Deborah Prokipchuk Ackley’s poetry gives voice to the violence that shattered her family life
Deborah Prokipchuk Ackley’s ideas about violence and her belief in peace and justice were severely tested three years ago when her son Scott, who was just about to graduate from high school, was brutally beaten by a group of 12 to 15 young men who had crashed a high school friend’s birthday party just before graduation.
The attack was so brutal it resulted in a concussion and required months of recovery. Scott Ackley had to delay taking some high school exams, and as a result, was not able to qualify for a scholarship he had hoped for; neither was he able to compete as a runner in the Toronto Metro Final event he had worked toward.
“The kids kicked his head in, continuing to beat him after he was down, and no one has taken responsibility for the act,” Ackley said. “The violence was done by very privileged, well-educated, 18-to-20-year-old men. They are sons of the Canadian elite. Most are athletes, one had been drafted by the National Hockey League.
“What on earth is going on in our world where well-educated boys would so viciously attack someone? What does violence mean in this context? How can I make sense of this?” Ackley asked. She found a way: writing it down.
“The assault itself was an intrusion of violence into our personal life. Violence is a hallmark in our culture; it’s everywhere in our lives … but this time it affected one of my children,” she said.
But this was followed by yet more violence to the family as they tried to negotiate the judicial system, seeking truth and accountability. “Witnesses were discredited,” Ackley said, including Scott, who was called as a “witness to the Crown [the prosecution].” Because he could not recall all of the details of the attack, he was deemed an unreliable witness.
Reclaiming the story
As the family unsuccessfully sought justice in the courts, Ackley began to seek a personal way to speak out. She found it while writing the poems that have been collected in her recent book, “Born from Silence.” It describes the events of the attack, her family’s journey through the Canadian court system seeking justice that has not come, and finding her own voice to speak out about violence, justice and leadership in such a world.
Read More: To purchase a copy of “Born from Silence,” email@example.com or call 1-416-763-4093.
Ackley said that when a journalist’s plan to write about the family’s experience fell through, “I was faced with either falling further down the victim hole or see[ing] it as an invitation to step up and do the writing myself. I knew I had to tell this story for our family’s sake.” Ackley first started writing a memoir. When she got to the point of the trial, she froze. “[Listening in the courtroom to] the reality of the violence was too overwhelming,” she said. After a five-month funk of feeling completely empty, she started writing poems. Upon changing format, the story poured out of her.
Writing “Born from Silence” was “an act of witnessing,” Ackley said. “It is in this act of witnessing where transformation is possible. This story ceased to be private when law enforcement and the courts took it over. The resolution, therefore, has to occur publicly. And because the institutional process has failed to publicly name the harm done, has failed to turn to Scott in that naming, has failed to hold anyone responsible or accountable for these actions of violence, we are left in a harmful vacuum,” she said.
Ackley, who lives in Toronto, is doing something about that vacuum. Through the writing of her book and her work as a facilitator for organizational change (she has worked for nearly 30 years as a manager and consultant to institutions and organizations, facilitating transformational change), she has developed a workshop that asks participants how communities can take action to change how we think about leadership in our world.
Ackley will be reading from her book and facilitating a “Radical Leadership” workshop on Nov. 9 at the Wellstone Center in St. Paul. “Women [with a conscience] have a significant role to play in interrupting the cycle of violence and offering a different way,” she said. “We may not be here to save the entire world, but we can step into the portion that is ours to attend.” The interactive workshop’s intent is to make individual change opportunities that are manageable.
If You Go
What: Radical Leadership – reading and workshop with Deborah Prokipchuk Ackley
When: Friday, Nov. 9, 8:30 a.m. – noon
Where: Wellstone Center for Community Building, Neighborhood House, 179 Robie St. E., St. Paul
Cost: $95 (includes a copy of “Born from Silence”)
To register or for more information: 651-698-7799, www.womensleadershipcommunity.org
The workshop is sponsored by the Center for Emerging Leadership in conjunction with its 10th anniversary. Both men and women are welcome to attend.
“Our culture has become fear-based, “Ackley said. “Violence is closely linked with fear. How do we go into the depths to find inner serenity? How do we keep from feeding fear and having it escalate in leadership?” Ackley believes leadership is not about finding the one hero to save or rescue us. “Leadership is about people working collectively to make change happen. We need to be asking questions: How do we make change from where we are? How do we create a kinder, compassionate, peaceful world? And, why can’t we have that kind of world?”