Meet Shawanna Vaughn, the Founder and Director of Silent Cry Inc., a nonprofit organization making a profound impact in New York and Michigan. Shawanna’s life, marked by personal struggles and triumphs, has fueled her passion for social justice, women’s health, and advocacy for children in foster care. In this exclusive interview, we delve into Shawanna’s remarkable journey — from overcoming incarceration and the loss of her brother to creating Silent Cry Inc. as a response to the silent cries she endured. Shawanna, a cancer survivor and former foster care child, has turned personal tragedies into powerful sources of healing and advocacy.
Discover the significance of the Shawanna W76337 bill, Shawanna’s campaign for mental health awareness in the incarcerated community, and her use of spoken word, civic engagement, visual arts, and literature to amplify her advocacy work. Join us in exploring how Shawanna’s experiences drive her mission, and learn about her future aspirations, including building an agricultural community program and collecting real community data to tell authentic narratives. If you’re inspired by Shawanna’s journey and want to support Silent Cry Inc., find details on how to donate or volunteer in the closing section.
What is the overall mission of Silent Cry Inc. and what has being the director of this amazing organization meant to you?
Shawanna: Silent Cry Inc. is a New York and Michigan based non-profit organization that takes a holistic approach to aftercare from mass incarceration, gun violence, and trauma. We understand that the quality of care is the single biggest factor for impacting and invoking changes. We support affected children and families during and after a challenging period. We use our skill sets and experiences to continuously tap into what is happening in the community. We understand the challenges people face in the process of self-development and when overcoming grief.
Being the founder of Silent Cry Inc has been a dream come true. The ability to work, create and share in the building of humanity is a gift from God.
What is the significance of the Shawanna W76337 bill, and how are you campaigning to enact it, especially in the context of mental health for the incarcerated?
Shawanna: Members of Congress are calling on the leading federal mental health research agency to study post-traumatic prison disorder, a condition potentially impacting millions of people who have been incarcerated. Democratic Reps. Ayanna Pressley and Grace F. Napolitano sent a letter to National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) director Joshua A. Gordon, requesting that the institute “research post-traumatic prison disorder and share findings related to prevention and treatment.“Carceral environments are inherently damaging to people’s mental health and can lead to long-term harms that persists even after release,” the lawmakers wrote. “The effects can range from anxiety to depression to suicidality. And when left untreated, individuals may develop unhealthy coping mechanisms, including substance use disorder. Much more research is needed.” I’m campaigning in New York State by hosting conversations around the issue and discussing it in communities to gain traction. As well as hosting national town hall meetings and virtual information sessions.
How have you turned your personal tragedies into sources of healing and advocacy, and what specific initiatives reflect this transformation?
Shawanna: I’ve turned my personal tragedies into healing by using the adversities in advocacy. I created healing through pain because my brother Albert Phillips was murdered. And, I hosted a gala for Daniel Jones to give scholarships to young people at Finney High School in Detroit. Prison fueled my passion for legislation and the desire to understand civics and how it impacts the Mass incarceration sector as well the disenfranchised.
In what ways do you utilize spoken word, civic engagement, visual arts, and literature to amplify your advocacy work for justice?
Shawanna: I use these tools of art and expression to create balance in spaces for individuals in trauma. For myself poetry is a healer and a way to tell your truth in art. My book Cries for Change is used as a tool of healing on a journey from prison to advocacy.
As a cancer survivor, how do you use your experience to address health disparities, particularly focusing on women of color in the medical field?
Shawanna: These health disparities are in large part a reflection of the inequalities experienced by Black women on a host of social and economic measures. In this paper, we examine the structural contributors to social and economic conditions that create the landscape for persistent health inequities among Black women. Being a cancer survivor, legally blind and suffering from Wolff Parkinson White heart disease is a lot to manage as a single mother with two children. I use these indifferences to speak on behalf of others and bring awareness to black families’ health issues.
Congratulations on such an impactful career thus far! What are some of your future aspirations as you continue your unique journey advocating for the disenfranchised, particularly in the realm of mental health for those incarcerated and formerly incarcerated?
Shawanna: My future aspirations are to build an agricultural community program that can be integrated with other organizations and provide holistic solutions for healing. And, venturing into data and collecting information from real communities to tell a real narrative.
What else would you like to share with our readers?
Shawanna: If you would like to support Silent Cry Inc with a donation or become a volunteer we would welcome your support. https://secure.etransfer.com/
The Post Traumatic Prison Disorder ShawannaW76337 Legislative breakfast and panel will take place at 10am in Room 211 at the Legislative Office Building, 198 State St, Albany, NY 12210 on January 22, 2024.
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