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Nevaeh Calliste Knows Speaking Out Isn’t Easy (But She’s Doing It Anyway)

This article is written by a student writer from the Her Campus at BU chapter.

Content warning: This piece contains sensitive information regarding sexual violence that may be triggering to some readers.

The sweet smell of tulips lingers in the air as Boston University students arrange flowers into bouquets at the Build-a-Bouquet event. Suddenly, a walking inflorescence of hydrangeas enters the room. The chatter quickly fades, and all eyes shift to the door. Behind the bunch of flowers stands a 5-foot-tall young woman wearing a blue pashmina and an enchanting smile. She is Nevaeh Calliste, the founder of Survivors Awareness, a nonprofit helping those who have experienced sexual violence. 

Almost two years ago, Calliste began Survivors Awareness to create an open dialogue about sexual harassment. She believes that healing from trauma goes beyond “expensive and invasive” treatments and involves victims acknowledging their trauma and telling their stories. Survivors Awareness is just getting started, but Calliste hopes that her events will help survivors become comfortable saying, “I went through this. I came out of it a little bit broken but I’m still here.” A persevering young adult who doesn’t shy away from a challenge, Calliste knows that starting a nonprofit like hers is just as much about overcoming obstacles as it is about having a mission — and she’s not backing down. 

Calliste founded her nonprofit after her high school disregarded sexual assault accusations made by her female peers against a fellow student. As a sexual harassment survivor herself, Calliste empathized with the victims and recognized their need for emotional support. 16-years-old at the time, Calliste got the idea for a nonprofit titled Survivors Awareness. But achieving nonprofit status was not a simple endeavor, especially considering her age. 

“A lot of doors got shut in my face because no one wanted to work with the 16-year-old that was doing something so taboo,” said Calliste. “They feared it wouldn’t work out.”

She struggled to find resources, as not everyone she reached out to was eager to help. Calliste taught herself the legal mechanisms and business analytics needed to gain accreditation from the government. “The system isn’t built for Black women to create things,” said Calliste. Despite being snubbed of assistance from most strangers, Calliste says her mother, Tasia Calliste, was her greatest supporter in kickstarting the nonprofit. Currently, Tasia serves as the president of SA Inc.

For advice beyond her mother, Calliste sought the guidance of a large, well-established organization and decided to reach out to the New England Patriots. What may have seemed like a long shot to any other young entrepreneur did not faze Calliste in the slightest. She believed a partnership with the Patriots would be mutually beneficial since they too could profit from affiliating with a Boston-based organization helping women. Her steadfast confidence in SA Inc. proved to be fruitful as The Patriots ended up contacting Calliste and pointing her in the right direction to becoming a nonprofit.

“There are a lot of issues with the NFL, especially with domestic abuse and sexual assault,” said Calliste. “[The Patriots] helped me tremendously to find support in the nonprofit sector and find people to help me build it.” 

After successfully filing articles of incorporation and applying for tax exemption, Survivors Awareness officially became a 501(c)(3) nonprofit in the fall of 2021. Reflecting back on the process of starting her nonprofit, Calliste tucks her jet-black hair behind her ears and jokingly calls it “a zoo.” Still, she is not tainted by cynicism. Calliste remains optimistic and dishes out a bit of advice for aspiring self-starters like herself, “If you think it’s too far out, just do it,” said Calliste. “You never know.” 

Despite surpassing preliminary road bumps, Survivors Awareness is still facing challenges after expanding to Boston University this past fall. “Recently we’ve bunkered down in the Boston University setting because BU has a huge population of sexual violence survivors,” said Calliste. “There have been some issues with the party scene.”

According to the 2019 Boston University Campus Climate Survey of Sexual Assault and Misconduct, 36.5 percent of respondents experienced at least one type of sexual harassment since starting at BU. This number comes as no surprise to Calliste, who hopes Survivors Awareness will serve as a “safe space” for these students. 

In an effort to create these safe spaces, Survivors Awareness hosts events for students to get to know the organization’s leaders and values of “acknowledgment and healing.” The first event (hosted in February) was about food mindfulness, or connecting your body and your mind in a healthy way. In an Instagram post from earlier this year, SA Inc. wrote, “We hope this event will provide insight into how to begin developing a healthy relationship with food.”

The second event, titled “Build a Bouquet” was held at BU’s very own BUildLab this spring. Build a Bouquet utilized botanical healing for students as they built flower bouquets together. Attendees had photo shoots with their finished bouquets, laughed with friends, and even taught each other how to perfectly wrap the flowers in paper. As written on the Survivors Awareness website, this event was intended to spark creativity and “help students find something beautiful in creating something on their own.” At one point, the flowers unexpectedly ran out. Without a second thought, Calliste immediately grabbed her credit card to buy more. To Calliste, Survivors Awareness is more than just a college pastime: It’s her passion. And she isn’t alone. 

Calliste has brought a public relations intern on board to better market the nonprofit. Crystal Lin, a fellow Boston University freshman, helps Calliste with event planning and social media management. Lin was intrigued by Survivors Awareness after she watched Calliste present her nonprofit in class and saw her “very bubbly and easy-going” personality. She is one of eight other team members helping Calliste to expand Survivors Awareness. 

“I’m really excited to see how this organization is going to grow,” said Lin. “We need more publicity, especially on the BU Campus, but I have a lot of confidence in Nevaeh.”

After successfully planning two events together this year, Calliste and Lin are looking forward to upcoming activities. “You never know who you can meet at these events that could be a pivotal person in your life that you could confide in about what has happened,” said Calliste. “We try to have people talk. Get comfortable with getting into the depths of your pain.” She’s building her organization on the basis that healing from trauma is not a battle easily fought alone. 

Because she recognizes strength in numbers, Calliste sees allowing all students to attend events as the best way to attract new members. “We’re introducing these events as ‘come as you are,’” said Calliste. “We’re allowing people to come to us and share their stories in their own time.”

The eventual goal is to have survivors attend each monthly event, and, if they’re ready, open up about their experiences with sexual violence. At the end of each event, Survivors Awareness sends out an optional survey asking for feedback and if the respondent is a survivor of trauma. By collecting data like this, Calliste can gauge how close she is to her goal of getting survivors to attend SA Inc.’s events and how to best cater future programming to them. According to Calliste, thus far, over half of their events have had survivors present. 

In addition to greater membership, Survivors Awareness, like other beginner non-profits, is in need of funding. Earlier this year, Calliste applied to BU’s Innovation Pathway to secure financial assistance from the school. After being accepted into the self-paced program, she is now able to pitch business ideas, be paired with a mentor, and gain eligibility for grants. By the end of her undergraduate career, Calliste hopes to be in the final stage of BUIP and well on her way to continuing Survivors Awareness full-time in her hometown of Boston. 

Nevaeh Calliste knows Survivors Awareness is asking a lot out of those who have been silenced. She gives some advice to survivors who are struggling to find the strength to share their stories: “You have to be confident in your truth and that takes encouraging yourself and having a strong will. As you go along in your journey, that will become easier. As long as you stand in your truth, nobody’s words are going to penetrate that.” 

If you are interested in getting involved with Survivors Awareness, please email: contact@sawarriors.org

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Anjali is a freshman studying Journalism at Boston University. She is thrilled to be a new member of the HerCampus team and looks forward to writing more juicy content. In her free time Anjali enjoys journaling, reading poetry, and taking long walks on the beach.