The Empowering Way This Rape Survivor Took Back Her Life

Human Interest

It can be extremely difficult to rebound after a traumatic experience, and Tyde-Courtney Edwards knows more than a thing or two about that struggle. Tyde-Courtney's life changed drastically when, in 2012, she was sexually assaulted near her Baltimore, Maryland apartment.

She was beaten, robbed, spit, and urinated on during the horrific crime---one she detailed for Shape readers last year---and the incident couldn't have happened at a worst time. When the rape happened, Tyde-Courtney, a professional dancer, was prepping for a big audition, a new beginning in a new apartment, and the completion of studies to earn a degree in pedagogy. The incident derailed her plans, crippled her confidence, and ushered her into a life eclipsed in fear and shame. To add to the trauma, Tyde-Courtney found out she was pregnant and went through an abortion alone.

"A lot of things that we don't learn as trauma victims, following any type of physical attack is how to go about reclaiming the vibe again," she told xoNecole in an exclusive interview. "When you are with hospitals or when you have done all your pre-approved sessions with your counselor, you're kind of just left in this odd limbo. And nobody gives you any information about where you could go after that."

"It's very much like a treat 'em and street 'em situation. 'Well, we did what we were supposed to do. You came to your 12 sessions. I gave you all of your pills.'"

Tyde-Courtney, whose attacker was never brought to justice, found herself in a place of depression and self-destruction not knowing how exactly to move forward. "It was just…there wasn't anywhere for me to go and I was devastated. I was fucking myself up. I was just creating these situations where I would allow myself to fall into trouble or to get into more pain and to be as self-destructive as I could," she recalls.

"I just got tired of feeling sorry. I just got tired of being scared. I was tired of whining to people about how I was feeling or whining to people about not being able to convey your feelings, because that's another thing that we deal with. When we have been traumatized, there's all of these feelings, all of these emotions we have that we cannot vocalize."

Tyde-Courtney made a life-changing, brave choice to take her healing into her own hands and turn to what had brought her joy for so many years. She also decided to be the change she wanted to see, to fill a void that she felt other black women could also be struggling with but could find no recourse. From her trauma and her healing, Ballet After Dark was born.

Baltimore Sun

"The program was going, mainly out of necessity. I was struggling trying to find somewhere for me to heal various aspects of myself. And there wasn't a space---a safe space---for women of color to be able to work through their trauma without us feeling marginalized or judged or looked down on in any type of way," she said. "And a lot of these spaces that have been created--- these recreational spaces---are for a particular type of individual. When I would try to be a part of things so that I could heal, or even when I would do the research just so I could be a part of things---just so I could get my shit together---nothing was welcoming of me. There was not a program that allowed for me to deal with, not only the issues that come with domestic and sexual trauma, but also the issues that come with being a black woman…and just being an oversexualized black woman---just trying to be a woman who wants something for herself."

Based in Baltimore, Ballet After Dark offers concierge, ballet-based fitness services, athletic conditioning programs, dance classes, and self-care workshops to survivors of sexual and domestic assault. In carrying out its mission, Tyde-Courtney seeks to be a resource of healing for women who have gone through what she went through, strengthening mind, body, and spirit.

"[Instead of] paying a counselor to talk about all of my issues, all of disappointments, all of my aspirations, everything that I wanted to get accomplished, and there was no place to create my sister circle following the trauma. Going through my trauma and trying to figure out ways to reconnect with myself, led me back into dance."

Even while building the program, she knew she had to let her voice be heard to get past the shame of the experience. Shifting focus to her physical and mental health and to service through dance was a saving grace for Tyde-Courtney. "[I thought], 'Why am I supposed to be quiet about anything? Why am I supposed to be ashamed of anything? Why can't I be confident?' I work for my shit. I'm still working through my shit. I'm still getting through my shit. Why can I not be proud of the fact that I have come from A to D? I'm not at Z. I may not ever get to Z, but I'm here now, so why can I not stand on a mountain and shout that shit out? Why can I not be proud of the fact that after being assaulted and following that with an abortion, that I'm actually able to have healthy sex?"

"There is no room for you to be a survivor of sexual assault and to be bi-positive or to be sex positive…or just to be positive in general."

"You should be living under a fucking rock, so I'm just over that... I've really had the chance of just letting people have it. I'm also sending out a bunch of 'fuck you's' because I'm tired. You know. And I'm in this fight; I'm in this fight for the rest of my life, but I'm not going to deal with no bullshit."

Also, facing aspects of her sexual freedom and health as a woman was important--and she keeps it super-real about that in a way that is self-aware and empowering.

"I've always had a very, very comfortable relationship with sex, even before everything happened. I've always been comfortable talking about it, I've always been comfortable laughing about it. I was always that girl that had 100 boyfriends, just because we were always be sitting around talking about sex… I don't want to be stifled by anything. I have allowed myself to grow into this woman who is 100% transparent. I'm not hiding anything."

Accomplishing full renewal of self after trauma is a journey, and there's no sprint to the finish line for many women working toward it. Tyde-Courtney is very aware that it takes perspective, patience, and perseverance to take things one day at a time. She also recognizes that not every sexual assault survivor's journey to normalcy would feel, sound, or look the same. She began to readily accept and embrace positive truths about herself and what she offered the world.

"I'm a hard worker. I'm a lover. I am a nurturer by nature. I am the mother of a movement right now. But beside all of that, I am a strong, black woman; that's who I am. That's exactly who I am. If nobody knew anything about me and they didn't know my name and they didn't know my story; if they didn't know my education level, they didn't know my level of talent and technique, what they would be able to take away from me is the fact that I exude strength," she said.

"As a survivor, I will have my moments of depression. I will have my moments of just blank voids, when everyone needs to leave me the fuck alone, but I'm not going to deny myself of certain feelings. And I'm not going to tell myself that I should be a certain way. I'm also going to be enough of a sound mind to know that in order for me to have the things that I want, in order for me to have a healthy relationship, in order for me to get to a point where I'm considering a family, I had to work on myself. And I still have to. I had to understand that I may be working on myself for the rest of my life. I had to be okay with that."

"Healing is not linear; there's no perfect way for it to be done."

Tyde-Courtney continues to push forward with Ballet After Dark and is working on a documentary and a workshop tour to expand her advocacy of self-care, fitness, self-confidence, and empowerment to survivors across the country.

"I think the best thing I've discovered about myself is how strong [and] how resilient I actually am. Nothing can break me! It really can't. I think that is what's most pleasing to me, that at the end of the day, with everything that I'm doing and with everything I'm trying to accomplish, I'm ready to keep doing it. I just want to change some lives. That's all I want to do. And they better take advantage of me now, because I might want a baby in a couple of years! They better use me up!"

*Interview has been edited and condensed for clarity

Follow Tyde-Courtney Edwards and her journey with Ballet After Dark on Instagram.

ACLU By ACLUSponsored

Over the past four years, we grew accustomed to a regular barrage of blatant, segregationist-style racism from the White House. Donald Trump tweeted that “the Squad," four Democratic Congresswomen who are Black, Latinx, and South Asian, should “go back" to the “corrupt" countries they came from; that same year, he called Elizabeth Warren “Pocahontas," mocking her belief that she might be descended from Native American ancestors.

But as outrageous as the racist comments Trump regularly spewed were, the racially unjust governmental actions his administration took and, in the case of COVID-19, didn't take, impacted millions more — especially Black and Brown people.

To begin to heal and move toward real racial justice, we must address not only the harms of the past four years, but also the harms tracing back to this country's origins. Racism has played an active role in the creation of our systems of education, health care, ownership, and employment, and virtually every other facet of life since this nation's founding.

Our history has shown us that it's not enough to take racist policies off the books if we are going to achieve true justice. Those past policies have structured our society and created deeply-rooted patterns and practices that can only be disrupted and reformed with new policies of similar strength and efficacy. In short, a systemic problem requires a systemic solution. To combat systemic racism, we must pursue systemic equality.

What is Systemic Racism?

A system is a collection of elements that are organized for a common purpose. Racism in America is a system that combines economic, political, and social components. That system specifically disempowers and disenfranchises Black people, while maintaining and expanding implicit and explicit advantages for white people, leading to better opportunities in jobs, education, and housing, and discrimination in the criminal legal system. For example, the country's voting systems empower white voters at the expense of voters of color, resulting in an unequal system of governance in which those communities have little voice and representation, even in policies that directly impact them.

Systemic Equality is a Systemic Solution

In the years ahead, the ACLU will pursue administrative and legislative campaigns targeting the Biden-Harris administration and Congress. We will leverage legal advocacy to dismantle systemic barriers, and will work with our affiliates to change policies nearer to the communities most harmed by these legacies. The goal is to build a nation where every person can achieve their highest potential, unhampered by structural and institutional racism.

To begin, in 2021, we believe the Biden administration and Congress should take the following crucial steps to advance systemic equality:

Voting Rights

The administration must issue an executive order creating a Justice Department lead staff position on voting rights violations in every U.S. Attorney office. We are seeing a flood of unlawful restrictions on voting across the country, and at every level of state and local government. This nationwide problem requires nationwide investigatory and enforcement resources. Even if it requires new training and approval protocols, a new voting rights enforcement program with the participation of all 93 U.S. Attorney offices is the best way to help ensure nationwide enforcement of voting rights laws.

These assistant U.S. attorneys should begin by ensuring that every American in the custody of the Bureau of Prisons who is eligible to vote can vote, and monitor the Census and redistricting process to fight the dilution of voting power in communities of color.

We are also calling on Congress to pass the John Lewis Voting Rights Advancement Act to finally create a fair and equal national voting system, the cause for which John Lewis devoted his life.

Student Debt

Black borrowers pay more than other students for the same degrees, and graduate with an average of $7,400 more in debt than their white peers. In the years following graduation, the debt gap more than triples. Nearly half of Black borrowers will default within 12 years. In other words, for Black Americans, the American dream costs more. Last week, Majority Leader Chuck Schumer and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, along with House Reps. Ayanna Pressley, Maxine Waters, and others, called on President Biden to cancel up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt per borrower.

We couldn't agree more. By forgiving $50,000 of student debt, President Biden can unleash pent up economic potential in Black communities, while relieving them of a burden that forestalls so many hopes and dreams. Black women in particular will benefit from this executive action, as they are proportionately the most indebted group of all Americans.

Postal Banking

In both low and high income majority-Black communities, traditional bank branches are 50 percent more likely to close than in white communities. The result is that nearly 50 percent of Black Americans are unbanked or underbanked, and many pay more than $2,000 in fees associated with subprime financial institutions. Over their lifetime, those fees can add up to as much as two years of annual income for the average Black family.

The U.S. Postal Service can and should meet this crisis by providing competitive, low-cost financial services to help advance economic equality. We call on President Biden to appoint new members to the Postal Board of Governors so that the Post Office can do the work of providing essential services to every American.

Fair Housing

Across the country, millions of people are living in communities of concentrated poverty, including 26 percent of all Black children. The Biden administration should again implement the 2015 Affirmatively Furthering Fair Housing rule, which required localities that receive federal funds for housing to investigate and address barriers to fair housing and patterns or practices that promote bias. In 1980, the average Black person lived in a neighborhood that was 62 percent Black and 31 percent white. By 2010, the average Black person's neighborhood was 48 percent Black and 34 percent white. Reinstating the Obama-era Fair Housing Rule will combat this ongoing segregation and set us on a path to true integration.

Congress should also pass the American Housing and Economic Mobility Act, or a similar measure, to finally redress the legacy of redlining and break down the walls of segregation once and for all.

Broadband Access

To realize broadband's potential to benefit our democracy and connect us to one another, all people in the United States must have equal access and broadband must be made affordable for the most vulnerable. Yet today, 15 percent of American households with school-age children do not have subscriptions to any form of broadband, including one-quarter of Black households (an additional 23 percent of African Americans are “smartphone-only" internet users, meaning they lack traditional home broadband service but do own a smartphone, which is insufficient to attend class, do homework, or apply for a job). The Biden administration, Federal Communications Commission, and Congress must develop and implement plans to increase funding for broadband to expand universal access.

Enhanced, Refundable Child Tax Credits

The United States faces a crisis of child poverty. Seventeen percent of all American children are impoverished — a rate higher than not just peer nations like Canada and the U.K., but Mexico and Russia as well. Currently, more than 50 percent of Black and Latinx children in the U.S. do not qualify for the full benefit, compared to 23 percent of white children, and nearly one in five Black children do not receive any credit at all.

To combat this crisis, President Biden and Congress should enhance the child tax credit and make it fully refundable. If we enhance the child tax credit, we can cut child poverty by 40 percent and instantly lift over 50 percent of Black children out of poverty.


We cannot repair harms that we have not fully diagnosed. We must commit to a thorough examination of the impact of the legacy of chattel slavery on racial inequality today. In 2021, Congress must pass H.R. 40, which would establish a commission to study reparations and make recommendations for Black Americans.

The Long View

For the past century, the ACLU has fought for racial justice in legislatures and in courts, including through several landmark Supreme Court cases. While the court has not always ruled in favor of racial justice, incremental wins throughout history have helped to chip away at different forms of racism such as school segregation ( Brown v. Board), racial bias in the criminal legal system (Powell v. Alabama, i.e. the Scottsboro Boys), and marriage inequality (Loving v. Virginia). While these landmark victories initiated necessary reforms, they were only a starting point.

Systemic racism continues to pervade the lives of Black people through voter suppression, lack of financial services, housing discrimination, and other areas. More than anything, doing this work has taught the ACLU that we must fight on every front in order to overcome our country's legacies of racism. That is what our Systemic Equality agenda is all about.

In the weeks ahead, we will both expand on our views of why these campaigns are crucial to systemic equality and signal the path this country must take. We will also dive into our work to build organizing, advocacy, and legal power in the South — a region with a unique history of racial oppression and violence alongside a rich history of antiracist organizing and advocacy. We are committed to four principles throughout this campaign: reconciliation, access, prosperity, and empowerment. We hope that our actions can meet our ambition to, as Dr. King said, lead this nation to live out the true meaning of its creed.

What you can do:
Take the pledge: Systemic Equality Agenda
Sign up

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