Jean Cozier

J

Feature image: Jean Cozier pictured with her published books via her website.

Jean Cozier and Awakenings Foundation

"Take your victories where you find them."

In a small town where resources were scarce and dreams often overshadowed by reality,   Jean Cozier grew up as an imaginative child, a bright spark in a dim world. However, her light dimmed under a shadow that no child should ever know. From the ages of 8 to 14, Jean endured what no words can adequately describe—a family member, just five to six years older, "played games" with her, a sinister euphemism for the trauma she endured.

Jean Cozier
Jean Cozier's published books featuring Dear Judith

This abuse was not something Jean could easily speak of, especially considering the close age of her abuser. Her family, unaware or perhaps unwilling to believe, turned a blind eye. It wasn't until much later in life, well into her 30s, that Jean began to recognize the triggers and scars left by her past.

Jean’s journey into healing was not linear. Therapy sessions became a part of her life in her late 30s, a testament to her strength and determination to reclaim her narrative. It was during this time of healing that she reconnected with a family member, a cousin named Judith, who shared a similarly harrowing story of sexual trauma. This connection became a turning point in Jean's life.

Together, Jean and Judith found solace in the arts. Visual arts allowed Judith to express her pain in a way words never could, and Jean began to use her skills as a writer to voice and explore her traumas.

Grandmother
Grandmother's Silence

In 1998, Jean established the Judith Dawn Memorial Fund for the Arts to offer similar opportunities for healing and expression to other survivors. This program, self-funded with a modest budget, began offering grants of $1000- $5000 on a yearly basis. The response was soon overwhelming; the number of applicants increased each year, with every third or fourth one receiving a grant. As the program grew, so did its scope. People sought resources in music, theater, and other forms of artistic expression.

By 2009, it was clear to Jean that artists/survivors needed resources beyond the scope of the Judith Dawn Fund. They needed help with rehearsal space, audiences, publishing assistance, and travel expenses. Most of all, they needed space and a home.

The Awakenings Foundation was established in 2011 as a self-funded private operating foundation. Jean’s vision for the organization included an Art Gallery, musical and other public events, and literary offerings. Her plan at the time was to establish programming first and search for additional funding in the future.

In Memory of Trauma
In Memory of Trauma

As the executive director for eight to nine years, Jean confronted challenges head-on. When they opened a gallery showcasing artworks by sexual assault survivors, it became a powerful statement. It limited the excuses others could use to dismiss the importance of discussing and expressing trauma. Jean fiercely advocated against the notion that art should not be personal, especially when young artists are discouraged from expressing their experiences.

"Finding it isn’t the problem; finding a space big enough for all of the art is the problem."

The question often arose, "How do you find the art?" Jean's response was poignant, "Finding it isn’t the problem; finding a space big enough for all of the art is the problem." This reflected not just the volume of the art but also the depth and breadth of the experiences it represented.

Sister
Sister's of the World

Yet, as Awakenings grew, so did the challenges. Managing the expanding organization became increasingly difficult for Jean. An organization that had started as a small beacon of hope had grown into a vast network, too large for her to manage alone. Jean found herself seeking an escape route, not from the mission she so passionately believed in, but from the overwhelming weight of its success.

Jean's story is not just one of trauma and pain, but of resilience, courage, and the transformative power of art. Her journey from a silenced child in a small town to a beacon of hope for countless survivors is a testament to the indomitable spirit of the human soul. Awakenings, under Jean's guidance, became more than an organization; it became a movement, a voice for those once voiceless, a gallery of resilience, and a testament to the healing power of artistic expression.

Jean Cozier's journey with Awakenings was marked not only by her dedication to supporting survivors of sexual assault through art but also by her own learning and evolution. Her personal experience in art therapy was limited, as Jean had always been "too much of a writer, all about the words." Her direct involvement in workshops was almost nonexistent, a challenge she faced while working at Awakenings.

The Awakening
The Awakening

People often misunderstood the purpose of Awakenings. They would enter the gallery thinking it was a place for art therapy, but during Jean's time, the organization did not provide such services. They worked closely with artists, providing a platform for therapeutic art, a term Jean found more fitting. Most of the artists she worked with were women, with only a few men participating. One of these men, already well-known in his field, chose to remain anonymous due to the sensitive nature of his work and the need for confidentiality. His artwork was among the first Jean collected for the gallery.

Art displayed at Awakenings often included artist statements, allowing for some artists to remain anonymous. This anonymity was crucial for many who, regardless of whether they disclosed their abuse, were shy about their art. Jean recognized that if a piece was hanging in the gallery, there was no hiding its existence, but artists were still free to choose how much of their identity and story they shared.

Jean often felt tempted to encourage artists to step out from behind the silence, believing they might find it more liberating than they could imagine. However, she respected their choices, understanding the delicate balance between expression and privacy.

The Mask of Normal
The Mask of Normal

Awakenings was a private operating foundation when Jean was at the helm, but as the organization transitioned to a more public, measurable approach, Jean felt it was time to step away. She had created Awakenings as a unique small non-profit organization, but it had grown beyond her original vision. Her successor, Laura Kinter, was finding success in finding grants, leading Awakenings in a new direction. Jean left with both heartache and pride, knowing the principles she instilled—empowering survivors and providing a space for healing through the arts—remained.

Jean's approach was unconventional; she focused on programming, a strategy emphasizing empowering survivors and giving them tools to be comfortable with their lives and identities. She was proud of establishing an online magazine for writers to share their stories, creating a haven that hadn't existed before.

Even after stepping away from Awakenings, Jean continued to influence the field. Her involvement in podcasts and speaking engagements, often on topics people shy away from, furthered her impact. She formed a partnership with Derek Hopkins, a long-time friend and colleague, with access to medical journals and scholarly research, which were crucial for advocating the need for research and funding in addressing sexual assault. She also recruited Tom Andreeson, another friend and colleague she’d met through her philanthropy. Together, they produced a podcast series focusing on these critical issues. Awakenings acted as host and sponsor for this endeavor, symbolically uniting Jean’s past and present efforts. The podcast, like her work with Awakenings, combined her talent for storytelling with her commitment to addressing and healing the trauma of sexual assault. Jean’s legacy, marked by resilience, advocacy, and an unorthodox approach, continued to influence and inspire long after her direct involvement with Awakenings had ended.

"I don’t know how not to do it. It happened to me. I don’t want it to happen to other people."

The Passage
The Passage

Jean's motivation for her relentless work in supporting survivors of sexual assault and promoting awareness through Awakenings and her podcast stemmed from a deep, personal connection to the cause. Jean's answer was straightforward yet profound when asked why she does what she does, as she admits, "I don’t know how not to do it. It happened to me. I don’t want it to happen to other people." This sense of necessity, rather than gratification, drove her efforts. Jean was acutely aware of the normalization of sexual trauma and assault in society, a reality that terrified her and fueled her commitment to change.

Jean often reflects on her own journey, acknowledging the transformation she has undergone. " You wouldn’t have liked me if you had known me in my 20s.  I wasn’t even aware until I was about 40," she would say, highlighting the profound impact of self-awareness and healing in her life. This personal evolution was a cornerstone of her empathy and dedication to helping others.

"You wouldn't have liked me if you had known me in my 20s. I wasn’t even aware until I was about 40."

The impact of her work is evident in the success stories that emerged. One particularly touching incident involved an esthetician who listened to Jean's podcast with her 12-year-old son in the car. After the episode, they had a conversation about the content, an indication of how Jean's work facilitates important dialogues. These conversations, often difficult and avoided, are entirely crucial in educating and protecting the younger generation.

Invisible Girl
Invisible Girl

Another significant moment for Jean occurred when she was invited to watch a sports show being filmed at Wrigley Field. A woman approached her, inquiring about her podcast. Upon learning that it was about sexual abuse, the woman responded, "Good. More people should talk about it." This interaction was a testament to the changing attitudes toward discussing sexual abuse, a topic traditionally shrouded in silence and stigma.

Jean lives by the mantra, "Take your victories where you find them." Small moments of understanding, awareness, and open conversation are monumental in a field where progress can often feel slow and painful. They validated her belief in the necessity of her work and the importance of persistently advocating for change and healing. Jean’s commitment to this cause, driven by her own experiences and the desire to prevent others from suffering similar fates, was a powerful force in the fight against the silence surrounding sexual trauma. Her efforts, though sometimes thankless, made significant strides in building public awareness about sexual abuse and the needs for those who survive it.

 Learn more about Jean Cozier and her work at   jeancozier.com. All proceeds from the sales of her book,  Dear Judith, benefit her current podcast and digital non-profit,  Project 42, which will be launching soon! Follow her @thejeancozier on Instagram and @jeancozier on Tiktok for more updates. 


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