Let Your Life Speak Interview: Become The One You Needed
An interview with Salka Valerio, Caseworker and Community Activist
Carefully choosing who and what you surround yourself with is one of the most important things you can do to develop constructive habits, reduce stress, and increase longevity. Integrity is a habit, just like any other behavior that you engage in repeatedly. It is not an attitude or a belief; it is a practice. I depend on surrounding myself with people who are pursuing lives of integrity in order to continue learning how to best cultivate my own integrity. I am always on the hunt for media that also bolsters my learning. I hope this does that for you.
Talking with Salka Valerio, Caseworker and Community Activist
Salka Valerio is a social worker, community activist, and single mother currently living in Binghamton, New York. Born of immigrant parents from Honduras, Salka grew up in Honduras, Virginia, and New York City. At 14-years old, after fleeing from her abusive home, Salka became a victim of human trafficking. She eventually freed herself, but her father was deported and she ended up homeless. With the help of a shelter caseworker, she got enrolled with the Job Corps program. She then moved to the Binghamton area where she had her son and completed her Associates Degree in Criminal Justice.
While a student, Salka became involved with Citizen Action of NY. Through Citizen Action’s Progressive Leaders of Tomorrow she led anti-racism and bystander intervention trainings and became a vocal leader in local efforts to combat police brutality and defend the rights of the incarcerated. She also ran for Binghamton City Council, while raising her son alone and working professionally on behalf of youth victimized by, or in danger from, human trafficking via the Crime Victims Assistance Center. Currently, Salka is a caseworker for Mothers & Babies, where she provides women with pregnancy and parenting education, help accessing community resources, and support processing trauma and escaping abuse.
Can you tell me who you are underneath all of your professional accomplishments, or perhaps as the foundation for all of them?
These are some soul-searching questions. It’s crazy how I never thought about these questions. When trauma happens you’re busy surviving; there was a point in life when I never had the time to reflect on things. Most of the time was just me surviving and not living.
I did hit a period, when I was pregnant with my son, when I was actually able to take a deep breath and say, I’m not running, there’s not a constant alarm ringing in my head to get away, to figure out how I’m going to eat, to constantly see where I’m going to sleep today, to constantly figure out how I’m going to survive on a daily basis. Then from there, it was just trying to put the pieces together in my life.
I never really had models to show me how you do certain things, but in all of that trauma I did figure out a way to heal. How did I not become angry at the world? How did I not become an awful person? Because all the things I’ve been through? In my mind, I would be justified in being an awful person. In my whole youth adults were harmful to me; but, I just had something in me.
I found healing in going to church and reading books by T.D. Jakes. It wasn’t so much religion. I don’t like religion, where when you go to church you have to wear a certain kind of hat, you have to do these certain types of things. It was more the spiritual aspect of it—the Bible stories and the metaphors, and like Jesus said, in order to win people you have to show love. When you show love that’s how people will be drawn to you. Like, hey, I want to be like that person. How did that person get through that? I want to know what they’re doing.
I always said I wanted to be the person that I needed when I was a young girl. I made sure I became the person that I needed for myself. That’s what moved me to standing up, voicing my opinion, and speaking against injustices. There are so many people stuck in trauma that don’t get to the stage where they can do that, so I had to make sure that I did.
It wasn’t easy at all. I was typically a shy, quiet kid. But there was a reason why I ran away from home and why I got trafficked, because I was going through a lot of physical abuse in my household. My mom was one of those people where we dress nice, the house is clean, we look perfect when we go outside, but then at home it was a whole hell breaking loose on me. So, I would say to myself, When I get out of here this is what I’m going to do. When I get out of here I’m going to offer the love that I wanted. When I have children I don’t want what you inflicted on me to happen to my children, or to anyone else. I want to offer the love that I wasn’t given growing up.
What is a core belief that you carry— about people, about relationships, or about the world— that you feel really shapes your life? How did you come to believe it?
It’s important to me to be the kind of adult that I needed when I was a young person. I came to believe I could be that because it was necessary for my survival— my ability to thrive and not to just be scrambling.
I also believe that people are the authors of their life. You get to create your happily ever after. I remember telling myself, The people that did harm to me do not get to win. They don’t get to see me depressed. They don’t get to see me suicidal. They don’t get to see me defeated. They don’t get to see me not succeeding. The best revenge is to push past and rise because being defeated allows them to win, allows them to think they’re still harming you.
You have to be your own superhero. No one is going to come and save you, so you have to find something to help you continue to move forward. It’s easy to throw yourself a pity party. It’s easy to make yourself the victim. But sometimes you have to put on the cape for yourself and keep it moving.
What helps you to live this belief?
I have to show up for myself, my son, and for other people because I can’t allow the traumas I’ve been through, the bad things, to keep me from being the best version of myself. That’s what pushes me to do these things.
What gets in your way of living this belief?
Sometimes it’s a lack of support. I don’t have family here and that trips me up. I do also go through depression seasons, too. Depression is a big thing. I want to get up and show up for myself but then sometimes I just want to stay in bed all day. But I have to remember that I have a kid who’s watching me, too, so I have to get up.
Just being strong all the time trips me up. People say being strong and everything is so great, but sometimes it’s not. Sometimes showing up is too much and the drive to show up gets in the way. You need time to release. You need time to not be so strong— to breathe, to reflect, to be able to pause. You need to be able to say, I need a break, and can you help me out with this? But you don’t have the relationships to be able to say that because you don’t want somebody else to have that control, to be able to take things away or shut you down. You don’t want to be in that space of vulnerability.
What is the joy, or satisfaction, or benefit, for you in doing the work to live into this belief?
That I encourage someone. That I maybe change the course of how they thought about some things.
There are people out there that will show up for you. You can’t go through life by yourself. It’s just not possible. You need someone there to cheer you on, to encourage you, to show up for you, and to be there. I’m modeling that for people so that people don’t have to live the reality that I lived. I let them know you can be great, regardless of whatever trauma you’ve faced. And then you can usher people towards their own healing. You can’t heal them, but you can usher them forward into that space.
Thank you, Salka! If you are inspired by Salka, as I am, and can afford to support her in her work, please do. Below are a list of avenues to support her:
If you can’t afford direct support, sharing this post around to your networks also helps! Please feel free to like (click the heart!), share, and comment below! I’d love to hear your thoughts.