Oct. 23, 2021 marked two years since the disappearance of Aniah Blanchard, a member of the Auburn community and an individual whose story kindled national attention and encouraged positive action towards reform and change.
As a result of Aniah’s story, Aniah’s family has taken the initiative against violent crimes through the founding of Aniah’s Heart, a non-profit organization originally founded by Aniah’s mother, Angela Harris, in June 2020. Through Aniah’s Heart, Aniah’s family has been dedicated to educating individuals on selfdefense, raising awareness on the importance of safety skills and helping search for missing persons. The family hopes that Aniah’s Heart can provide help to people and communities and prevent future violent crimes.
Elijah Blanchard, Aniah’s brother and senior in supply chain management, offered advice specifically to college students regarding ways they can avoid dangerous situations in and outside Auburn.
“It's so easy to get complacent, especially in a place like this where you are so family-oriented and everyone seems to look out for each other, but dangerous situations really can happen at any time at any place, especially if you are away from campus,” Blanchard said. “Make sure you are aware of your surroundings. Make sure you know where the nearest emergency posts are. Stay off your phone. If you are going to wear airpods, just wear one so you can hear what’s going on around you.”
One specific way they have provided service to the Auburn community is by hosting a self defense class at Max Fitness in Auburn on the two year anniversary of the disappearance. The class was led by Aniah’s family, including her stepfather and UFC fighter, Walt Harris, Angela Harris and Elijah Blanchard. Max Fitness hosted two sessions at which between 50-60 people in the Auburn community participated.
Elijah Blanchard discussed the structure of the class and specific skills they taught the participants.
“We started out with teaching self-awareness, and basically how to keep yourself from being in bad positions. We taught certain things you should do in your car and how to hold your keys and hold yourself before we got into movements,” Blanchard said. “We also taught weapons training, like how to use a knife if you need to and how to disarm people. Just like household items to protect yourself.”
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Tye Brown, general manager of Max Fitness, expressed how much it meant to be able to host the class and be a part of its impact in the community.
“It means the world that we were able to teach self-defense to those fifty people. Our goal wasn’t to sell memberships, but to change people's lives,” Brown said. “So hopefully between Eli and Angela and Walt, everyone learned proper self defense and awareness to be able to save not only their own lives, but also family and friends close to them.”
The family’s goal for the future is to provide care packages, host fundraisers and campaign for Aniah’s Law, a constitutional amendment that denies bail for violent offenders, which will be voted on statewide in November 2022. Elijah Blanchard also expressed his desire to make self-defense classes more regular and accessible to the Auburn community and other communities.
One way the Auburn family can actively support Aniah’s Heart and be a part of raising awareness is by following along on Aniah’s Heart social media platforms where Angela Harris regularly posts videos and resources regarding how to avoid dangerous situations.
Elijah Blanchard conveyed his family’s goal to use their work to save others.
“The more people it reaches, the more people I feel like we will be able to save, and that is our goal.”
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