Bill Hicks passed away almost 20 years ago, but his words about life still resonate. His time on earth was short. But if he lived by his own advice, I bet it was a good ride.
Shanda Lynn Poitra was born and raised on the Turtle Mountain Reservation in Belcourt, North Dakota. She lived there until she was 24 years old when she left for college at the University of North Dakota in Grand Forks.
"Unfortunately," she says, "I took my bad relationship with me. At the time, I didn't realize it was so bad, much less, abusive. Seeing and hearing about abusive relationships while growing up gave me the mentality that it was just a normal way of life."
Those college years away from home were difficult for a lot of reasons. She had three small children — two in diapers, one in elementary school — as well as a full-time University class schedule and a part-time job as a housekeeper.
"I wore many masks back then and clothing that would cover the bruises," she remembers. "Despite the darkness that I was living in, I was a great student; I knew that no matter what, I HAD to succeed. I knew there was more to my future than what I was living, so I kept working hard."
While searching for an elective class during this time, she came across a one-credit, 20-hour IMPACT self-defense class that could be done over a weekend. That single credit changed her life forever. It helped give her the confidence to leave her abusive relationship and inspired her to bring IMPACT classes to other Native women in her community.
I walked into class on a Friday thinking that I would simply learn how to handle a person trying to rob me, and I walked out on a Sunday evening with a voice so powerful that I could handle the most passive attacks to my being, along with physical attacks."
It didn't take long for her to notice the difference the class was making in her life.
"I was setting boundaries and people were either respecting them or not, but I was able to acknowledge who was worth keeping in my life and who wasn't," she says.
Following the class, she also joined a roller derby league where she met many other powerful women who inspired her — and during that summer, she found the courage to leave her abuser.
"As afraid as I was, I finally had the courage to report the abuse to legal authorities, and I had the support of friends and family who provided comfort for my children and I during this time," she says.
A lot of change happened at once. As a newly single mom, she ended up leaving med school and transferring to a tech school to learn a trade. And because she knew what her abuser was capable of, she took a lot of precautions to keep herself and her family safe.
"I worked and studied hard while my children were in daycare and school, spent the evenings cooking & cleaning, and studied again once the children were in bed. After two years of classes, months of clinical rotations, and becoming alumni at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester MN, I graduated as a Surgical Technologist and began working full-time," she remembers.
"It took a couple of years for my nerves to fully relax, but they finally did. It was so amazing to me how empowering it was to advocate for myself, I never stopped."
She moved back to the reservation in 2015 to work for the health service and to be around family again.
"Within my first week of being home, I noticed so much violence that I once thought was normal behavior," she says. "One morning, I got a phone call notifying me that my childhood friend was beaten and left for dead by her children's father; she was flown out to the nearest ICU and taken in for surgery for a hematoma in her skull."
"I knew something had to be done about this."
Domestic abuse is a big problem on reservations like Shanda's. More than four in five American Indian and Alaska Native women and men have experienced violence in their lifetime, and more than one in three experienced violence in the past year.
She spoke with several community members about the violence she was seeing, but she found they were quick to blame the victim. That's when it occurred to her: "What if I started a self-defense class for Native women?" Shanda says. So she called up her former instructor, found a group of instructors, and attended another class with her new team. And from there they founded their own chapter.
"IMPACT is being used all over the world, yet has never been available to Indigenous communities until now," she says. "Currently, our team consists of four core members; two suit instructors and two female lead instructors, all Indigenous members of our Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewas. All members are active in empowering our community in many ways."
"During the closing circles in our workshops, we all get to see the strength and transformation these women worked so hard for. We get to see them take their power back from those who hurt them."
And that is why Shanda is being named one of Tory Burch's "Empowered Women" this year. The $5000 donation will be made to IMPACT to help them bring IMPACT to more indigenous communities across the country and further their mission to help Native women recognize and protect themselves from physical violence.
"Empowering women should be as common as knowing how to perform CPR," Shanda says.
"Truth is, I know what it feels like to be on both sides of empowerment. I know the fear, pain, and humiliation that comes with domestic violence, sexual assault, trauma, and PTSD and I recognize it in my students," she continues.
"I also know what it feels like to step out of that proverbial cage. To be able to breathe freely. To speak freely. To walk the earth in a good and healthy way. I wish this freedom and empowerment for every person on earth."
To learn more about Tory Burch and Upworthy's Empowered Women program visit https://www.toryburch.com/empoweredwomen/. Nominate an inspiring woman in your community today!
Did you know that the simple act of smiling can trick your brain into feeling better, improve your health, and even help you live longer? It's true. Science says.
If you're looking for a reason to smile, here are ten of them.
A young woman shared that her grandma always comes to check on her when she hasn't come out of her room for a while. "You want some food???" This is just too wholesome. Watch the whole thing.
Qiqi and Fanfan are into it, y'all. Listen to them try to join in a few times.
Geese gather around man playing the harmonica at the Daan Forest Park in Taipei. The geese are named Qiqi and Fanf… https://t.co/F0vQxiW4T6— GoodNewsCorrespondent (@GoodNewsCorrespondent)1631805548.0
The Grace Kelly TikTok challenge had people singing the chorus to Mika's 2007 song "Grace Kelly" with various harmonies. I won't give away the cameo here, in case you haven't seen it yet. So fun. Read more about it here.
Late to the Grace Kelly Tik Tok trend but WAY early for our Christmas movie musical. 🎵 ➡️ @mikasounds https://t.co/QdpfMv7QJw— Ryan Reynolds (@Ryan Reynolds)1631578757.0
Aryanna's got skills. Dad knows she's got skills. The way he immediately looks all around for traps and still gets surprised. That grin on her face, too. So dang funny. Read the full story here.
The iconic comedian's passing at 61 came as a surprise, but his advice for how to handle grief is a lesson for us all: "Take all the love you have for her, Pablo, and give it freely to all that you meet. Your mom will look down upon you, happy and proud."
First of all, the cafe is called Purrington's. I mean, come on. Second of all, it's a cafe where you can hang out with cats that need homes, which is awesome. The cafe had hit some snags in recent years with COVID restrictions and whatnot, but on the day of its reopening, every cat got a home. Yay for the kitties. Read the full story here.
At first, you're thinking, "Why is that guy walking into a park pond?" Then it's, "Ooooh. I see." Then finally, "OMG that right there is what living life to its fullest looks like."
The walk of shame.. 😅 https://t.co/QAc7ckPV0Q— Buitengebieden (@Buitengebieden)1631558334.0
We're all in this together, literally. The only way we're going to get the pandemic under control is to make sure everyone has access to COVID vaccines. The need is great, but we're stepping up to help meet it. Love to see the U.S. taking leadership on this front.
Read the full story here.
Photo by Mat Napo on Unsplash
Okay, this one might make you smile and cry at the same time. Such a beautiful offering and reminder of how connected we all are.
Dino Serrao's TikTok channel is the place to go when you want to be reminded of the unique beauty in every human being. All of his videos are great, but this one is so heartwarming. Their interaction is so sweet, but her recognizing her own gorgeousness after initially telling him she didn't want her picture taken is just wonderful.
@dino.serrao 👵🏻 Beauty in Her wrinkles ♥️ #fyp #viral #photographyeveryday #streetphotography #spreadlove #people #portrait #beauty #nonna #love #spreadkindness
♬ Becoming Everything - Kamikaze Kitty
I hope that brought a little joy and hope into your day! Come back to Upworthy again next Friday for ten more reasons to smile. :)