Survivor and Business Leader on Leaving a Legacy of Hope

Melva LaJoy Legrand is the founder and CEO of LaJoy Plans, a boutique D.C.-based event planning firm. She has produced events in almost every major city in the country, for audiences ranging in numbers from 10 to 60,000. Legrand recently committed a bequest to RAINN to help survivors. Read on for more on why Legrand has chosen to leave a legacy of hope.

Melva LaJoy Legrand first learned of RAINN when she was desperate for resources and support. As a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, intimate partner abuse, and rape by multiple perpetrators, she was searching for resources and a community. A fellow survivor in a support group that Legrand was part of brought RAINN to her attention as a resource for those at any stage of their healing journey.

“I view RAINN as a tool for tune up and for emotional respite so I can do the work, and I think every survivor has to decide what that looks like for them,” Legrand says. “For me, it is faith. For me, it is therapy and support. There is something very affirming about education and community and confidential support. I have used RAINN as part of my toolkit to get through life.”

Legrand’s healing journey has included building her business and supporting organizations and causes near to her heart.

“I am proud of being in the business of designing occasions for organizations that strive to achieve meaningful societal impact,” she says. “That is directly an outgrowth of wanting to be associated with helping those who aren’t seen, be seen. That is directly related to my survivor identity. My whole life will be about uncovering the invisible whether it is through work, whether it is through this conversation, or whether it is through my mentees...What I am realizing is that there is a whole generation of people, of humans that are going through trauma and they are swallowing it.”

Legrand believes many people are “swallowing their trauma.” She notes how social media gives viewers a “wonderful curated view of how great life is and it doesn’t tell you how trials are part of the triumph and tests are a part of the journey.”

Legrand has committed a planned gift to RAINN, meaning she has designated part of her estate to be donated to help survivors after her death, making her a member of RAINN’s new Legacy of Hope Society. For Legrand, giving is one way to carry forward her family’s legacy.

“My father grew up in segregated South Carolina. My grandmother was a maid and functionally illiterate. My great grandmother was a field slave,” she explains. “These are people who had very little, and yet, my grandmother always had a word of encouragement to give to other people. My dad worked as a janitor and a truck driver to make sure his sisters, even though he was the oldest, accomplished their dreams before he did. My dad, who had a high aptitude for mathematics, eventually devoting himself to math education would help the community with financial literacy. When you grow up with a dad like that, who is my first love, who I have the honor of being named after, you grow up with a value around service. You realize that all of this stuff is temporary and all of it can go. In my view, giving is non-negotiable. I think it is really easy to be self-focused and self-serving but I think if you are gifted, how you repay that gift, is you give it back.”

Legrand believes we can all do more to support the survivors in our lives beyond being present and listening. She notes how, when she first disclosed what had happened to her as a child to a close male friend, listening was the most important thing he did.

“He said ‘Mel what is going on?’ and then he waited,” she notes. “I talked for what felt like hours. I told him everything. I told him things I have not told anyone in my entire life...It all started with listening and no judgment. He could have asked questions but he just let me tell my truth. For anyone who strives to be an ally, it's really hard to listen. We are constantly checking our phones and it is really hard to listen to things that are difficult to hear.”

She also recommends friends and loved ones meet the survivors in their lives where they are.

“It is not for me to tell someone what is right or wrong for them,” she says.

Educating yourself and not relying on the survivor to educate you is also important.

“I would argue that being an ally is a verb,” she says. “It is not a noun. You actually have to do things. For instance, get educated, get on a webinar, and ask a question of a survivor who is at a place in their journey where they can talk about what they need.”

As she looks to the future, Legrand is filled with hope and practical advice.

“It is not easy,” she says. “It is not supposed to be easy, but it is 1000 percent worth it. There is a beauty in trauma, if you just shift how you look at it. The beauty of trauma is that it makes us a more complex, more rich, and a more interesting tapestry. When we take up space, you can see a survivor who is rooted in his/her power; it is something to see. I would tell them, that for every moment that they are alone or for every moment that they are self-medicating or for every moment that they think it hurts so bad that they can’t see the light in the shadows, hold on. It’s worth it...I think there is a myth that people have to have it figured out, but nobody has it figured out. Cut yourself some slack. We are all a work in progress. We are all just doing the best we can.”

To learn more about how you can leave a legacy of hope for survivors of sexual violence, please visit rainn.org/planned-giving.

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