Coiya Tompkins wants to make the world a safer, more accepting place. She’s the President and CEO of Community Violence Intervention Center and is passionate about community focused violence prevention. She told us why she does the work that she does, and what she wishes more people understood about it.
How did you get involved in your work?
I was contacted by a recruiter who told me about the Community Violence Intervention Center in Grand Forks, ND. I was not looking for a new opportunity, but after I learned more about CVIC’s Safer Tomorrows Road Map to end violence in two generations and met the staff, I was hooked. As a child, I spent time in a domestic violence shelter and later supported domestic violence prevention, intervention and education through time as a board member for A New Leaf, in Mesa, Arizona. The role was an ideal fit for me because it aligned so well with my personal passions and interests.
What is one thing you wish people understood about your work?
I wish more people understood that domestic violence and sexual assault are rooted in power and control issues. As a community, we tend to ask: why doesn’t she/he/they leave? I think the better question is: why doesn’t the person using violence stop or why does the offender cause harm in the first place? As a society and world, we have a great deal to learn about norms and perceptions that impact our views of victims and those who harm them. Our agency also supports people who use violence. What we learn from both victims as well as those who use violence is that many times, those who use violence have experienced it themselves. Through holistic education and healing services for both survivors and those who use violence, we can transform communities for the next generation. Also, I think we could do a better job as a community focused on domestic violence and sexual assault prevention to tell stories of how someone intervened to prevent violence or how victims can transform their lives, even if they’ve been impacted by violence. What happens to someone in their past does not need to write their future. There is always a way forward. Prevention is key to creating peace-centered, violence-free communities. We need to share more stories about ways this has happened.
How do you take care of yourself doing work that can be emotionally intense?
I love time with my family, particularly short trips to warm places. My favorites are Arizona and Florida. I spend a great deal of my down time reading, walking, golfing (though very much a beginner) and making time for friends outside of work. I also enjoy writing, so I try to journal at least once a month. As part of CVIC’s 40th anniversary, I am writing a book called Two-Generation Guardians. It features some of the donors, survivors, partners and friends who’ve supported our work throughout the past four decades. It’s been pure joy to spend time visiting with individuals who’ve enabled us to serve and educate thousands of clients each year.
Who inspires you?
This one is easy. My mother. She was a domestic violence survivor herself, and put herself through college while she was raising my brother and I on her own. She is wise and kind beyond measure and she continues to be my greatest source of strength as my career and personal growth develop. One of the things I always admired about my mother was that she gave and volunteered even when her time and resources were limited. As a grade schooler, I remember her purchasing clothing and toys for youngsters from the Salvation Army giving tree during the holidays and delivering meals to the elderly as a teenager.
What is the best piece of advice you’ve heard recently?
Always remember your worth. It’s something no one can take from you.
Though not as recent, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s message was almost verbatim in many of his speeches. His beliefs and vision are characteristics I hold sacred. He was instrumental in defining worth during a turbulent time in our country’s history, and creating peace and vibrant hope for all people. In some ways when I think about the amount of social/racial unrest we’ve experienced even within the past 10-12 months, I think we still have a lot to learn from his wisdom, pioneering spirit and peace-focused crusades – even more than 50 years after his passing.