ABOUT US

We rise to tell our stories and work together toward respect, courage, compassion and safety for ourselves and our communities, free from sexual harassment or assault.

We were founded by two sisters who share a common passion for everyone to be safe and free: one a detective turned mental health professional, and the other a civil rights attorney turned ambassador for a visionary future.

Both entered the legal justice system hoping to make difference, and both discovered that even when “success” is achieved, it has many limitations and pitfalls.

Whether a cop or a lawyer, both were trained to stop perpetrators of violence by use of force.

Both desired to live in a world where cops and lawyers weren’t often called upon – a world where individuals and communities were empowered to resolve their own disputes in a productive way rather than a punitive one.

They wanted to bridge the gaps, fill in the blanks, and provide the support needed to make alternative approaches available to compliment the traditional ones. They believe in treating the cause of society’s violence in addition to its symptoms.

They desire to contribute their life experience, passion for justice, and wisdom.

OUR MISSION:

The Phoenix Rising Empowerment Project (501(c)(3)) strives to understand and prevent unwanted sexual attention and assault, heal its causes and effects, and promote respect and compassion at the individual and community levels through collaboration.

OUR PHILOSOPHY

When we drive our cars, we don’t spend the whole time looking in the rear-view mirror because we could never get where we were going. An occasional glance can be extremely helpful, however. That’s our philosophy when it comes to social justice. We want to spend most of our time focusing our attention on where we are going, not dwelling on the past.

While we may initially be motivated by our anger in the face our current circumstances — sexual violence of epidemic proportions — we do not focus all our attention there. In a world of urgent and seemingly endless need, we don’t want to find ourselves endlessly placing Band-Aids on symptoms of “old world” thinking when we can make more long-lasting strides by transforming the culture from which violence too often emerges. This approach is called Transformative Justice. It seeks to transform the source of the problem.

American mainstream culture values domination and control – where power over others or avoidance of domination continually creates cycles of abuse that feel normal to many of us. We do this dance with our bosses/employees, cops/robbers, parents/children, clergy/church goers, to name a few. Our legal system currently offers us money in compensation for abuse of power and justice in the form of punishment in the tiny fraction of cases that actually prevail. The cost of being a “victim” in our legal system can sometimes be more traumatizing than the harm it was intended to remedy. Neither form of justice (compensatory or punitive) feel satisfying in the long run, nor do they help us feel safer.

Restorative Justice, in contrast, seeks to make the harmed individual “whole.” It focuses the attention on restoring the circumstances for the harmed individual. That’s certainly a big improvement to consider the needs of the seemingly less powerful, but it still doesn’t remedy the future eruptions of the underlying societal illness.

Our project seeks to empower individuals to apply innovative interventions of a transformative nature into their own lives, their families, their communities, and society as a whole.

If this sounds like wishful thinking to you, don’t worry. An entire section of our website will be devoted to featuring and honoring those who are accomplishing just that. We call them our Champions, and we celebrate them to inspire ourselves and others.

Ariel Spilsbury
Founder, Sanctuary of the Open Heart

What an illuminating opportunity to hear Heather (Vyana) Reynold’s vision for transforming not only social justice, but all areas in our lives so we can feel free and safe to be more self-expressed and authentically aligned with our truth!

She supports women to move beyond looking at social justice situations as problems, and encourages us to find creative solutions instead! It’s about moving out of the “victim/perpetrator of sexual violence” patterning, into actual transformation and healing of what is causing this in our culture.

Heather encourages us to become more self-empowered; to make changes within ourselves and in our lives; to assist us in taking our power back by remembering that we have CHOICE as to how we engage with and reframe the experiences in our lives.”

WE ARE JUST BEGINNING – PLEASE BE PATIENT

This project has been unfolding for a lifetime and taken much time to incubate mostly because of Heather’s perfectionism.  We wanted to have ALL the answers first, every page complete and inviting, but it never seems to be “done.”

We want it to be totally inclusive and make everyone who landed here feel welcome, feel known.

Instead, what we have come to offer is just a beginning, vulnerably knowing that we will continue to evolve, change our ideas, our language, our philosophy with our growth.

Babies don’t arrive fully grown, and we enjoy their innocence, freshness, idealism, truthful questions, and beginner’s mind.  May we all approach difficult topics this way.  We offer this project as an invitation to evolve with us, assume our hearts are in the “right” place, and we aspire to include your lens of perception too.

Justice is never blind, although it may pretend.  We aspire for justice to own the assumptions of its bearer.  I desire to reveal my personal lens so that you may know the context of this project – from where it comes – and my disclaimer that it does not represent humanity or “truth.”

We long for all of our perspectives to sit together in respectful sharing, like each piece of a puzzle, without which we will never reveal the whole.  May diversity of thought and perception become our community’s strength rather than allowing it to divide us.

Certain labels are culturally “loaded” and often divide us, especially when they refer to political views.  For that reason, we avoid party politics, but we don’t avoid discussing issues.

Much of the website is still under construction.  That is purposeful.  We want to attract volunteers who are enthusiastic about particular topics to become leaders on that subject and provide the content for that part of the website.  Let us know if you are one of them.

OUR PLAN:

PHASE:

1

✔️
✔️
✔️
✔️
✔️
✔️
Launch our Vision
Weekly planning meetings for the founders
Legal Formation
Obtain 501(c)(3) non-profit status
Evolve our Vision & Mission
Launch Website
Launch Social Media presence
By When
Dec. 1, 2019
Jan. 25, 2021
Feb. 1, 2021
July 1, 2022
July 15, 2022

PHASE:

2

✔️
Marketing & Fundraising
Post to Social Media regularly
Monthly newsletters
Fundraising events begin
PR campaign
Grow Board of Directors
By When
Oct. 30, 2022
Nov. 1, 2022
Nov. 15, 2022
Nov. 15, 2022
Dec. 1, 2022

PHASE:

3

Launch “Share Your Story Safely”
Research and strategize structure
Cyber Security in place
Legal agreements and disclaimers in place
Create private database and ability to collect information
Launch
By When
Nov. 30, 2022
Dec. 30, 2022
Dec. 30, 2022
Dec. 30, 2022
Jan. 1, 2023

PHASE:

4

Launch “Champions”
Create 3 Champions to show how its done
Solidify structure, policies and procedures
Send invitations to potential champions
Accept and consider nominees
Add Champions to Website
By When
Oct. 31, 2022
Feb. 1, 2023
March 1, 2023
April 1, 2023
April 31, 2023

PHASE:

5

Launch “Public Database of Alleged Offenses”
Research to strategize structure
Solidify structure, policies and procedures
Gather information
Launch Public Database
By When
June 3, 2023
July 1, 2023
Aug. 1, 2023
Sept. 1, 2023

OUR FOUNDERS

Brooke Atkinson, LPC

Co-Founder

Brooke Atkinson is a survivor and became a police officer because of her passion to end sexual violence. She has first-hand experience apprehending offenders and how the criminal justice system works in Forsythe County Georgia.

She later became a detective, courtroom security, Certified Crime Analyst, guardian ad-litem and expert witness. Preferring to work with the survivors of sexual assault rather than offenders, she obtained her Masters in Clinical Mental Health Counseling in 2017.

She has served as a facilitator for:

  1. family violence intervention programs required by the court for offenders;
  2. substance abuse group; and
  3. parents of sexual abuse survivors group (including development of its curriculum).

She previously managed a non-profit dedicated to helping survivors of sexual abuse. Now, as a Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC), she works as Director of a large mental health program in Georgia serving individuals with severe and persistent mental illness.

In addition, Brooke is mother of four, soon-to-be grandmother, wife, sister to co-founder, and dog lover.

Heather Reynolds, JD

Co-Founder

This will be unlike any bio you’ve ever read.  Most bios strive to impress a reader with accomplishments that make someone “qualified” in a traditional sense to speak with authority about a particular subject.  While this “bio” includes some of her accomplishments, it is intended to reveal her journey — a series of significant life experiences that formed her perspective on the topic of sexual harassment and assault.  Phoenix Rising was birthed partly from THIS lens and is ever evolving.  Heather hopes that by sharing her story transparently, readers may find points of connection with her, inspiration to share their own story (confidentially), and hope for a future of greater freedom for all. 

Heather Reynolds’ grew up surrounded by laughter, singing and acting out comedic scenes with her three siblings.  She dreamed of being an actress and won a competitive theater scholarship to go to college.  That dream ended when she heard that to make it in Hollywood, you had to “sleep” with the Director.  That was 1989 when “boys will be boys” and couch casting was accepted as “how the game was played” long before the #MeToo movement was born.

She had already paid the price for “sleeping” with a boy at an 8-year-old slumber party.  She had been told that if you “slept with a boy,” you would get pregnant.  No one mentioned intercourse or menses as prerequisites.  In her fundamental Christian home, she felt it would be better to be dead than pregnant at 8, so she considered all the ways she could secretly kill herself for an entire year.  No one ever found out, but she swore off boys for years.

She wished she had been born a boy since they seemed to get all the attention even though they were the most misbehaved.  Determined never to need a man, she became an entrepreneur at age three.  Her first job entailed wearing a nurse’s costume and setting up a table at the front door to collect a nickel from anyone who came in or went out.  By the end of the first week, she had collected over $20 and bought dinner for the family.

By age 5, she was playing doctor with the boy next door.  She had sterilized her father’s acupuncture needles, and when she “gave his penis a shot,” he never came back.  For years, she felt ashamed of her sexual curiosity.  She took Sunday School seriously, and women were blamed for the Garden of Eden because they did something wrong, something about being naked, having knowledge and eating apples.  

She thought she must make up for her “sin” by being a “good girl” and overachieving in every way.  So, she became an evangelical Sunday School teacher at age 13 leading songs and delivering sermons to a class of 300.  Although she enjoyed performing, some of what she taught did not align with her personal experience of an all-inclusive God, with her reasoning mind or her understanding of science.  She felt like an imposter, and her acting ability came in handy.

Her passion for women’s rights began when she spent a year in Istanbul, Turkey, as a student ambassador through Rotary International.  Little did she know she had been purchased at a Rotary auction by the highest bidder.  She was expected to tutor the nine-year-old daughter of a Turkish businessman.  Her host mother’s nose had been recently broken by her host father upon arrival.  Heather was not allowed to leave the apartment for 6 months except to attend school.  

While in the girls’ locker room, she was informed that one of her classmates had no nipples.  She had popped them repeatedly thinking they were pimples.  Heather came to appreciate the importance of sex education on a whole new level.  

After secretly negotiating to find a new host family with her school counselor, Heather was finally allowed to be escorted outside the home.  She was instructed to ignore the daily harassment and sexual assaults by strangers.  When she finally fought back by calling the grabby assailant a four-letter-word in Turkish, the entire Grand Bazaar fell silent and shamed her by clicking their tongues.  Calling attention to herself was even more dangerous than resisting an attack because she knew that a woman may be beaten and killed for “dishonoring” her family.  She finally understood why some women carried hat pins, to silently poke their offenders.   

She was 19 at the time, and since that life-changing year, she became determined to understand the power dynamics between men and women in hopes of avoiding male domination for herself and others.  Feeling caught in this “cycle of abuse,” she believed that she only had two choices:  (1) to avoid domination, or (2) to become the dominator.

Upon her return to America, Heather majored in psychology and anthropology in college with a “minor” in sexual harassment.  Heather didn’t feel that it was worth the price of reporting the professor for the harassing event until another survivor came forward — a freshman, and no one believed her story.  

Silent no more, Heather revealed the pattern and practice of the offender.  Investigations meant that she was unable to communicate with any of her professors making it more difficult to finalize her honors thesis.  Exposed, the harassing professor posed a significant threat to student lives and was given a golden parachute including a letter of recommendation to move on.  

At Georgetown Law Center, Heather studied Peacemakers and Human Rights winning the national Pro Bono Publico award for her non-profit project empowering service workers on Capital Hill.  The Capital was considered the “Last Plantation” because of its racial divide.  

While there, she volunteered to work on a class action lawsuit brought by the Washington, D.C., female prison guards for sexual harassment and assault by the male guards that made her Istanbul experience seem like a walk in the park.  

She asked too many questions in law school about why it was that women’s entrance grades and tests scores exceeded the men’s, and yet men were twice as likely to graduate in the top of their class (Order of the Coif), a distinction required for getting hired later in prestigious positions.  Her questions were resisted by the administration because no one wanted to consider that law school itself was a hostile environment for anything feminine.

When the dean refused to print her Georgetown diploma in English instead of Latin.  Heather argued that her clients don’t speak Latin, and she doesn’t want them to be alienated.   The Dean refused and told Heather that only the top law schools have this (elitist) tradition, and “anyway, it’s toney.”  Although Heather is proud to have graduated with honors, you won’t see this diploma hanging in Heather’s office today.  

Heather also had the privilege of watching Ruth Bader Ginsberg in action at the Supreme Court, and came to know what the word Feminism meant.  It wouldn’t be until much later (2022) that Heather would realize that long-lasting social change is usually grass-roots and gradual rather than top-down.  Heather has been known to speak publicly AS her hero, Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

Inspired by her year in Turkey, Heather, became a self-defense instructor and had plenty of practice walking to law school every day on the streets of our nation’s capital.  Once she felt empowered to strategically fight back, use her voice, and body language to communicate her strength, her experience of the world shifted to one of safety rather than fear of danger.

She chose Georgetown Law Center because it was the only law school with a clinic where she could learn to draft and pass federal legislation, and so she did, on behalf of people with disabilities.  After lobbying with talking points on Capital Hill, she realized that lawmaking wasn’t based on merit, truth or even common sense, but mostly on wealth, privilege and retaining both.  

In hopes of making a difference without losing her soul, she followed her passion for social justice to finish law school at Boalt Hall, Berkeley, California, where she became a civil rights attorney.  

Under the mentorship of Pamela Price and George Holland, both esteemed African-American litigation attorneys in Oakland.  Although they always won their legal battles, she felt like she was losing the “war.”  

Even if she had the power to put every rapist behind bars, she knew they would be released on good behavior and that society would just produce more.  Although her clients received compensation, she always wondered if being retraumatized by the process itself was really worth it.   

After working 14-hour days 6 days-a-week, she became disillusioned by the injustice of the “justice system” and created her own law firm to empower clients to opt-out of the court system instead.  She thought, “Why play someone else’s game when you can create your own?”  

With $135,000 in student loan debt, she started out alone in a tiny office with no windows and lived on a sailboat for over 10 years in the San Francisco Bay.  

Her favorite case ever involved “disappearing” one of her clients.  A young woman finishing her masters at the University of Berkeley asked me to “disappear” her.  When Heather asked, “why?” the woman explained that her family had immigrated to America from Yemen, and that in her cultural tradition, it is her brother’s job to kill her in the event she “dishonors” the family.  

The woman went on to share that she had fallen in love with a Berkeley student who was not Muslim, that he wanted to marry her, and that she was pregnant with their baby.  The circumstances qualified in her family as a “dishonor.”  

Heather helped her to confidentially change her name so she could courageously establish a new life in a safe environment.  She married, had the baby, and was able to reconnect with her family several months later without event.    

Over 20 years later, Heather continues to transform the practice of law by balancing a traditionally masculine system with feminine wisdom and instead of looking for power outside of herself, she finds it within.  She’s not willing to settle for basic human rights now.  She wants ALL of us to reach our greatest potential — freedom and fulfillment for all. 

And just when she thought she was truly free . . . 

She turned fifty-one and had never considered why she didn’t like to go to the doctor and have a pap smear.  She had been in denial since she was five when she had her first vaginal exam.  It was her first time ever to the doctor’s office.  She wondered if maybe he was looking for something with his fingers – maybe her lost coloring crayon?  Nope, no crayon.  No explanation was given.  No consent was requested.  Everyone just acted like it was “normal.”  Maybe it was back then.  We may never know.   

She shared this 46-year-old secret with her new doctor, and they conspired to create a Pap smear party where she could see her cervix in the mirror for the first time, where the nurse could cheer her on, and where they celebrated her informed consent.  

She hopes that one day, all women everywhere can know and expect informed consent to be the norm – a world where everyone feels safe.