There are many things that go into assisting someone who is the victim of a hate-motivated assault, but Lindsey Travis says the number one skill is the ability to listen. “We are here to help, here to listen, here to be an option for people to connect and have a space where they can talk openly about what they went through,” says Lindsey, the project co-ordinator at Sarnia Lambton Alliance Against Hate (SLAH) which is a program of the Sarnia Branch of the John Howard Society.
Lindsey, 36, attended a local committee that was looking into racism in the community and saw a posting for the position she currently holds. “My education and work experience had been in mental health,” Lindsey says, “So this just slid me over into more of a justice and social justice kind of avenue that I was already interested in. It was a nice shift for me in that we still provide emotional support to individuals.”
John Howard Society’s goal is to provide humane and dignified support to individuals who have had contact with the justice system. “When it comes to SLAH, the program specifically is to provide support and education with regard to hate-motivated acts for individuals of the community,” Lindsey says. SLAH supports young individuals, from elementary school-aged children, all the way up to and including seniors. “It is for somebody who has experienced a hate-motivated act or witnessed one including harassment, vandalism, assault, bullying – any mistreatment in general – based off aspects of their identity. Often the referrals we receive are from individuals who have experienced it directly and sometimes we are a support system to find out what is available here.”
It is paramount that victims are comfortable knowing they can tell their story without fear of judgment. “The key to success is developing a connection; building a rapport with people; sitting down and listening to what they want to share and really hearing them and validating and showing that you genuinely care about what they have been through and that it deserves to be recognized,” Lindsey says. The organization focuses on providing a solid base but emphasizes that its door is always open. “We want people to know anybody can show up and share as much as they want to. There is no pressure so it’s just a matter of what somebody wants to share and what kind of resources in the community they want to connect to. We are here to support them.”
There is no standard for how long a person stays in contact with SLAH. “It varies,” Lindsey says. “It could be a matter of weeks or one or two appointments. For other individuals it is months.”
Lindsey adds being able to offer relatable experiences from her past helps open the door to assisting others. “I am a black woman. When I share the things I have been through, people can say to me ‘I know that you get what I am talking about'. That kind of understanding and empathy go a long way in this kind of work.”