It was a chilly day but when I saw my dear friend, April Harris, smiling at me from inside Building 62, home to many Wounded Warriors and their families, I felt warmth. I returned April’s smile, told her how happy I was to see her and basked in the radiance of our sisterly embrace. I love this woman; check out our time on stage together during the documentary We Are Not Done Yet (WANDY) on HBO. Working alongside April, a well-established, confident and talented veteran for all those months really taught me a thing or two about how different people process many forms of trauma. Being medically retired from Walter Reed afforded me the opportunity to learn that healing journeys are as individual and diverse as the population serving in the military. Seeing fellow Warriors face trauma, cope with it and deliver their own reflections from stage gave me hope. April Harris gave me hope and continues to give me hope.

With April’s permission, I recorded our conversation. When April speaks, she exudes emotion; her eyes, cheekbones, and voice pull listeners closer. Audiences want to lean in to soak up each of her words. April’s creative journey includes the visual arts and mixed media, but I really wanted to hone in on the origin of her unwavering passion for storytelling and the spoken word that brought her to the stage.

In 2012, she found great support for exploring healing through writing; she worked alongside other Recreation Art programs participants at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center (NMMC) in Bethesda, Maryland and at Fort Belvoir, Virginia. The military bases provided a safe place to explore writing alongside active duty military and veterans, her peers, people who were no stranger to trauma themselves.  

It wasn’t until later in 2012 when April took a trip to Los Angeles, for an Ann Randolph workshop that her relationship with words on pages bloomed into a desire to perform in front of an audience. On the first day of the workshop, April looked around to find herself surrounded by strangers who all happened to be civilians. She was unsure how the group would receive and react to her story; the story that she told no one before this workshop.

April, being the courageous human being she is, took a leap of faith (something she has a lot of) and shared her original poem “Hear My Sister’s Story,” with the group. I imagine the deafening silence that followed her detailed accounts of trauma; when I first heard them, my heart fell into my lap. April remembers feeling relieved and unburdened just from speaking her truths aloud, but she was also affirmed by this group of women who welcomed her and her story. “No one looked at me differently. They saw me. Jen, they saw me.” As April recounted that moment, it was clear this affirming experience gave way to her love affair with storytelling.

That workshop planted the seed that would later encourage April to seek out a role on stage. During her time in LA, April saw a Vagina Monologues performance and remembers feeling empowered by each story. She felt certain that she’d stand on stage one day to tell her own story with the same dignity and self-compassion she witnessed that day.

As I mentioned earlier, I won’t run out of words to describe April, but this post must end soon so you have time to buy tickets to her February 9, 2019, performance in the Vagina Monologues!

April Harris is part of an eight woman ensemble performing Eve Ensler’s Vagina Monologues at the African American Civil War Museum. Tickets cost $30 and proceeds will support fitness and wellness programs for women living in shelter environments and for survivors of violence. In 2013, she performed “Hear My Sister’s Story,” in the National Veteran’s Administration Creative Arts Competition and won first place at the Chery Point, Maryland VA; she went on to compete in the national competition where she won second place. April Harris’ performance of “Hear My Sister’s Story,” can be seen in the HBO documentary, We Are Not Done Yet.