My name is Michelle Hanes and I am a graduate student in the Masters of Liberal Studies program at Duke University.  I am also a certificate student at the Center for Documentary Studies.  I have been photographing the better part of my life, having received my first camera for Christmas at age 12.  I came to CDS from my home in Seattle to learn how to better tell people’s stories through audio, film, writing and multimedia.

I have been honored to work with Equashia on this project.  I had read a brief description of her entrepreneurial ventures on the Community Empowerment Fund’s website and asked if I might contact her.  When she agreed, and we first met, I was astonished to learn the details of Equashia’s life prior to her time here in North Carolina. But more amazing was her attitude and her openness to share her story with me, a complete stranger.  She trusted me to listen and for that I am grateful. Her courage and her determination to overcome homelessness, and worse, is humbling; I have come to respect her greatly.

In the last two years Equashia has not only started to heal her past but she has found her voice — and more importantly, she’s making that voice heard. She advocates for homeless men and women in North Carolina, she helped form a Muslim women’s empowerment group called Wehdeh (http://www.wehdahnc.org/) and she regularly speaks out at Muslim student associations and other community events. By spreading the word that there is, in fact, help for those mired in abusive relationships, she is providing a road map for her sisters — to other women facing the difficult decision between certain violence and an unknown future.

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