From Surviving Life to Thriving in It: The Vision Behind We Step Into the Light

By: Carly Lanning

Dr. Desmonette Hazly was tired of merely “surviving” each day after her assault.. Determined to make a difference for survivors just like her, Dr. Hazly started the “We Step Into the Light” project that pairs artists with survivors of sexual violence to create art pieces that empower, celebrate and recognize the thriving of each survivor. “I basically started [We Step Into the Light] because I didn’t want to wear the badge of survivor for the rest of my life,” says Dr. Hazly. “Its a very, very fatal badge to wear because you live your life feeling that you’ll never be complete and your life will always be in pieces, you’ll never be able to overcome the things that have happened to you. [This was] a way for me to figure out how to replay my life in drive no matter what happens to me.”

After completing counseling to treat the initial trauma of her childhood assault, she then decided to train to become a sexual assault counselor at the YWCA in the Greater Los Angeles. With her work being the ultimate example of paying it forward, Dr. Hazly recognizes that the journey surviving to thriving is a long and often emotionally painful process for a survivor. “It was a long time process going from survivor to thriver because you have to experience the grief and the mourning and the anger. You don’t just wake up one morning and say, ‘You know what I’m going to thrive.’ It’s the baby steps and it’s the steps that you take in the direction for yourself,” says Hazly.

With countless survivor empowerment projects available, the novelty of “We Step Into the Light” is it’s focus on the thriver as more than just their assault. Dr. Hazlly designed “We Step Into the Light” not to rehash the pain of one’s assault but to celebrate the passions, personality and beauty that makes each survivor unique. “I think when things happen, not just sexual assault but anything that’s traumatizing, you lose hope and you lose a lot of yourself. [You] think that you will never be the same which is kind of true because you won’t ever be the same but you can be better,” Hazly believes adamantly. “When I started all this, there was nothing out there that told me I could be normal and not just be normal but have this incredible life. There weren’t any sexual assault survivors out there saying, ‘Look at my life, isn’t my life great? My life is in tact and I’ve done all these incredible things.’ Anytime I went to a workshop or meeting or a conference it was always about coping, just coping, getting through things, getting through your day. That wasn’t enough for me and I refused to do that, that was not enough and I can’t go through my life living like this.”

Since the first We Step Into the Light event at the YWCA in Greater Los Angeles, the project has been developed at UC Irvine and with Create Social Change which has brought local artists and survivors from all over California to participate. As a model,the name given to survivors, in the project herself, Dr. Hazly’s piece hangs in the YWCA as a token of hope for others beginning their healing process. Dr. Hazly hopes to continue spreading this project and creating it into an international campaign. We Step Into the Light has become a way for not only survivors to find peace but for their community to show support and continue learning ways to prevent this violence. By not only identifying as but embracing the role as a thriver, Dr. Hazly has filled her life with challenges and adventures through her work with We Step Into the Light and the Red Cross. “I take a chance on myself and I think that is what I enjoy about my life the most,” says Dr. Hazly. “I never know what will pop into my mind next but I do know whatever it is, I’m not afraid to try it. That’s my freedom. I have my freedom, the freedom to enjoy my life.”


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