecracker Foundation website, which is just the firecracker foundation.org.
I also have a website, tamika toro.com. You can find me there. You can find me on TikTok. I'm all over the place doing all kinds of stuff. So in terms of support, obviously we're always looking for donations to sustain the work that we do. And also I think support looks lots of different ways. So even just interacting with our content following us on social media, we're on Instagram and Facebook as I am, as an individual.
So follow along, get to know us, join our community.
David: Beautiful. And so many of those things will be linked in the show notes or description if you're watching this on YouTube. Thank you Tamika so much for this conversation. Your stories, your wisdom, the laughs. I had a wonderful time. I know there's so much learning that happened for the listeners here.
So to everyone who's listening thank you. Rate, subscribe, all the things, and we'll be back with another conversation with someone living this restorative justice life next week. Until then, take.