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  • Abigail L Terry

Humans of the Institute - Tarah

We are celebrating this International Womens Day by introducing our Humans of the Institute series, each installment a brief look into the mind of a particular member of our Institute family. Tarah Dorsey our Senior Nonviolence Streetworker is just the woman to kick this series off!


In a world where women are pressured to fit a stereotype, Senior Nonviolence Streetworker Tarah Dorsey refuses the trend. She’s one of a kind with a heart of gold, serves as a role model for countless young people in Rhode Island and the value she brings to our team is impossible to measure. Learn more about her and her journey to where she is today in her full Interview below.

T.D.- Tarah Dorsey, Senior Nonviolence Streetworker


A.T.- Abigail Terry, Development VISTA



A.T.- If you had to define yourself in just a few words, what would they be?


T.D.- Number 1, I would call myself a child of God. Mother, great friend, humble...



A.T.- What makes you want to continue doing this work when it seems like everything is going wrong, or there are obstacles at every turn?



T.D.- When it comes to the work in itself, I don’t focus on the bad things. Because if I do, then I won’t be here. If I focus on everything that’s wrong, like going to hospital responses and watching parents cry over their child’s body, I just couldn’t do this. I focus on the triumphant parts where a young man DOES put the gun down, DOES become a father, DOES become a positive member of the community and an all-around responsible young man. I love seeing that part. So it just makes my heart so warm. Or, the parts where kids will come up and say, “Hey Tarah! Hi Miss Tarah! How are you doing?” And they give hugs and they want to tell you things about themselves... they just want to be a part of it. So that’s what keeps me here.



A.T.- What is it like being the only female Streetworker? Do you wish there were more? Are you fine being the only one? Or, is it something that you don’t really think about?



T.D.- It’s really not something that I- like, “ohhh I’m the only girl!?” Nah, I don’t think like that at all. I mean, if we got another one that would be cool… but to me, it’s neither here nor there. I don’t let myself feel any kind of certain pressures being a female. That’s not me.



A.T.- I hear you, that’s awesome... so who are your role models?



T.D.- My mentor is Robin Frye. When I was in prison, she was the woman who came in and taught Bible study every week. When she first gave her story, I was like, “What!? Well, if SHE can change, then I can change too!” So she’s been my mentor since 2007 when I met her and she continues to be a part of my life today.



A.T.- Do you think people have any misconceptions about you?



T.D.- Oh yeah... the biggest misconception is I think when people see me- because I’m big and tall or whatever, or maybe sometimes the way I dress- I think they think I’m mean or unapproachable. But when they actually meet me they say I’m so nice and not at all what they thought I was and I’m like, “HA what did you think I was?” I don’t carry a mean thought, but that’s probably the biggest misconception.



A.T.- Do you struggle with separating this work and your personal life? Or do you see those connections as a benefit?



T.D.- When I leave this place, when I walk through my door... it’s my time to be a mom. A good partner, a sister, and an aunt, you know what I mean?



A.T.- Mhm, for sure.



T.D.- It honestly took me a little while to learn. Those are the boundaries that I need, those boundaries I use so it’s not hard to separate. What helped me actually, is this book about boundaries we have in our library here titled ‘Boundaries’ and what I learned helped me be able to be okay with saying no to people sometimes like, “no, not today” and that it’s okay to put my cell phone aside and not answer for anybody when it’s my time for me. Also, a huge thing, was being able to take a nap during the day like I used to not be able to let myself take a nap during the day like oh what if someone needs me, you know? Just had to separate myself.


But why it can be a benefit, is that you just get to meet so many people and learn so many things about life from these people. I learn from the youngest like way younger than me, to the oldest- way older than me- all day long. So those connections I make to my real life are definitely a benefit.



A.T.- If you have any piece of advice for women who want to be the best ally they can be to women of color- and other women they may not share as many experiences with- what would that be?



T.D.- That would be: be YOU! Who are you? Only you know who you are. But be all the person that you can be. Don’t fake it for nobody. Wear what you want. Be who you want. And the right people will be attracted to you whether it’s color or non-color... show up every day with conversation and with love. Love, and being yourself, will resonate off of you and people are drawn to that. It sounds so cliché and simple but I really do take it to heart because I remember when I felt like I couldn’t be me. I remember when I walked around with the “tough girl thug” persona, big attitude, I’m this and I’m that... it was a persona to protect me from the world. I got older and found out it IS alright to not want to be violent and just want to be myself. It was after that that all the people who I really needed in my life found their way to me... after I was true to myself. That’s a piece of advice I have for anyone.