Healthcare Exec Jamila Sykes Joins RAINN’s Board

The big picture: RAINN announced the addition of a new board member, Jamila Sykes, a healthcare management executive with deep expertise in innovation and diversity, and delivering rapid-response crisis intervention systems. RAINN’s senior content writer and strategist, Sierra Scott, sat down with Jamila Sykes to talk about her motivations and goals for contributing to RAINN’s mission.

What inspired you to become a board member at RAINN?

First and foremost, my personal passion for victim services. I have tremendous respect for the approach, scale, reach, and comprehensiveness of the way that RAINN approaches victim services and I wanted to be a part of the team that is supporting that, cheering it on, and championing it, and connecting with others who are able to help further the mission.

I have previously worked in victim services through Crisis Text Line as a text based server for all sorts of crises and I really enjoyed the work; I feel like I can bring a lot of that experience to the work here at RAINN.

What compelled you to become involved in anti-sexual violence work?

One of the primary drivers for my interest in getting involved in anti-sexual violence work is seeing some of the holes and gaps in victim services and lack of public education about perpetrated violence - what we can do to address it individually and collectively through public policy.

I lost my younger brother to gun violence and it was the first time I was seeing some of those gaps in victim services both for the victims themselves and unfortunately, he didn’t survive, but he had a friend with him who survived and that young man struggled. Our whole family really struggled with processing that act of perpetrated violence and when you look at the landscape of victim services, you see that there is so much opportunity there to support victims and have their voices heard. Simultaneously, it’s about advocating for social change so there aren’t future victims.

RAINN does all of this and does it so exceptionally well. I am really proud to be supporting the team that is not only doing it well, but continues to grow that footprint and reach more people both proactively from the anti-violence perspective but also reactively, unfortunately, when violence has already happened and we are looking for ways to support victims.

How do you think your previous work in the healthcare field will influence RAINN board, staff, volunteers, and the RAINN community to champion inclusive healing and support for sexual violence survivors?

The whole purpose of health care, in my opinion, is to support your overall health and well-being so you can focus on living your best life. One of the things that I bring is a diverse perspective of the healthcare industry - where it shines and where the gaps are leaving grips of people underserved. I’ve worked with provider organizations, hospitals, doctors offices, and I have also worked on the insurance side helping to address the question of how do you pay for healthcare services. I’ve worked with point solutions like the Crisis Text Line; for instance, there’s a gap in the healthcare services field and how do you create a point solution that may not address the whole situation, but that can address the specific gaps? I really bring a diverse perspective to the entire industry and how does this all mesh together and where are there holes in that mesh where RAINN can serve as a bridge, point solution, or advocate for change to how this industry prevents sexual violence and supports survivors.

No matter where I have gone in my healthcare career, I have been a champion for inclusivity. Sometimes I have had a formal title and other times, it has been an informal role I have taken on simply because I believe it matters to me and the people we are serving. I have always been that person in every team and every organization that I have worked in to say hey, are we really considering how this impacts different populations - don’t just take the middle 70% but how are we looking at the impact of our work holistically on everyone? For example, pushing the team to consider the operationalization of our commitment to diversity by the examining how claims process for an individual who identifies as gender non-binary when the current set up only allows for male/female gender selection.

Another example, when I was at Crisis Text Line, we did something called active rescue where someone was in imminent danger based on suicidal ideation, a plan, a timeline, and means - these are all indications that they were on the verge of killing themselves. We would then initiate an active rescue where we would have local public safety dispatch, topically police, come to their door and rescue. However, I was a part of a close group of people who helped the organization question whether this was always appropriate by saying hey, police just showing up to someone’s door when you are perhaps coming from an immigrant community might not be the best idea. I am a first generation American on my dad’s side and I understand that perspective. Also, being a person who is Black in the United States of America: having police show up to your door, even for the sake of saving a life, there can be some real damaging consequences. No matter where I have been in the healthcare industry, I have always been that champion for how we are seeing solutions from all lenses and all perspectives, whether they are my own personal perspective, or they are the perspective of someone from a different walk of life than me. I understand that there are different consequences in past interactions that may exist for that person who is different from myself. I want to bring this rigor around diversity of thought and experiences to the work that RAINN is doing; RAINN already does this work and does it exceptionally well so I look forward to working together to continue to think about inclusivity in new and exciting ways.

At RAINN, our mission is to prevent sexual violence, help survivors, and ensure that perpetrators are brought to justice. What are your beliefs and motivations in connection to RAINN's mission?

I believe in RAINN’s mission wholeheartedly. It is a mission that is crisp, clear, and comprehensive. It is straightforward which I love; that focus is incredibly important because there are so many issues in the world when it comes to sexual violence. There is so much that you could try to capture but what I love about RAINN’s mission is that it really focuses on the four pillars that I think are most impactful: RAINN’s mission is working both proactively at sexual violence prevention, education, and policy as well as reactively in terms of victim support.

My motivation in response to the mission is a great, big resounding YES. It’s a yes and how do I help? As a board member, one of the major things that I can do to help is through connections and collaboration. How do I connect RAINN to others in the healthcare space and in the crisis space who I’ve worked with that can help the mission? While I believe that it is well written and put together and so focused, I also think that we can find more people to bring on board to that mission because it is so well articulated and as long as we stay true to the mission, we are going to do great things.

This is a year of massive growth for RAINN — in staff size, budget size, and program capacity. What are your goals and vision for RAINN for your first year?

My goal and vision for RAINN is that we are growing well. When I say “growing well,” it’s that we are finding this balance between taking on big, hairy, audacious goals - or BHAGs - but also not biting off more than we can chew at any one time. You have to be ambitious with a mission like ours, but not grow so fast that we inadvertently have negative consequences - operational gaps, lack of team cohesion, missed opportunities to include vulnerable populations etc. Let’s really be conscientious about how well we are growing without letting that conscientiousness slow us down.

I want to see RAINN continue to excel quickly towards its goals and also, from my position, finding those ways to say hey, are we well on our journey of growing? And are we growing in such a way that is sustainable? Who can we pull in to help us reach our goals? It’s all about finding ways to grow that won’t burn us out in the process.

RAINN has a tremendous track record already and I want to see us continue to build on a really strong foundation.

What is your message to survivors?

You deserve to be heard and supported without question. I believe talking about (or disclosing) what you have survived can be incredibly scary and difficult. One of the biggest hurdles I think we have created as a society is questioning survivors: my message to you is that the scrutiny that you may face or endure after surviving something as horrific as sexual violence is not a reflection of you. It is not an indictment of you. It’s not yours. It doesn’t belong to you. It’s a reflection of society and what’s broken in the way we function as a collective. I’m proud that RAINN is working to change that.

That scrutiny that happens when someone has disclosed, that can be a really tough and painful moment. If that has happened to you, I’m sorry and you didn’t deserve that. Survivors deserve to be supported, believed, heard, and listened to. That scrutiny is not yours to hold.