The Path Forward

December 12, 2017 | BY Maile M. Zambuto | FILED UNDER JHF BLOG >

I am deeply privileged to be a part of the movement to end violence against women and children; to follow in the light of the fierce women who started this movement before I was even born, particularly women of color; to stand with every survivor; and to stand beside the extraordinary women and men who dedicate themselves to working in service of supporting survivors. People like you. You are my teachers and my heroes, and I am overwhelmed with love and gratitude in this moment.

At the end of the year, I will be leaving my position as CEO of Joyful Heart. Leading this organization, in service of Mariska Hargitay’s bold vision, has been the greatest privilege and the most transformative experience of my life. We are at a moment of reckoning in our movement—and we are not going back. I am at peace in this moment with a deep knowing that the organization is in strong, expert, creative, and committed hands.

Maile M. ZambutoI’m also at peace knowing this is the right time for me to make this change. In January, I am going to take a breath for the first time in nearly 25 years. This change allows me to explore how I can best contribute in the most meaningful way in my home and birthplace of Hawai‘i and honor my family and history. It will allow me to focus more on feeding and supporting the people I love most in this world—my family. And it allows me to reflect, given where our movement is in this moment, on how I can recommit to this work and use my voice, passion, and unique gifts to be of service in even bolder ways.

As you know, this is my life’s work—my affirming, difficult, significant, complex, meaningful, and profound life’s work. My work has helped me make sense of what happened to me and has brought great meaning to my life. Through it, I found my true purpose: to be of service. Not to be used by others, but to choose to be of service.

Joyful Heart and this sacred, safe space we have created together gave me an opportunity to find my voice as a survivor and advocate in a way I never thought possible. I’ve healed and transformed my own trauma in ways I never dreamed possible. I have had the privilege of bearing witness to hundreds and hundreds of brave women and men who have trusted their experiences with me, and have had the honor of responding to them in the way they deserve.

To each of you, I am forever blessed by your trust. And to survivors everywhere whom I do this work in service of, I promise that wherever my journey takes me, whenever I speak out, I will carry on my commitment to always offer the response every survivor deserves:

I'm so sorry that happened to you.
I hear you.
I believe you.
It’s not your fault.
You are not alone.
And you matter deeply.

In this moment with people across the country insisting on accountability, justice, deeper examination, less judgment, and more compassion, the change we are witnessing makes me deeply proud. And hopeful.

I’ve said many times, anyone who has ever tried to bring about change knows you are ever watchful for signposts that tell you that you are traveling on—and creating—the right road. Today, I have a deep knowing in my heart and in my bones that we are not going back. I am at peace knowing we have reached a new milestone on the journey to end this violence forever. Never have I wanted something so badly. And never has it looked so clear.

It feels like our country has awakened from its very deep sleep. The conversation is getting louder, going deeper into greater complexity, and reaching new arenas from entertainment to politics to every industry and institution. Over the past several months we have witnessed unprecedented outrage. Survivors are standing up, speaking out, and firing back. And, there is newfound support for the women and men sharing their truth. Yes, there is still a long road ahead. There are still women and men who won’t or can’t share their experience. Not because they aren’t brave. Believe me, they are—but it’s not their time.

I could never have imagined in my wildest dreams that the collective voices of survivors would become so powerful, strong, and undeniable that the “Silence Breakers”—then and now—would be Time’s Person of the Year, and all eyes, ears, and hearts would turn toward these issues with unprecedented volume. I no longer question whether we can sustain the moment. I know we can. We will. It’s too important and we’ve worked too hard for too long to get here.

I came to my role as the CEO of Joyful Heart with passion, grit, determination, and hope. Hope and a deep desire for change. And what I found was an ocean of possibility. I never could have imagined what was possible for us to create, transform, change, and accomplish together. It has been my greatest honor and privilege to lead an organization that is a fierce agent for change.

I am committed to Mariska and Joyful Heart as much now as I was when we set out on this journey together, perhaps even more.

And to my dearest friend and partner, Mariska, thank you for the greatest opportunity of my life and I love you.

Together, with our Joyful Heart community, with your commitment, your outrage, and your support, the movement to end domestic and sexual violence will continue the pace of progress in transforming the way society thinks about, talks about, and responds to these issues.

Until we meet again—and we will—thank you for all we have accomplished together and all we will continue to accomplish as we walk the path of change and transformation.

With love, gratitude, and JOY,

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