As a supporter of W.O.M.A.N., Inc. you probably know that October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month (DVAM). You may see people wearing dark purple ribbons; you might even don one yourself in a show of solidarity with survivors of domestic violence.
For someone like me who has been working in the field to end domestic violence for most of their adult life, DVAM can take on a different dynamic. DVAM brings a litany of invitations, workshops and press conferences, requests of our agency and of our time. In all honesty, it can be hard to muster up the excitement and inspiration I was able to experience in the past. I am happy to say that changed this past October 1st, 2013.
The Commission on the Status of Women, along with the Department on the Status of Women planned a DVAM kick-off event. Mayor Ed Lee, George Gascón, San Francisco District Attorney, Emily Murase, PhD, Executive Director, San Francisco Department on the Status of Women, Andrea Shorter, Vice-President, Commission on the Status of Women, Chief Greg Suhr, San Francisco Police Department and Beverly Upton, Executive Director of the Domestic Violence Consortium were all on hand to show their support, lending their energy, time and capacity to honor survivors of domestic violence. Advocates lined the steps of city hall, all holding signs outlining the 40 Domestic Violence policy reforms made in San Francisco since 2002.
As Mayor Lee opened the event, celebrating the fact that it has been 40 months since a known domestic violence homicide has occurred in San Francisco, I was so humbled to be sitting on those steps. When advocates, city officials and leaders come together with a common cause; when resources, time and capacity go to ending any type of oppression, change CAN be impacted in the lives of those experiencing it.
I started thinking about all this, touched by the turn out of our city’s leaders, proud to be sitting with my friends who work for change each and every day. And then Ayesha Louis, daughter of Pearla Louis, San Francisco’s most recent domestic violence homicide victim took the stage. Her speech was truly one of the most inspiring and poignant I’ve heard. You might remember Pearla Lewis, whose body was found in a suitcase drifting the Bay. Pearla was murdered by her partner, for no reason at all; murdered because she loved the wrong man.
Ayesha, along with her brother, reminded me of WHY I do this work, and why I STARTED doing this work. Ayesha talked about her mother Pearla, and was quick to remind us that Pearla was not just a statistic. Ayesha shared stories of Pearla’s support and love, her kindness and goodness. Of how all that was stolen by a man who claimed to love Pearla, even though he beat and eventually murdered her. Leaving Perala’s family without a mother, sister, mentor. It was heartbreaking. I scanned the crowd and found that many of us had the same tears in our eyes. And that grief united us all, inspired us to do our best to end this senseless violence. Ayesha and her family have something to teach us all. They are testament to resiliency, to the power of love and being able to turn your anger and sadness into action.
I was sitting there on the steps, next to my friend from the Riley Center, feeling beyond fortunate to have had the honor of sharing space with Ayesha and her brother, of learning what it is to survive a tragedy while I thought about what W.O.M.A.N., Inc. can do to prevent another one.
As the event progressed and the day faded away, we saw the lights of city hall glowing purple for the first time ever; another milestone. I left the gathering feeling grateful, enriched, so honored to be doing this work, proud of my 17 years; and yes, wearing a dark purple ribbon. I left feeling inspired.
~ Jill Zawisza, W.O.M.A.N., Inc. Executive Director
Show us your support this October during Domestic Violence Awareness Month and make a donation to help us sustain vital services for survivors of domestic violence.