Violence against women and young girls is a global health issue and in my opinion it rarely goes discussed or spoken out against by women and men in our communities. On Saturday, October 15, 2016 Women of Color and Allies Essex County National Organization for Women Chapter and the NOW-NJ Combating Racism Task Force organized a forum to “Break the Silence” in communities of color to address Violence Against Women and Children and all communities. Members of the community were given the opportunity to discuss and speak out about specific social, health, and economic ills that ad to the detriment of families and the community as a result of it. This is the way it is.
The event was held at Rutgers University - Newark Campus. It was well attended by a diverse audience of about 60 men and women from urban and suburban Essex County areas. Several members of grassroots organizations such as the War Against Poverty Coalition and the Peoples Organization for Progress were also present. In addition, representatives of local religious and civil rights organizations such as the Montclair Universalist Unitarian Church and the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People were also in attendance. Social service agencies were present to distribute information about their services and resources. Two agencies put up displays. One exhibited a sexual assault T-shirt close line and the other presented a domestic violence tank top close line.
The Forum opened with Lenore Pearson, Associate Director Office of University - Community Partnerships, who gave a welcoming address and words of encouragement. Next the NOW-NJ President, Deborah Huber inspired us by confirming that NOW-NJ is not just an organization that addresses women’s issues but it also holds allegiance to addressing issues regarding racism as well.
Esney Sharpe, the CEO and Executive Director of the Bessie Mae Women’s and Family Health Care Center located in East Orange was our special guest speaker. Mrs. Sharpe was humorous, she thought fast on her feet, and she kept the program moving along despite changes in the program schedule.
Sharpe gracefully greeted the audience with a smile and introduced a professional line up of panelists to start the forum: Karen White, the Director of Working Families Programs at the Center for Women and Work at Rutgers University- New Brunswick Campus discussed Women Children and Economic Violence, Anne Kochman, a public health nurse, and a member of the “Ain't I A Woman Campaign” gave a presentation about Economic Violence in the Work Place, Anjali Mani, LSW Social Worker and Program Coordinator at The Essex County Family Justice Center in Newark spoke about The Impact of Violence Against Women on their Children, Lisa Davis, a member of the People's Organization for Progress, the vice-chair of the Black is Back Coalition (BIBC) and chair of its Healthcare Working Group gave a presentation about The Impact of Violence on Women and Children’s Health, Veronica Ortiz, a Domestic Violence Outreach Worker at Robert Wood Johnson Barnabas Health, and a trainee with the John J. Heldrich Institute for Leadership Development discussed New VAW Legislation and the Impact of Human Trafficking on the Latina and Latino community.
Each panelist made themselves available to answer questions during our audience “speak out” session. Some of our audience members were also helpful about giving out hotline telephone numbers, which are 1- 800 – 799 – 7233 for domestic violence and 1-838- 8238 for sexual assault. A female audience member testified about her experience with an abusive relationship. And, another member of the audience informed us that the Essex County Welfare Department was only staffed with one case worker to deal with domestic violence for the entire population of welfare recipients, which was shocking!
This forum was established for several reasons, to offer awareness of Violence Against Women and Children in the community, to help keep them safe, to offer information about resources offered in the community, and in response to a growing amount of complaints and reports of violence against women and children living in the community.
Britnee Timberlake, President of the Essex County Board of Chosen Freeholders was a special guest speaker during the first half of the program. She informed us that she was raised by parents in the military. The Freeholder President declared that she did not have any childhood remembrances of violence in her family. However, she shared a story about a woman who lived next door to them who was being abused by her husband and she described the impact it had on her. She also admitted that she has seen men get angry and she said that they especially get mad and angry when a woman has the job they want. The audience responded with laughter.
Retrospectively, before we broke for lunch a young women’s singing group, “Altitude” unaccompanied minors from Columbia High School in Maplewood entertained us by singing a song by Sweet Honey in the Rock and Michael Jackson a capella. It was uplifting.