By Stephanie Dean BA, RN
When you love and care about people, turning a blind eye to what plagues our society is impossible. There are hundreds of ways we can embrace a cause and make a difference in our community. Finding a way to serve that is right for each of us is important. While some folks are born with a giving spirit, there are others who have to cultivate an attitude of service. I was raised with the understanding and value instilled that, as people, we have a responsibility to help others and give back from a place where we recognize our own individual blessings, whether it is education, privilege or the good fortune of having been born into a supportive and loving family. As a young girl, I was exposed to many strong females, not only within my immediate family but also within a secondary circle of women I refer to as my “church” mothers. Charity work was part of my life before I began preschool as our neighborhood caroled every Christmas Eve, collecting donations for the Fannie Battle Day Home, a shelter for unwed mothers in Nashville. I am certain an early introduction to giving back helped create a positive attitude toward serving my community.
When the idea for the Black and Bling event was conceived, my focus centered on the empowerment of abused women by raising money to help them escape their situations and find their personal voices, leading them to improved life experiences. When choosing to cultivate a philanthropic attitude, it’s important to consider a cause for which you have great personal interest or one to which you feel a strong emotional connection. I chose the issue of domestic violence because it was an emotional trigger. Personal experience with relationship abuse in my early 20s led to a strong emotional connection to domestic violence issues.
If you’re considering giving back by volunteering, think about your individual personal talents, hobbies and skills that bring you pleasure. As Black and Bling evolved over the years, I derived great joy from bringing my passions and talents together to benefit the cause.Black and Bling provided an opportunity to engage in things I love: decorating, cooking, painting, and creating while benefitting a worthy cause. People often ask me why I work so hard to organize Black and Bling. I refer to it as cultivating my joy as I find satisfaction from using my strengths in a way to serve and help others. A fundraiser just can’t be all about money and donations, but is more about finding the joy in using my personal talents in the right way for me. I believe there is a path for all of us, and we are guided by our visions. You have to find the courage to act on them.
Another point to consider is the type of person with whom you enjoy working. You might prefer working alone or with a group. I enjoy working independently behind the scenes while collaborating with other people committed to the same cause. It’s about “we,” not “me.” I must be open to suggestions and view things from a different perspective sometimes. When August arrives, Black and Bling dominates my life until mid-October. When you find a good fit for your volunteer efforts, you will go into it with an attitude of joy and have fun, too.
When I talk to women about domestic violence, I’m amazed how many have a personal story to share. Almost every woman I know has experienced abuse at some time in her life or knows someone who has suffered. I’m so proud of women who share their stories openly, no longer fearing the stigma that once prevented them from discussing abuse issues. Only through kind hearts, eyes that truly see, and ears eager to listen, can we hope to come together as a community of women and battle this social stigma. I see the world of domestic violence teetering between what has been a culture of avoidance, to a culture determined to eradicate relationship abuse. The present time is a big cultural turning point. Little by little we’re going to create a new culture where domestic violence is not only unacceptable, but we actually see a decreasing incidence of abuse. I want to eradicate the dysfunctional cycle of hopeless despair many women experience. Overcoming domestic violence in our society means we all have to want it and join forces to promote big change.
For this year’s Black and Bling event, I reached out to several merchants requesting help with table-top designs for the home tour and received strong support. The generous donations from merchants have pointed toward a common interest in coming together to change the domestic violence landscape. A committee of volunteers, which includes my children, exemplifies attitudes of giving back to the community through commitments of time, resources and donations to the cause of domestic violence. Volunteering as a family can be a wonderful experience for children of all ages as they develop their own attitudes of service and learn valuable life lessons. Great minds are working together to make a difference in our community. I can’t do this alone, but we can do it together. Creating something new may take a village, but I believe it takes one person to inspire another to take action, and then we are catalysts for change.
If it does takes a village, we are on the verge of building one. I am blessed to have the support and cooperation of like-minded people who see the need and have risen to meet the challenge. This road is long, and the trip is difficult as we struggle to understand how we eradicate domestic violence in our society. When you are no longer blind, and truly recognize the plight of women who feel trapped in abusive relationships, one can only face them with an open, loving heart and the commitment to do something to help, while finding your own personal joy along the path of living a life of service.
My Friend Is Being Abused. What Do I Do?
Anecdotal evidence suggests that victims may find it necessary to confide in 15 to 30 people before they feel that they have found a supportive listener. [Lomax, I Can Find No Way, 2015)] When you listen and believe the confidences that your friend has chosen to share with you, you are helping her to take the first step to help herself. You are doing your part to change the culture that tends to blame the victim and extend sympathy to the abuser. Before she decides to confide in you, she has already blamed herself, questioned her own sanity, and felt her self-esteem plummeting. It is empowering to her to recognize you as an ally in a world in which she feels quite alone, as she goes about wearing her mask of pretended contentment. When you listen to the victim’s story and acknowledge her struggle, you allow her to recognize her authentic self. You allow her to acknowledge that, although she has been abused, the shame is not hers. If she can look at her story and see the mistakes her abuser has made, as well as the mistakes that she may have made, your friend may be able to see healthy options. When you question her credibility, or when your expectations of her force her to present a false front to the world, her self worth is further diminished and she loses the strength required to move to a better place. You are telling her, just as the abuser tells her, that her own flaws are causing her reality and are keeping her from meeting the expectations of her intimate partner, of her family, and of society. You are reinforcing the idea that the shame is hers to bear alone.
However, when you listen with empathy, in addition to helping her to take that first step, you may very well be helping her children to break the cycle of relationship abuse. Seeing their mothers treated with enormous disrespect teaches children that they may disrespect women the way their fathers do. Children who are raised in abusive homes learn that violence is an acceptable way to resolve conflicts and problems. Boys who witness their mothers’ abuse, or who are themselves abused, are more likely, as adults, to batter their female partners. Girls tend to regard their own victimization as a normal component of being in a relationship. By listening to your friend with empathy, you may be enabling her to begin to break the cycle of abuse for generations of families.
So, what can you do to help your friend?
- Assure her that she is not crazy and that it is normal to feel depressed, confused, and afraid when one is experiencing physical or emotional abuse.
- Remind her that emotional abuse can, in fact, cause long-term damage, just as physical abuse does.
- Describe her strengths and good points to her to counteract the damage that is being done to her self-esteem.
- Respect the victim’s choices, and be patient; self-empowerment takes a long time.
- Encourage her to build a wide support system among friends and family, and to avoid becoming isolated.
- Connect her to relationship abuse resources, such as Family Services at 336-722-8173, or the webpage for the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (ncadv.org).
- Do not judge, criticize, or accuse her or her abuser.
- Do not pressure her to leave.
- Do not try to be an expert on the topic of abuse; however, you may benefit from learning more at the website mentioned above.
- Speak with her only at a time and place that is safe and confidential.
- Express concern and listen empathetically.
- Listen to her and BELIEVE her.
- Tell her that no one deserves to be hurt, either physically or emotionally, and that the abuse is not her fault.
Relationship abuse is not a private problem. It is not just a woman’s problem. It is society’s problem, and as such, it is best to address it from all angles. We are fortunate that many of the men and women in our community are combatting the scourge of relationship abuse in various ways. Many are making donations and/or are attending the Black and Bling event, benefitting victims of domestic abuse, which will take place on October 17, 2015. The event is held in memory of Sarah Virginia Carr Browder, and will feature numerous entertainers, including the band Fruit Smoothie Trio, a psychic medium, and a comedian/ magician. Go here for more information about this event: blackandbling.blogspot.com. Donations can be made via check to Family Services, with Sarah Browder Memorial Fund on the memo line. Black and Bling, which is a public event, will be an exceptionally good time for all. Please save October 17 on your calendar!
Susan K. Browder, M.A. Ed., Member NCADV