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Blog Post

Black History Month: The Struggle Makes Us Stronger

Courtesy of
Sylvia Pauling, Senior Policy Advisor for Culturally Specific Communities

As we observe Black History Month,  I recall the lived and shared experiences of my ancestors, both known and unknown, and the memories my parents shared to help me understand their journey.

When I was born in 1965, they were sharecroppers on a farm in rural Creston, South Carolina. Their lives, like their forebears’, were deeply entwined with the land they cultivated.  Their hands told stories of picking countless pounds of cotton under harsh conditions for scant compensation. Their struggles, and how they endured them,  are a vivid testament to their resilience and strength. 

During Black History Month, and in moments of personal adversity, I find strength by looking at my own hands, a reminder of the legacy I carry. My parents’ perseverance wasn’t just about survival; it was a manifestation of their belief in better days ahead. This belief led them to leave the farm in 1968, seeking a future beyond the cotton fields of Creston. 

Their move brought us to Orangeburg, where my father found work at South Carolina State College, one of the country’s oldest Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). In February of that same year, three young men, high school student Delano Herman Middleton, and South Carolina State College students Samuel Ephesians Hammond, Jr. and Henry Ezekial Smith, were shot dead on campus following days of peaceful protest to integrate the local bowling alley and bring equality to our small community. This event is known as the Orangeburg Massacre.  As a graduate of what is now known as South Carolina State University, I’m reminded of what my college days could have looked like had it not been for the civil rights movement and the lives of those three students. Like my parents’ stories, it informs the perspective from which I view the world.

It is a perspective I bring with me in my role as the Senior Policy Advisor for Culturally Specific Communities at the Office on Violence Against Women (OVW).  In this new position, created in the 2022 reauthorization of the Violence Against Women Act (VAWA), I work to ensure access to grants and technical assistance for culturally specific organizations, which often confront domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking with limited resources.

My job is incredibly fulfilling as I help these communities gain access to funding and support to increase pathways to safety, justice, and healing for survivors and to strengthen prevention efforts. 

Grantees serving culturally specific communities often face additional challenges serving communities that have often been left behind and under-resourced. Yet, they are strong, creative, and determined, and they bring that strengths-based approach to harness protective factors in the community to support survivors, their families, and their communities at large.

This September marks the 30th anniversary of VAWA. With every reauthorization, it has created and enhanced programs specifically designed to support survivors, including those in historically marginalized and underserved communities. VAWA’s 2005, 2013, and 2022 reauthorizations created or expanded grant programs like the Grants to Enhance Culturally Specific Services for Victims of Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, and Stalking Program and the Sexual Assault Services Culturally Specific Program that fund responses for survivors and communities who face additional barriers accessing support systems that meet their cultural and language needs.

VAWA’s 2022 reauthorization also created dedicated funds to support HBCUs. Through its Grants to Reduce Sexual Assault, Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, and Stalking on Campus Program, OVW launched a special initiative to support projects like one at Spelman College, an HBCU in Georgia, that built a comprehensive Violence Prevention and Intervention Program. OVW’s Strengthening Culturally Specific Campus Approaches to Address Domestic Violence, Dating Violence, Sexual Assault, and Stalking Initiative funds HBCUs, Hispanic-Serving Institutions, and Tribal Colleges and Universities to develop effective strategies to keep students safe.

As I reflect on this Black History Month, I look at my hands and my mother’s hands, and I’m reminded of the strength of my family. I think about my work in OVW, and the work of my colleagues, to advance equity and support all survivors of domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, and stalking. Supporting culturally specific communities and the community-based organizations serving them is not just a professional obligation, it is a mission, inspired by the strength and perseverance of all who came before us. 


Access OVW’s website to find out about current funding opportunities and sign up for email alerts  for new solicitations.  

If you are in immediate danger, call 911. OVW does not provide services to the general public. 

If you or someone you know is experiencing domestic violence, dating violence, sexual assault, or stalking, there are many services available to help.

Resources include the National Domestic Violence Hotline, the StrongHearts Native Helpline –, and the National Sexual Assault Hotline – 

On OVW’s Local Resources page, you can find your state’s domestic violence and sexual assault coalitions, which can direct you to local resources and services, as well as opportunities to get involved.

Updated February 27, 2024