Every year, hundreds of young men in high school are impacted by the work of MyStrength facilitators across California. As these young men graduate and grow into the next phase of their lives, their experiences in MyStrength help them to develop into emotionally healthy, respectful, compassionate agents of change among their peers and in their communities.

The address below was given by Takeo Rivera – Artists, Scholar, and Assault Prevention & Intervention Specialist for the YWCA Silicon Valley Rape Crisis Center – to his 2011 graduating MyStrength Club members.

To Dylan, Eddie, Alex, Alex, Vincent, Brandon, Brandon, Brian, Juan, Luis, Victor, Alejandro, Semaj, and Michael: I want to thank you. Thank you for the deep conversations, the laughs, the willingness to be vulnerable, the inspiration. Today is for you, to celebrate you, for me to convey my gratitude for you always being there for each other, for me, and for this crazy world we live in.

As I’ve told you all before, my job as a rape crisis advocate is not an easy one. Every day, I work with victims of sexual assault and their loved ones. Rape is a crime that can destroy lives and torture souls, and 97-99% of perpetrators are men. It is easy to get depressed in this line of work, to give up, to get cynical. Believe me, I’ve had my moments; some days you’d see me maybe totally exhausted or with bags under my eyes. But every time I’ve had MyStrength with you all, you’ve always hardened my resolve, given me the courage to keep going. You all show me that not all men are like those perpetrators, that change is possible, and that high school students can be more righteous and true than many adults I know.

Our motto in MyStrength has been “My Strength is not for hurting,” but because of all of you, I now know what my strength is for. MyStrength is for honesty. MyStrength is for trust. MyStrength is for redefining who we are as men and as human beings. MyStrength is for envisioning a just society, an equitable society, where women are free from fear and oppression, and men are free from being the wielders of violence. MyStrength is for peace. MyStrength is for empathy. MyStrength is for the courage to shed tears, to tell our stories, to do what’s right so we can look ourselves in the mirror without shame. MyStrength is for leadership. MyStrength is for critical thought. MyStrength is for family.

You have been my family this past year; for some of you, two years. We’ve had some excellent times together. I remember riding up to Stanford for our field trip, with Dylan, Mario, Tai, Alex, Ruben, and Nick representing in a very big way that night (and eating In-N-Out afterwards). The incredible gender symposium we had that Sunday evening for the video, not to mention Tai, Alex, and Juan doing an amazing presentation to the students at Davis Intermediate afterward. Filming Alejandro, Brian, and Kaelum was a blast, too – I loved how many times Brian and Kaelum kept stopping themselves and restarting. The craziness that was Flag Day this year – and I wanna point out Oak Grove for being particularly excited to hang out with HerStrength afterwards. And then Walk-A-Mile in Her Shoes: Alejandro, Alex, Nick, and Ruben put on some amazing polka-dot heels to raise awareness in downtown San Jose, chanting our MyStrength

slogans and marching at the front of the procession, because you all were the face of what it means to be a male ally. You all made me so proud this year, and I hope you are just as proud of yourselves.

As you all know, this is my last year doing MyStrength, so just as you all are graduating from the program, so am I. When I think about leaving my job, MyStrength is the hardest part for me to let go of. Because of all of you and your incredible work, I will forever look back on MyStrength as a proud point of my career and of my life. And while I am leaving MyStrength and the YWCA, am not leaving this movement against violence that we all have worked so hard to help build. I will continue to devote myself towards the fight against oppression and inequality to the best of my abilities, and I hope – no, I know – that you all will do the same. It will not be easy, because fighting for justice rarely is. But it will be worth it, because fighting for justice always is. We probably will not see the end of rape, of sexism, of oppression, anytime in our lifetime; but our moral responsibility is to change what we can and to empower those around us to do the same, and it WILL matter, no matter how small that change is.

It has been a joy, an honor, to work with you fine young men. Thank you for letting me into your lives, and thank you for being such an integral part of mine. MyStrength is not for hurting.It is for you. Be you, and be the best you that you can be, because the world needs you. Now more than ever.

-Takeo Rivera