In 2010, Tara Muldoon founded F-You: The Forgiveness Project, a youth-led (13 – 35 year-olds) movement that asks “What does forgiveness look like in your life?” Personal stories and dialogue are the backbone of this bold project with a simple goal: to encourage conversation. In August 2013 they launched a book series. “F-You: The Forgiveness Project – Memoirs of Violence and Compassion,” focusing on gangs and gun violence. It was followed by “F-You: The Forgiveness Project: Grief, Loss, and Acceptance.” An addition to the series, a book on male identity called #manhood, will be released in October 2015.
The F-You name and logo have a bold, edgy, yet vulnerable nature. Does this help crack open the topic and invite people in?
It was really important to me that we related to my peers and those younger than me through our branding. The branding and the name definitely got the attention of our community but it was the events that got the heart of our attendees. We do not censor our speakers or storytellers so there is a genuine openness that allows attendees to feel safe. Our name helps get the conversation going and we take it from there.
Sharing stories is central to your project. How do you find and/or elicit stories? What happens after the stories are shared?
Sharing our stories is actually the key component to The Forgiveness Project. Because I work in public relations and also have a bit of a social work background, I was able to see stories within my own community that I thought needed to be told. Other members of our team also started sourcing speakers from professionals to celebrities, to people in the news. We found that once we started having the speaker series, the emotions it elicited prompted many people to come to us wanting to share their stories. It's so beautiful when experiences are shared because you'll see people conversing and sharing afterwards.
Speakers tell me that their favorite and most life-changing part of being a speaker is that they realize they're not alone. There is such power in using your hurts to help somebody else.
What do you find “trending” in F-You conversations?
It would definitely be conversations around empathy and compassion. As part of the project, we teach that hurt people hurt people. Once that is brought into the conversation, it allows for open, powerful conversation because you're asking somebody to have compassion for the person who has hurt them the most.
If you could let teachers, police officers, parents, or adults in positions of authority know one thing about young people and forgiveness today, what would it be?
In our research we have learned that one of the key factors for a young person growing up healthy is to have someone in their life who is consistently present and caring.
My wish would be that instead of taking a position of power, which obviously is necessary in some circumstances, they would instead realize that a lot of young people who are not healthy are hurt. We need one consistent caring person in our lives to be there for us and to guide us.
I strongly believe in restorative justice as opposed to authority. Restorative justice, for me and my team, creates a sense of understanding from both parties. I guess if I had to let them know one thing it would be that they make a difference when they question us or when they use authority to help us set healthy boundaries. To the adults and people in authority who really want to see young people succeed, I would also like to say, “we thank you,” because that's not said enough.
One of the speakers featured in the video on the F-You site talks about forgiveness and mental illness. From her story and others’, in what ways can forgiveness help us navigate living with and/or sharing life with someone affected by mental illness?
Yes, that was Jessica in the video and she's incredible. She speaks very openly about her depression and mental illness. Jessica has found power in telling her story to help others. Because no topic is off limits—including such topics as suicide—we find many people stay afterwards to speak with Jessica and other speakers. I know that her talk has changed lives.
Forgiveness and mental health is a huge concept because within forgiveness is also compassion and empathy.
Your next project is on male identity. What prompted the book and what impact do you hope it will have?
Our next project is called Manhood and it is our third as a team. As a collective we not only wanted to combat news that featured young men in a negative light, but wanted to offer a space for young men to be open, honest and not be censored when sharing their day-to-day life experience.
Is there anything else you’d like to share?
I'm so thankful for the opportunity to speak about F-You: The Forgiveness Project and get word out beyond Toronto. For anyone reading this who has been struggling with forgiveness, I've been there. We have four steps to forgiveness that we practice (laid out in Desmond and Mpho Tutu’s The Book of Forgiving): telling your story, naming the hurt, choosing to forgive, and then, possibly, reconciling. If you are somebody that just isn't in a place to forgive or feel it’s too risky, then that's just where you are at this moment. Forgiveness comes in time and you will know when or if you are ready. Thank you.
This image of Tara Muldoon returning to the place where she was assaulted is from #triggers, F-You: The Forgiveness Project’s first photo exhibit opening August 28, 2015 in Toronto. #triggers features Tara and and 19 other Torontonians who found forgiveness after facing the emotional memory of trauma. The exhibit will include moving photos, commentary by the subjects, and conversation.