Take Back the Mic pic

Take Back the Mic, a chance for sexual assault survivors to share their art, is happening at the Junior League of Bakersfield on April 18. Last year, Marissa Magdalena performed a spoken word piece while wearing an outfit with razor blades on it.

Take Back the Mic is all about giving a platform to and lifting up the voices of sexual assault survivors to empower them and help fight back against rape culture and sexual violence.

The event, which will be held on April 18 at the Junior League, is one of a handful of events hosted by the Alliance Against Family Violence and Sexual Assault in honor of Sexual Assault Awareness Month.

"Having one night set aside for people, knowing it's safe and they can talk about their story — it's a game changer," said Cindy Lyday, external affairs manager at the Alliance and the Bakersfield Homeless Center.

Artists of all kinds will share their work at Take Back the Mic, now in its second year. The deadline for submissions has technically passed, but Lyday still encouraged anyone interested in sharing their work to reach out.

Topics artists might touch on include rape culture, consent, gender, sexuality and sexual violence, as well as their own personal experiences.

Though Lyday didn't know for sure which artists would be there this year, last year's event included survivors singing and doing spoken word, as well as visual artists displaying their work. One stand-out performer last year was Marissa Magdalena, who did a spoken word piece while wearing an outfit made of razor blades.

Last year's event was the first for Take Back the Mic, held then at the Art & Spirituality Center in Mercy Hospital downtown.

"It was really nice," Lyday said. "It was kind of jam-packed. It was an evening of different artists, and we thought, 'Let's not reinvent the wheel; let's just do it again.'"

Along with fellow survivors, many in attendance were there to support the artists involved. There was one group of guests that Lyday was especially pleased to see.

"A lot of older women were there," Lyday said. She recalled them saying, "'We can finally talk about this. It was something that was so taboo in our day.'"

Many people found comfort in being able to speak freely about their experiences last year, Lyday said.

"It was hard getting people out of the building," she said. "People wanted to hang around. It was a chance to talk, and talk about that specific subject. They weren't running anybody away because they were all there to talk about that."

At next week's event, there will be refreshments served. It will be emceed by Blaine Hodges, the local man who stepped in to save a woman from a man wielding a machete at a Starbucks back in September.

Guests will also be able to get information on the Alliance and its services, as well as take down the number for its 24/7 crisis hotline, 661-327-1091.

The Alliance kicked off Sexual Assault Awareness Month on April 2 with Wear Teal Day, teal being the color of sexual assault awareness and prevention. April 24 is Denim Day, which refers to a 1999 ruling in Italy that overturned a rape conviction because the victim was wearing tight jeans and, the Italian Supreme Court said, must have helped remove them, implying her consent. Women have worn jeans in solidarity for Denim Day since then.

The month will wrap up on April 26, with the eighth annual Power of the Purse, a fundraiser benefiting the Alliance. The event will take place at the Gardens at Monji, with special guest Elizabeth Smart telling her story of reclaiming her life following her abduction and how she works to empower other survivors.

"She has really been able to take her own tragedy and take it to the national level to advocate on other people's behalves," Lyday said of Smart.

The fundraiser, which is the Alliance's biggest event, also includes the chance to shop for high-end purses, like Gucci, Prada, Michael Kors and Coach bags, as well as jewelry. Tickets are $150 and tend to sell out, so anyone hoping to go should buy them soon.

Lyday said "absolutely everyone" who is interested in either event is welcome to attend. She is hopeful that coming out can help ease the shame and drop the stigma survivors might unfortunately feel.

People should come to "normalize speaking about sexual assault and rape culture and open up the lines of communication," Lyday said. "All this stuff we're afraid to talk about because of the stigma — we want to erase that."

Kelly Ardis can be reached at 661-395-7660. Follow her on Twitter at @TBCKellyArdis.

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