Photo Courtesy of Keyana Ri'chards
Photo Courtesy of Keyana Ri’chards

Author: Dr. Monica Y. Jackson, Ph.D. | May 2016

Keyana Ri’chards is a pillar of courage, strength and hope. The 30-year-old grew up in the Camerlitos Housing Projects of Long Beach, CA, where gangs, teen pregnancy and drugs were prevalent. Her overprotective mother did what she could to assure that Keyana would not become a statistic or product of the dangers that lurked outdoors. Instead of playing outside, Keyana watched other children ride their bikes and fight over trivial matters. Inside is where she found danger and various forms of abuse, including at the hand of an individual whom l refer to as Pastor Uncle. After reading this article, listen to the live interview that we conducted with Keyana in December 19, 2017. The link is available on The JOURNEY Talk Radio page.

One in 10 children will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old and 90% of sexually abused children know their abuser.

According to Darkness to Light (D2L) End Child Sexual Abuse (2016), child abuse is extremely prevalent. D2L reports that one in 10 children will be sexually abused before they turn 18 years old and 90% of sexually abused children know their abuser. The abuser looks and acts just like everyone else. Furthermore, there are 42 million child sexual abuse survivors. May Keyana’s story increase awareness, provide inspiration and hope, invoke change, spark boldness and give pause to the cause of protecting the children.

Tell our audience about your childhood in the hood.

People blame a life, living in the hood, on the outside environment, but for me that wasn’t an issue. My issue was in-house. I am a survivor of physical, verbal and sexual abuse. My battles were mostly in my mind, after the constant abuse of power at different stages in my life. As a child, I was told that I was worthless, called derogatory names and made to believe that I did not deserve love. I didn’t think anyone cared about me. I was physically abused frequently, often just for breathing the wrong way. There was no room for err. I grew up with three younger sisters, in a home where domestic violence and alcoholism were prevalent. I would intervene to help my mother, to stop her from being beaten by my stepdad. I also protected my three younger sisters. When I was 12 years old, my mother accused me of being involved with my stepdad and kicked me out of the house, without a place to go.

After I “left the hood” and chose a different path, it was too late, because the damage had been done. It was an uphill battle that I am still fighting today. Eventually, my aunt and uncle took me in. My uncle was also my pastor. He loved me. He took care of me. He gave me everything. I began having, what I thought was, a loving and normal relationship with him.

As I look back over it, there were three very early signs and red flags…Anyone who tries to isolate you from everyone can exploit and manipulate you, just to get what they want.

As a teenager, it was very difficult for me to judge the character and intention of my 40-plus-year-old Pastor Uncle. As I look back, there were red flags: (1) He took the time to ensure that I could trust him, more than anyone else in my life, (2) He listened and appeared to care, (3) He had me write letters to him that described my pain, (4) He wanted me to be completely vulnerable to him and only him and (5) I wasn’t allowed to tell anyone about our meetings or communications.

Anyone who tries to isolate you from everyone can exploit and manipulate you, just to get what they want. Our relationship eventually escalated to a sexual nature. Over the course of our relationship, I thought I would marry him and have children. Because he was also my pastor, I thought I was in the relationship that God destined for me. He was very careful. He took very good care of me and even paid for my apartment after I moved out of his home.

I looked at you as a woman trying to steal my man, not a child, not my niece and not worthy to be protected.

One day while I was at my apartment, my aunt visited and told me that the Lord said that I was going to become pregnant by her husband, Pastor Uncle. She knew all about the relationship. At some point I asked my aunt, “Why didn’t you protect and help me?” Her response was, “I looked at you as a woman trying to steal my man, not a child, not my niece and not worthy to be protected.”

How has the abuse impacted you as an adult?

The childhood abuse carried into adulthood and manifested through my relationships with men, friends and family. I lived recklessly and unhealthily. At some point, I knew I needed to change, but I didn’t know how. I knew I needed help, but everywhere I turned, I was re-victimized. I have a hard time trusting and relating to people. I am currently in counseling and have been for five years. It is helpful. Life is difficult, but I don’t want this to kill me. I want to survive. I have heart. I am a fighter. I am not going down easily. I am from the hood and momma didn’t teach me to run and hide “like a punk.”

Life is difficult, but I don’t want this to kill me. I want to survive. I have heart. I am a fighter.

Today, I am separated from the church and do not have any association. I’m in discovery mode, because the root of my belief has been damaged. I’m currently trying to discover who God is to me, searching for a new-found relationship with God and pulling away from the church to heal.

How did you escape the sexual abuse?

I have had a really good male friend since I was 19 years old (for 11 years now). One day, he asked me if I had a man. I began telling him about my more than 10-year relationship with Uncle Pastor. I was not ashamed, because it was all that I knew. My friend listened as I professed my love for Pastor Uncle, his love for me, the life we had and the life we were going to have. My friend then said, “That man is molesting you!” I was mad at him for suggesting this. I defended Pastor, Uncle our loving relationship and our future. I told my friend that Pastor Uncle takes care of me, pays for my apartment and loves me. However, at this point, the seed was planted. My mind started to change about the “loving” relationship. I attribute this change of mind to God. I never thought I could have been molested.

I wrote my own show, Elephant in the Room. It highlights the prevalence of premarital sex, sexually transmitted diseases, infidelity and parental neglect.

I became involved in entertainment, by accident. I was acting in church plays in Los Angeles. I had an interest in theater while I was growing up, but I was never allowed to pursue it. In one play, where I was an actress, the writer required me to come up with my own lines. That was awkward, but I rose to the occasion. As a result, I wrote my own show, Elephant in the Room. It highlights the prevalence of premarital sex, sexually transmitted diseases, infidelity and parental neglect. It personifies what I witnessed in the community. The show ran in Lynwood, Torrance and Hollywood.

To heal, I went to Starbucks and sat there for six hours and wrote my story into a script to be played out on stage. I have not had any formal training. I was deliberate. I was determined. After I wrote and edited my script, I produced eight showings of what’s known as Invisible Dani: No More Secrets. This play and film is my testimony. It touched many lives. Just when I thought I was alone, someone would come out and share their story of sexual abuse. Although it is a sad revelation, it is a beautiful one, because we can all come together for strength and encouragement.

Where are you now?

It has been seven years since escaping the abuse that I endured in the hands of  Pastor Uncle. There are times when I go to the grocery store and see him shopping in the isles. That is rough. Charges were never brought against Pastor Uncle and he freely lives his life. I am in a loving relationship with the friend who planted the seed that helped me acknowledge and escape the cycle of sexual abuse. It’s difficult being in a real relationship, because I have had to learn to be open about life and heal. He understands me and all of my baggage. It takes a certain kind of man to be with me because although we all have baggage, I have a lot of it. I have trigger moments, but he has my back. He carries what I carry. I never had a man to protect me and who doesn’t exploit me. He tells me, “I got you” and for once, it feels good.

I am keeping my movement going. In January, 2012, I founded SHINE Community Theatre Arts Company (Long Beach, CA), which offers free dance classes and performing arts training to children and adults. My purpose and passion are to be a successful screenwriter, director and producer in Hollywood and bring individuals I worked with along for the ride. I want to employ black men and women, and other minorities, who are normally overlooked in mainstream. I am currently working on a novel, writing for reality shows and composing an upcoming feature film. I have worked with well-known celebrities, including Vivica A. Fox.

The world is big enough and the opportunity is grand when a group of people unify with one purpose – to succeed.

If you could change anything in the industry, what would it be and why?

I wish I could change this “crabs in a barrel” thing between screenwriters, directors and producers. It’s disheartening, especially in the black community, that we can’t all, in some capacity, cheer, uplift and support one another. The world is big enough and the opportunity is grand when a group of people unify with one purpose – to succeed.

Sexual abuse is a disease that has yet to be taken seriously in the eyes of the law, in families or even the church

What advice would you give to people who have been or are being sexually abused and what do you have to say to the church?

Anyone who has dealt with any form of abuse should diligently seek healthy outlets – counseling with the right person, painting, writing. The first step in healing is to tell someone. In spite of the guilt or shame, you may feel, the healing process can only begin through transparency. Survivors must remember that it is not their fault. Sexual abuse is a disease that has yet to be taken seriously in the eyes of the law, in families or even the church. Speaking of the church, I had family (biological and church) all around me who knew what was going on and no one helped me. There’s this code of don’t say anything and mind your own business. When children are involved, parents, adults and the church must protect the children, because we don’t know how to protect ourselves.

The first step in healing is to tell someone. In spite of the guilt or shame, you may feel, the healing process can only begin through transparency.

Our Motto is learn, build, inspire, model, promote, love … life! What does this mean to you and how does it align with your life  and future?

Life may rip you apart before it builds you up. I am blessed to be alive, to be sane and to have a support system. I wouldn’t change what happened. My past allows me to influence others, save the next generation and make a difference.

—————

In my eblast and blog post on May 15, 2016, entitled, Why didn’t you protect and help me? I posed questions that I want to address. I added one more question that was not in the original blog.

What do you tell a young lady who was molested for 10 years by an uncle, who was also her pastor?

Growing up in the hood myself, my flesh says, “Let’s roll.” However, we know that revenge does not solve the problem or change the past. So, I say, “Vengeance is mine says the Lord, I will repay” (Romans 12:19). I say, “… overcome evil with good” (Romans 12:21). I say, just as you found the right counselor, find the right church. Sometimes we’re just passing through and in a church for a season. We have to remember that the same people in the streets are the same people in the church – good and evil. We have to learn how to travel this life’s journey, learning and discerning. Stay on path, walk in your purpose and passion. Know that God has you. “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose” (Romans 8:28). It’s a sad reality of what you endured. It’s your past, not your present or your future. It is allowing you to learn, build, inspire, model, promote, love … life, to the next generation and the next and the next and …

Like Israel Houghton, William Murphy and Yolanda Adams sang, It’s a new season, it’s a new day…This is your season for grace for favor. This is your season to reap what you are sowing … God has a purpose … You’ve got a seed in the ground, that He’s blessing no more stressing. Everything is working together for your good. And I don’t care what your circumstances say, it’s already getting better. Be encouraged and keep putting one foot in front of the other. This too shall pass.

What do you say to parishioners who know about the sin, but sit silently in the pews Sunday after Sunday without intervening?

It is said that the church is a hospital. That means that there’s sick people sitting in pews and it is a place where the sick can be healed and restored. The sick must be exposed and the church must be a place where people are healed; otherwise, the church loses purpose, value and strength. Let’s make the church known for healing and not stealing (innocence, funds, etc.). What good is a church building, speaking in tongues, being slain in the spirit, collecting tithes, going on mission trips and swaying, clapping and jumping to the the praise team/choir, when individuals in the congregation cannot joyfully participate and are victimized? We are all part of one body. When one part hurts or aches, the entire body should hurt and ache. Stop the Novocain, numbing agent, because your daughter, son, niece, nephew, sister, brother, granddaughter, grandson or friend could be a predator’s next victim. You may also be in the midst of a predator in the making and your actions may stop him or her in his or her tracks! Sitting silently and turning a blind eye signifies that you condone the acts.

What do you say to the pastor’s wife’s response to her niece’s question, “Why didn’t you protect and help me?

Fall on your knees and pray. Repent. Heal. Examine yourself and get to the root of your own hurt and soul that you would allow your husband to spend intimate time, designed only for married couples, with your niece, an innocent child and not intervene. Irradiate and Eradicate it! Don’t allow this to happen to anyone else. Make this your mission and purpose.

What do you say to those who say, that’s why I don’t go to church?

I don’t blame you! However, don’t let the bad outweigh the good. Remember that the same people in the streets are the same people in the church – good and evil. However, at some point in life, I believe we all will find ourselves at a crossroad and the only place to turn is a godly church. You have to find the right church for you and when it is no longer the right church for you, move on. Leave unwounded and no casualties. Bow out gracefully.

What do you tell Pastor Uncle?

Repent. Take responsibility for your actions. Heal. Your purpose should now be to expose sexual abusers and help end sexual abuse. Watch out, because the Lord punishes, sooner or later!

Keyana, thank you, thank you, thank you for your candor and openness. By His stripes you are healed (Isaiah 53:5). Readers, please share resources and encouragement by posting your comments to this story. Let’s not sit silently on this one. You never know the impact of your words.

Reference

Darkness to Light (2016). End Child Sexual Abuse. Retrieved from www.d21.org

RESOURCE

National Child Sexual Abuse Helpline (866) FOR-LIGHT

2 Responses

  1. Holly Sawyer, PhD

    Thank you for sharing! This is a worthy read and I hope it helps others towards getting help as well as healing.

  2. J Chambers

    Thank you using this story to minister to others. This world needs much prayer and healing, and it starts with some of our churches (the people leading and within them). May this testimony minister to those hurt with a similar story “and” minister to those who have chosen to be active and passive participants to have the courage to make a change.

    “For there is nothing hidden that will not be disclosed, and nothing concealed that will not be known or brought out into the open.” Luke 8:17 (NIV)

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