6th Annual Joyful Revolution Gala: YES RISK JOY

Thursday, 9 May 2013
New York, NY

Last week, Joyful Heart staff, board members and supporters gathered to celebrate the Joyful Revolution at our 2013 annual gala. This year’s theme was YES RISK JOY. These words were borrowed from a poem by Louise Glück called snowdrops, and this theme echoed throughout Cipriani 42nd Street that night—from the beautiful installation at the entrance of the space that brought written word to life, to the moving story of our work, told by the evening’s host, Peter Hermann.

We were joined by members of our Board of Directors, the many individuals and corporations who made the evening—and our work—possible, and the many celebrities and public figures who shared their voices and generous spirits with us including: Mario Batali, Richard Belzer, Mary J. Blige, Andre Braugher, Will Chase, Glenn Close, Harry Connick Jr., Raul, Esparza, Joely Fisher, Dann Florek, Kelli Giddish, Megan Hilty, Julianne Hough, Chris Meloni, Debra Messing, Hugh Jackman, Jemima Kirke, Ingrid Michaelson, Mary-Louise Parker, Danny Pino, Samantha Ronson, George Stephanopolus, Uma Thurman, and Ali Wentworth.

Peter Hermann, the evening's host, stands in front of the Spirit of Stony Brook Marching Band. Photography by: Michael WebberThe program began as the Spirit of Stony Brook marching band called us to attention. As their horns blasted, guests found their way to their seats and Peter began the evening’s program, introducing Joyful Heart, our work and why we were gathered together. As you likely know, the mission of the Joyful Heart Foundation is to heal, educate and empower survivors of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse, and to shed light into the darkness that surrounds these issues. For years now, we’ve called our annual New York City gala our Joyful Revolution, and it’s made possible by a community that comes together to say NO MORE to these crimes, that believes in the experiences of survivors and more than that—in their courage, their wholeness, their perseverance, grit and determination. More than the theme of our gala, the words YES RISK JOY sum up the spirit of why and how Joyful Heart came to be and the journey that survivors are brave enough to persevere through. Something in them says YES, allows them the take the RISK of stepping out of a kind of darkness and urges them to lay claim, once again of perhaps for the first time, to JOY. After Peter kicked things off, he introduced Maile Zambuto, Chief Executive Officer. As Maile said of a survivor’s journey:

"YES is the beginning. JOY is the hard-won, precious prize at the end. And everything in between is RISK. The risk of feeling again, beginning again, letting go, entertaining the possibility of maybe attempting to trust again."

Mariska Hargitay, Joyful Heart’s Founder & President, then joined her on stage to introduce this year’s Heart of Gold Award recipient, Joyful Heart board member, Sukey Novogratz

I had started on SVU and I was getting all these letters from people who were disclosing to me, and then I learned the statistics, and I thought, ‘My God, I have to do something.’ And Joyful Heart was my answer. I just felt people needed a place to heal, a place that would connect them to that fighter within them that said, ‘I want to live.’“I feel like we’ve sort of been divinely guided since then, like the right people came at the right time to help us grow into who we are today. Among those people divinely orchestrated to cross our path is one person in particular, Sukey Novogratz.

Few people could embody the spirit of YES RISK JOY—and of Joyful Heart—more than Sukey. Through her incredible generosity, Sukey has made many of our signature programs possible. Because of her, we have not only been able to do what is necessary, but we’ve been able to ask what’s possible, to imagine, to broaden our vision and expand our horizon.

Sukey stands in front of the art installation featuring the words of our night—YES RISK JOY—inspired by her. Photography by Michael Webber

But it’s not just Sukey’s game-changing generosity we honored. It was also her incredible courage, her spirit, her joy and her light. At 17—a singer, dancer and all-around self-professed “musical geek”—Sukey went off to Harvard for a summer theater program before her first year of college. “I was marinated in song,” Sukey describes of her 17-year-old self. “There wasn’t a musical I couldn’t sing my way into.” One night after rehearsal and a game of quarters among acquaintances from her dorm, three 17-year-old boys brutally raped her, leaving her for dead next to the river. That night, everything changed. The music stopped.

I went from an eager and excited 17-year-old girl at the very beginning of her adult life to a shell of a human being smashed to bits and pieces. And it took me 28 years to build myself back up again.

But she has built herself back up. And it wasn’t easy. Sukey knows—all too well—what it means to say YES, RISK and search for JOY.

After many years being out on the look-out-post of my life searching for signs to connect the dots, I have come to see the beautiful constellation of living. And I am here to report that it is magnificent. Today I choose to see the magic that surrounds me…I live in grace, in poetry, in magic that is my song. And it’s all going to be more than ok.

As Sukey finished her remarks, she moved to a mic at center stage and began singing, a cappella, the first verses of “Be OK” by Ingrid Michaelson, only to be joined moments later by Ingrid herself, and then a chorus of the 500 joyful revolutionaries in attendance who sang along with her. For sharing her light—and her song—with Joyful Heart, we are ever grateful to and utterly in awe of Sukey. In fact, as Mariska said, “I don’t even know what to say. So I’m actually going to leave that to someone else…a very special someone else.” With that, the one and only Mary J. Blige took to the stage to celebrate Sukey with a song just for her. If we weren’t already speechless, we were by the time Mary was finished.

the applause died down, Mariska came back to the stage to introduce Lydia Fenet of Christie’s to lead the auction portion of the evening. Lydia got hands in the air and our jaws on the floor, raising more than $400,000 for incredible experiential packages, from a private island getaway to meals, golf and personal styling lessons with the stars. And all these incredible packages were donated so that the money raised can directly support our mission.

After the experiential auction, the programmatic auction began, during which guests could raise their paddles to support Joyful Heart’s programs in any amount. For our first lot, our Healing & Wellness work, we heard from Heather Gunn-Rivera, creator of the Sandy Hook Healing Project, about Joyful Heart’s response to the tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. Guided by her vision and light, Joyful Heart helped bring vital resources to Newtown in the wake of the shooting, helping to provide clinical and therapeutic services and logistical coordination of over 200 volunteers who donated more than 1,000 hours to serve over 300 teachers, parents, children and first responders. And that is but one corner of our Healing & Wellness work to help the frontline response to trauma. Our Heal the Healers serves an average of 128 organizations and communities and 2,500 individuals each year.

Next, Peter and Lydia then introduced the second programmatic lot: our Education & Awareness around NO MORE. NO MORE represents the first time the domestic violence and sexual assault movements have come together, unified under a common symbol and one goal: to end domestic violence and sexual assault. As part of this movement, Joyful Heart has produced a series of PSAs starring some of the most recognizable faces in entertainment to deliver the message of NO MORE silence, NO MORE excuses, NO MORE violence. And this fall, we’ll be bringing it everywhere—to your TV, to billboards, in magazines and online. The vast majority of this campaign—a $2.6 million effort—has been donated. As Peter said, “we know this campaign will be undeniable in its power and impossible to ignore.”

For the third lot, we welcomed Audrey Polk to the stage. A sister and a mother, she is also a survivor of rape. One night in 1997, Audrey awoke to a stranger raping her while children laid frozen in the bed next to her. She went through a rape kit exam and reported her rape to the police. She said, “I called the police over and over to find out who did this to me, and they had nothing to say. So I stopped calling.” Her rape kit would languish in Detroit’s backlog of 11,000 untested kits for 14 years, until her kit was finally tested and her rapist sent to prison for the next 30 to 50 years. This is the power of rape kit testing. And it’s the goal of our Policy & Advocacy team to get every single rape kit off police and crime lab shelves. As part of this, we are conducting critical research on how jurisdictions across the country notify victims of the status of their cases and their rape kits. We will use this research and release it to agencies around the country to end the backlog with reforms that are just, compassionate and survivor-centered.

And finally, we asked our community to dig just a little deeper, to help to actually test these rape kits by donating to the Detroit Crime Commission’s Rape Kit Backlog Initiative. Every dollar donated will be used to meet the $12.5 million need to get each and every rape kit off the shelves and into the labs. Testing works: already, as a result of testing only 400 of Detroit’s backlog of 11,000 kits, 30 potential serial rapists have been identified. If you would like to make your donation, click here.

At the end of the evening, we had raised over $2,000,000, the most we’ve ever raised at this event, or any event. It speaks volumes: it speak to the work I am so proud each and every day to be a part of, and it speaks to the immense generosity of our community—a community that recognizes just how high the stakes are.

We spoke at the gala about our response to the crimes of sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse, and to the need—one of the most pressing of our time—to change the way things are. Since our founding, we’ve responded to the survivors of these crimes, changing the idea of healing from more than surviving, but thriving and living a life full of joy. We’ve answered calls to prove that this approach to healing works. (It does.) We’ve responded to the frontline workers who find themselves to be profoundly affected by the suffering they bear witness to everyday. We helped shine a light on the rape kit backlog—a breach of justice so large that we still don’t know for sure how many hundreds of thousands of other survivors stopped calling their police departments.

Kafka said, "By believing passionately in something that still does not exist, we create it.” The Joyful Revolution is about creating a community that fundamentally changes the way we respond to these crimes so that someday, there isn’t a need for a response at all. You are that community.

Sukey said it in her speech: change is hard. But you embrace it. You join us at a place where YES flows into RISK and meets JOY. You do what is difficult in search of what is possible—a day when sexual assault, domestic violence and child abuse are NO MORE. And you invite—you challenge—others to join us to make it real.

Our dream is for this event to cease being called the Joyful Revolution someday. Because there won't be a need for one—for creating something that does not yet exist. Joy, respect, a society that has said NO MORE violence and abuse…it will be the way it is. And it will be joyful indeed.

Thank you for bringing us closer to that day.

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