When Annie Ellman and Nadia Telsey first founded the Brooklyn Women’s Martial Arts dojo, its focus was teaching self-defense to women and girls and the year was 1974. The 80s not only saw BWMA find a permanent location in Park Slope but also the addition of classes to specifically support women of color and those with disabilities.
The organization was renamed the Center for Anti-Violence Education in the 1990s and increased efforts to provide self-defense training for gay, lesbian, and transpeople—a first for New York City. World events and political shifts prompted expansion from gender-based and sexual violence to hate crimes identity-based violence. It was after the 2016 presidential election that CAE then launched their UpStander, or bystander intervention, workshop in order to equip both bystanders and those facing harassment with skills to de-escalate the situation and defend themselves.
While the Center for Anti-Violence has been a staple in NYC for nearly half a century, what remains constant is that it is continually changing in order to respond to the needs of the community it serves. One such need is met by the PACT , or Power, Action & Change for Teens program designed for 12-19-year-olds who identify as girls, for gender non-conforming youth, and for any youth on the trans spectrum. The weekly afterschool program creates a safe environment to tackle personal safety and prevention topics like bullying, gender discrimination, racism, and body image while integrating self defense techniques, which includes anything necessary to keep oneself safe, from kicks and strikes to being aware of one’s environment, self-care, and building community.
Students examine the roots of violence and exercise responsibility for themselves and others by participating in local anti-violence, events, marches, and community service projects. Cis and trans girls are welcome to express their authentic selves within the CAE dojo surrounded by supportive students and instructors before training as peer educators to grow as leaders and further the center’s mission of breaking cycles of violence everywhere.