So, I’m more than a little bit late with the #IAmJada campaign, and its inherent and disgustingly ignorant, backlash. Nonetheless, now that I am all caught up, I’d like to add some significant words of love, beauty, profound understanding, outstanding respect and gratitude to Jada and her truth.

There is so much that has yet to even be acknowledged in the tragic reality of what happened to Jada. From her being drugged, raped and then traumatically, involuntarily and illegally photographed naked, to the disrespectful and inhumane treatment of her violation by individual people and the mass media.

I’d like to stand in acknowledgement of the second round of violence committed against Jada’s name and dignity, by the media. It does not go without stating that the news continued to call Jada’s rape and assault “alleged”, despite the blatant existence of the evidentiary photograph.

It is clearly obvious that Jada was unconscious in the picture, and vividly unaware of her current physical state, nor of the fact of her being photographed. That alone is sexual assault and even child porn, depending on what state you’re in. So, the use of the term “alleged” in describing anything related to Jada’s case, is beyond disrespectful and conciliatory with the powerful and abundant rape culture in the United States.

News sources spoke of Jada’s choice to defend herself as if it were praiseworthy, particularly due to the shame and stigma that was attached to her story and her inherent bravery to speak out. There was no sense of understanding of her the necessity for her speak out, as means to survival, not bravery.

Jada On My Back

There was very little sense of outrage from the mass media. No sense of tragic remorse for the loss of innocence embattled upon this young woman. Or discussion on the depraved implications of less media attention on teen parties where children are being drugged and raped, and more attention to the fact that the rape survivor engaged in underage drinking.

It was very clear the media tried to shape Jada’s story to be praiseworthy for it’s brave and heartwarming nature. Hence, the persistence to call her attack an “alleged rape,” as opposed to calling it outright rape. Unfortunately, there is nothing heartwarming about this story because Jada’s sexual assault and rape are real, and the evidence is clear.

People jumped in to cheer on #IAmJada, as if she was a champion of rape survivors, instead of a child who was still seeking much deserved respect and justice. No one took time to really unpack what the world tried to do to Jada, for saying she wouldn’t allow the violence committed against her to define who she was as a person.

Then, there is the way individual people regarded and talked to Jada. The hate and privilege that flourished the inhumanity of the #JadaPose, as a result of her reclaim of her dignity, was downright disgusting, unrighteous and unGodly! It broke my heart and brought me to sobs.

How could the world, people, human freaking beings treat a child, a damn child, before anything else, in such an inhumane, grotesque and vile way?! And how could so many people just stand by and watch.  

In such, here’s an open letter from me, Shaquana Gardner, to you, the beautifully dynamic soul, Jada. May my solidarity with you and your powerfully strong spirit, be an addition to your support systems in getting through what it is you personally may be going through.

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February 18, 2015

Dear Jada,

I want to start off by saying that I pray, from the bottom of my soul, that God has been covering you with His blessed grace, mercy and love. I pray that in the months since the tragedy committed against you, you have continued to find strength, support and foundations of trust in those around you. I know we don’t know one another personally, but I want to say, I love you. I salute you. I admire you. And I am honored to be represented by the strength of a young woman as strong and powerful as yourself.

I know it may have very well not been your purpose in sharing the #IAmJada photo, to represent or advocate for violence against women. Though, perhaps, unconsciously it was. I also know that you did make it pretty clear that your purpose for this campaign, wasn’t for it to be a campaign at all. You were seeking to reclaim and redefine your name and dignity. You were seeking to demonstrate the love and respect of self that your parents instilled in you. You wanted justice for Jada! You did this for you and you only, in may ways.

In such, you are the greatest example of self-definition and self empowerment I have seen this year, yet. I am so in awe of your dignified strength and resilience, at what many might consider such a young, innocent and tender age. Thus, I am writing this letter to stand in solidarity with you. I consider you to be my sister in solidarity, as I share your anger, pain, hurt and dignity as a woman who has been attacked and violated. You reclaimed your strength in a moment, when most people would understandably fall completely apart.

When I was 14, I went to a guy’s house on a half day, during my second semester of freshman year in high school. He invited me on a tour of his apartment, leading me lastly into his bedroom, where he told me to sit down on his bed. He kissed me, without asking. I, too nervous to do anything else, let him. He started rubbing his hands all over my body. I, still too nervous to anything else, let his hands roam. All along, I knew I wanted him to stop. But, who was I to say no? I felt, in many ways, scared to stop it, on one hand and obligated to stay quiet, on the other.

It was when he went to put his hands in my pants, then panties, that I grabbed his hand. By then, I had convinced myself in my head that I would not be too scared to stop him from forcing himself on me. I’d read about this in Speak, and it wouldn’t be me. I promised myself that, what it seemed like was about to go down, would not go down. Not on my watch. That’s what I promised, at least.

As I pushed his hand away, his grip got stronger. I began asking him to stop, in the most afraid whisper. He ignored me and continued strengthening his grip on my pants. He finally made his way into my panties. He put his fingers in me. I cried out in pain. He then fought for I don’t know how long, to get my pants off. He eventually won. I lost. He began trying to force himself into me.

I began begging. I pleaded that I was a virgin. That’s when he got mad, and asked me, “I’m not good enough to be your first?” Too scared again, I said it wasn’t that, we just didn’t have a condom. That wasn’t good enough either. He won again. I lost again. I was so scared, I suppose, I wasn’t getting wet enough for him to get inside of me. So he went down on me. I was so afraid and hurt, I had no idea what was happening until he came back up.

When it was all over, he kissed me and told me he loved me. I never told anyone for two years. When I did, I pretended like he didn’t penetrate me, so as to minimize the likelihood of him stealing my “virginity”. When I did finally admit to friends that he penetrated me, I had to argue that I was still a “virgin” because it was by force. I also had to argue that it was in fact, rape, as back then, date rape was not as popularly recognized.

I didn’t tell my mother until I was 23 years old. I mostly used my poetry and spoken word performances to get through the pain, shame and regret I experienced through high school and college. For years after, I would see the man who raped me (as, he lived in my neighborhood) and he would follow me. He’d call out my name, screaming about how much he loved me. He tormented me and convinced himself it was love. He convinced himself that he never did anything to me. And I let him.

I know I just went way deep. But, I felt the need to. Social media was by far, not as accessible or influential as it is today. In such, I didn’t face nearly half of the pressure and violation you did, with the original photo of you and the follow up hate campaign against you. Yet, still you stand. And I stand with you.

When I was a freshman in college, during the first weekend of school, I was drugged and sexually assaulted in a bathroom of a upperclass men’s apartment. By God’s good grace, I had people who wouldn’t leave me, and who banged on the door until he let me out. Perhaps it was their persistent, with the combination of my monthly friend, perhaps not. But he didn’t penetrate me. I unfortunately, don’t know and suppose, will never know, what he did do to me. I still haven’t fully dealt with the backlash I received as result of that, either.

Many people didn’t believe it was true, despite the existence of more than three witnesses. People told me I probably had too much to drink, and just was embarrassed. People I’d known since high school, questioned my own truth of my assault. For the most part, no one in the freshman community who knew what happened, believed me. Outside of the support of the people who were there to witness it, I was alone. I was too afraid to tell my mom because she would make me leave school. I begged my sister, whose number I gave to the hospital, to keep quiet. I bottled it up.

To add insult to injury, I was forced to go to the hospital and in such, received a sanction from my university for underage drinking. Because the hospital wouldn’t take a drug test, there was no evidence of me being drugged. In such, I was put on probation for being drugged and sexually assaulted. And it was all my fault, because I was under 21 and decided to drink. As for everyone else that night, who was under 21 and drank alcohol, and didn’t get drugged or assaulted, well they were just lucky.

Jada, girl, I have even had people I once considered friends, help in the assistance of drugging me for the purpose of setting me up to be gang raped. And God got me through all of that, too. I have had more than a share of experiences with sexual assault, rape and peer influence and violence. And I never spoke up. I never fought back. I always took it lying down. Until, now. Until, you.

I added the shame, hurt and damage to the rest of my baggage, as if it was my duty. I wasn’t as clear and strong as you, in many ways. And, I also didn’t have the pressure of today’s 21st century on a young Black woman.

I wanted to share the 2,000+ words I just wrote to and about you, for one reason. I need you to know. To know you’re not alone. By far. To know you a trailblazer and an inspiration. To know that this really is just the beginning. To know that you are my admiration for who I pray to raise my daughter to be, one day.

As I once heard on Grey’s Anatomy, “That’s what changes the world. Good people raising their children, right.” You make me stronger. You make me wiser. You me better. And all you’ve done and should continue to do, is be the best you that you can be.

I won’t bore you anymore with my melodramatics, as you may never even see this letter. In any regard, I pray the love, energy and power in my words and solidarity with you and your truth, may reach you tenfold. I love you as if you were my own little sister. I am so proud of you and so inspired by you. Thank you, Jada! Truly.

Love always,

Shaquana

P.S. A note from the universe **you’re the future of self-definition and empowerment. Keep strong and stay loving. The rest will work itself out.**

**Originally Published: February 18, 2015

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