Where My Voice Belongs
As I write this, I’ve been back only two days from a weekend-long empowerment conference for young girls in Los Angeles who are part of the CSEC community, (Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children.) I say “young girls,” because they are children: 13 – 18. And they are trying to leave what they call “the life” - the life of selling their bodies. This means that some of them began when they were only 10 years old, by force or coercion. We, adults, are there at this conference to help them connect with the emotions they’ve held in for so long for their own survival. We are also there to give them examples of another way – to empower them to leave the life and get on another path.
I am there specifically to provide the music workshop. I encourage them to sing through their pain: write lyrics, sing a song, make a sound. One girl who wrote lyrics about pain broke down in my arms about her past. I held space for her while she cried.
“Yes. Make the sound. Give it a voice.”
How did I get here?
I am somebody who has fallen victim to thinking that you need to have great wealth, millions of followers, or significant resources in order to make a difference in the world. I spent years being unhappy with where I was in life. The issue of human trafficking broke my heart and disturbed me to my deepest core; I had always wanted to help. But what could I do about it? I didn’t consider myself a powerful person because I couldn’t write a million dollar check to a charity.
It seems really foolish when you stop and think about it, but a lot of people paralyze themselves with this feeling: the feeling of inadequacy and insignificance.
As I began to work on accepting myself, I finally asked, “What can I give now? Who am I today?” At 22 my answer to myself was: “Well… I am a musician. I teach harmony. And I care about people.” So I called Saving Innocence and said: “Hi. My name is Angelique Calvillo and I am a musician. I was wondering if you have a community of girls that I could do music with for an afternoon.” They told me, “You should call Nola Brantley Speaks. They do that kind of stuff all the time; they take the girls painting, dancing, horseback riding...” So I called Nola Brantley and set up my first “empowerment event” which then led to many more.
What I do during my empowerment events is so simple: I give the girls a voice.
We sing a song collectively – usually something current that’s positive. Then I open up the floor to them. They rap. They sing. I invite them to tell part of their story if they want to. At first, they are so shy. Their voices, literally and metaphorically have been taken from them for so long. But I love seeing them warm up and let go. I love hearing their voices ring out!
Over the weekend, we all held hands and sang out these words (hear the live audio in the video below):
“I am an endangered species.
But I sing no victim song.
I am a woman. I am power.
I know where my voice belongs.”
I don’t mean to romanticize what I do. When I first started working with the girls, I dealt with all kinds of insecurities. I haven’t come from trauma or abuse. What did I have to offer them? How could I relate to them? Also, once they do open up, I prepare myself to experience the darkest potential of humanity. The horrible things that have happened to these girls can be traumatizing to hear about and I’ve had to work on myself a lot in the way that I process these stories.
This last conference taught me a lot. For the first time since I started this work, I really looked around and said to myself, “It’s a good thing that I am who I am; it’s a good thing that I’m different. I bring my piece and that is enough.”
I would still love to write a million dollar check to Dressember, or another nonprofit that advocates for freedom. But in the meantime, I don’t have to feel helpless or powerless to make a change in the lives of these young ladies. I have found a way into this community, and I am making a difference with my music. Among the parole officers, case managers, judges, and attorneys who are all in their lives – I have my place.
My question to any reader out there is: “Who are you today, in this moment? Do you bake cookies? Do you play guitar, or plan events? Can you wear a dress or bowtie for a month? Can you transfer your latte money to someone else’s campaign?” Better to give something small than to render it insignificant and consequently, do nothing.
You are more powerful than you know. Don’t be paralyzed by the fear of inadequacy. If you were to really take inventory of what you CAN do, what you DO have to give… you’d have your first clue of where to begin.
Wherever you are on your journey, I encourage you to love and accept yourself right where you are today. That’s when you’ll begin those first small steps towards making a great difference in the world.
About the Author
Angelique Calvillo is an artist and producer from Los Angeles, CA. She strives to use music as a platform to make the world a better place! When she is not producing music, she is often found watching Disney movies, blogging, or cooking. She is happy to be part of the Dressember movement!