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Abuse survivor lights fuse on children’s recovery

SPARKLING: Having survived child sex abuse, Lansing's Tashmica Torok started the Firecracker Foundation to help other survivors. (Courtesy photo)

SPARKLING: Having survived child sex abuse, Lansing’s Tashmica Torok started the Firecracker Foundation to help other survivors. (Courtesy photo)

You think you know your friends.

I met Tashmica Torok about three years ago. In the span of an hour I was pretty sure I’d made a friend for life. She was a hilarious, smart, driven, together, roller derby-skating wife and mom of three boys. She was real. I was friend-smitten.

Our paths crossed more and more frequently in the subsequent months, and soon she was someone I interacted with practically every day.

You start to realize how much you admire someone when you notice how often you refer to them in conversations with other people. That’s been happening lately for me with Tashmica. I feel as though I want to tell everyone about her. This column seemed like an efficient way to introduce a whole lot of people to someone I admire. But this is more than me introducing you to my cool friend who I think you’d like.

For a while, I was blissfully unaware of a huge piece of Tashmica’s past. It made me realize how many of even our closest friends probably have experienced something that’s hidden from public view. It may have hurt them. It definitely shaped them.

One of the qualities I most admire about Tashmica is her effortless ability to connect with people. There’s no pretense. You want honest feedback? Tashmica will tell you what’s up. She’s also game to do things that scare her.

Gradually, Tashmica began telling her story, and I was stunned. She’s a survivor of sexual abuse at the hands of her own father. It makes me tear up just to type that. This powerful, passionate, funny woman had her childhood ripped away from her by someone who should have been her greatest protector.

But Tashmica has not let that define her or stop her. In fact, she’s turning it into a lifeline for others like her.

So earlier this year, she booked a venue and started inviting people to come hear her story of survival. She aptly called it her “brave night.” She stepped onto a stage in front of 100 people and started talking. Her mission? To shine a bright light on stories of other survivors. To extend a hand into the darkness and help pull other people like her into the light. To help them be brave too.

There are 39 million survivors of child sexual abuse in the U.S. today. There were more than 33,000 reports of confirmed child abuse in the state of Michigan in 2011. One in every 100 children living in our state is dealing with the devastating consequences of trauma.

Tashmica wants this to stop. She wants to help.

So this friend, this woman, this mother took another brave leap and started her own nonprofit. She created the Firecracker Foundation in an effort to help others like her. The foundation’s purpose is to help kids who have experienced sexual abuse heal. It aims to support them with access to therapy, give them emotional outlets through the arts and, in her words, reconnect their hearts to their bodies. She’s starting in our own #lovelansing community, but I know she imagines the reach to extend far beyond our region.

Already, she’s making a difference. In support of the Firecracker Foundation’s mission, she asked other people to be as brave as she’s been. Thirteen survivors of sexual trauma have stepped forward to share their stories – and their faces – in a calendar that will raise money for the therapeutic care of a child healing from the consequences of sexual abuse.

Watching Tashmica work on this has been a humbling experience. And it helps me understand why I talk about her so much lately.

So, please, meet my friend Tashmica. I think you’ll love and admire her too.

Robin Miner-Swartz is the vice president of communications for the Capital Region Community Foundation. She’s a #lovelansing cheerleader and bleeding-green Spartan who never met a cup of Biggby coffee and a spinach and feta omelet she didn’t like. The views and assertions of guest columnists do not necessarily reflect those of Bridge or The Center for Michigan.

2 comments from Bridge readers.Add mine!

  1. Mare Martell

    I do public speaking for the same reason. My father, a family “friend”, a new uncle, neighbors all had, pardon the pun, a hand in stealing my childhood. However, if raising my voice and telling my story can help one person heal from the trauma, then I didn’t let them keep what they stole. This story is inspiring to me to know that, although I’ve realized it over the years, I am not alone. Thank you for sharing this.

  2. Freedom

    You are not alone. My niece was a victim of a stolen childhood. I don’t understand why things like this is the world’s best kept secret. My ex-husband had sex with my niece. I did not find out until 20 years later. I can’t wait to provide the world with education and prevention re: situations like mine, especially the churches about incest and encouraging them not don’t be afraid to tell if you have been violated . My ex-husband still is a minister. I’m still a shame but waiting for the opportunity to help spread the word to beware of predators before you say “I DO” and the hidden sexual sins in the pulpit. God forgives the trauma last for a very long time. I am fighting for people like him to be registered as a sex offender.

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