Amidst whirling winds, luminous lightening and threatening thunder, defiant proclamations rose from Buffalo residents determined to "take back the night" and raise awareness of rape and sexual assault.
Outside of Buffalo's Delaware Park Casino Thursday night, UB's Anti-Rape Task Force and eight other colleges and 11 community organizations gathered for the city of Buffalo's first ever Take Back The Night event.
Ellen Christensen, director of Sub-Board I's sexuality education center, spoke on the night's significance.
"We hope that survivors of rape and sexual assault become empowered to take back their life and that they get momentum from this event," said Christensen. "We hope that everyone who attends realizes how prevalent rape and sexual assault is, and that they will personally do something about it."
Take Back the Night first began in 1978, when feminist activist Andrea Dworkin led 5,000 women in marching into San Francisco's red light district to protest its rampant acts of violence against women. Today, Take Back the Night has become a global event, garnering the support of men and women alike in the United States, Canada, Latin America, India and Europe.
For the past 11 years, ARTF, in conjunction with the Women's Center and other campus and community organizations, has organized annual Take Back the Night events in South Campus' Harriman Hall. After the success of last year's gathering at Cloud 9 on Main Street, however, organizers decided to extend the event to the greater community.
The evening began with renditions of contemporary gospel favorites by Buffalo State's Spirit Gospel Choir. Atop a balcony overlooking turbulent Hoyt Lake, the choir sang to a crowd huddled beneath umbrellas, some of whom headed indoors to the casino's lobby while others braved the pummeling rain.
Carlos Santiago, Sub-Board I assistant director, served as the night's master of ceremonies. State Assemblyman Sam Hoyt, who has attended each Take Back the Night since he took office nine years ago, announced the colleges and organizations that organized the event, thanking those present for their support through the brutal weather.
For the remainder of the evening, victims of rape and sexual assault told tales of the violence they suffered and offered words of encouragement and support, intermingled with survivors' poetry.
"I think that despite the weather, the turnout was very good," said Porsche Holcomb, a UB psychology and health and human services senior and assistant supervisor of UB's AIDS Coalition. "The stories were very touching, and we as people together really need to help people that are going through this, be more empathetic, and help them get through what they are going through."
The event came to a close with unique variation of the common candlelight vigil theme. Instead of candles - which wouldn't have lasted in the winds anyway - attendees held approximately 2,000 glow sticks donated by UB's Student Association.
Accompanied by a moment of silence to remember victims of sexual violence, the participants cracked their glow sticks, sparking hundreds of purple points of light against the backdrop of the lake and eggplant-colored sky. They recited the "Take Back the Night Pledge" and "Survivors' Rights," and Buffalo State College student Renata Moore began the "open mic" by speaking out to those struggling to cope with overcoming sexual assault.
"You are not alone, and we are here to offer strength for your struggle. We want you to believe that you can get through all you have to do in life. That you can emerge strengthened, you can be a testimony to someone else, you can be a light to someone else . you can be an anchor to hold someone that says I cannot hold on anymore. Don't give up! And know that you matter."
The rain ceased for a moment during the open mic, as a survivor spoke of her upcoming birthday, which would coincide with the 10-year anniversary of her rape by five men.
"Tonight I think the rain is something we shouldn't be upset about, I think it should be something we're happy about, because tonight I was washed clean," the woman said. "So let this rain be a symbol of how each of us can step outside of the pain and torment, and we can change our lives and we can change the lives of others, and we too can be washed clean."
"This was my first experience here, and I thought it was inspiring and it was very supportive, especially for people who have gone through these experiences," said Cynthia Fang, a UB senior majoring in occupational therapy.
On a wall in front of the promenade where the crowd was gathered stood candles in blue and green glass; every minute and a half a candle was lit, representing a person who had been raped or sexually assaulted. While the stiff night wind made a task of keeping the candles lit, the night's message was clear: sexual assault is an epidemic that needs all of society to work toward a cure.