Everywhere around the Shiloh Baptist Church fellowship hall there was purple. Though it was still Lent, these African-American Baptist women weren’t observing the penitential period followed in some denominations. But their activity had a Lenten feel.
Purple is also the color symbolizing domestic violence. It happens, educational materials state, to one in four women and one in ten men. It is the carefully hidden cause of many social problems.
Ladies of Vision (LOV) are trying to educate the public about it. They believe they’re making some impact. At the very least attendance, at the annual spring day conference is growing, and word of mouth is steering some victims to the many sources of local help in the valley. On a late March Saturday more than 200 women and a few men gathered at the Salem church for fellowship and education about a problem that one guest speaker asserted can affect even a child before its birth.
I first heard about the conference last year when a concert to raise money to pay guest speakers and other expenses was being promoted. Leaders were holding their meeting at a local hotel several weeks later. This year the event was in a church from which some of the support comes.
Annette Lewis, whose husband is the long-time pastor of Morning Star Baptist Church in the Hurt Park area of Northwest Roanoke, filled me in on how the new outreach ministry came about. She and a younger clergy wife, Sharon London of Cloverdale, saw that I got a purple tote bag and enough literature to teach me some things I didn’t know.
Lewis said the outreach ministry dates from a terrible event that occurred on New Year’s Eve 2009 when a couple well-known to many in church and community died as the result of a murder-suicide. Not long afterward two women were murdered while walking in a park in Northwest Roanoke. As the Baptist churchwomen, many of whom knew each other through their clergy husbands’ ministries, began meeting in 2012 hidden incidents of domestic violence began to emerge.
‘You see, it’s so shameful. People don’t talk about it…and especially when it affects a man,” Lewis pointed out. “But friends tell each other, and there are plenty of places to get help.”
Around the walls in the Shiloh hall were tables with information about such help. Total Action for Progress (TAP) is a good place to turn as well as the Legal Aid Society, The Salvation Army’s women’s shelter and Sabrina’s Place, a Roanoke refuge for the battered.
Roanoke’s current Mayor Sherman Lea was at the Shiloh conference and has long been aware of the problem, Lewis said. Police representatives were there too as well as the supportive husbands of the Ladies of Vision.
The program has expanded to include young men and fathers who learn how not to pass on to their children the ugly behaviors with which they may have grown up. The day included confidential small groups for teens of both sexes.
The keynote speaker this year was a Richmond woman Cathy Mayfield Coleman who has worked in the field of domestic violence prevention since a tragedy in her own marriage caused her to break free of it. For her own security reasons, Coleman declined to be interviewed.
However, I was permitted to hear the other guest speaker, Michele Smith Hairston, a professional counselor of abused persons in Winston-Salem, N.C. with ties to the Roanoke Valley. Hairston’s emphasis was on the effect living in a home where adults are frequently fighting with each other has on children. She sees many, she said, who even in pre-school, are disruptive, unfocused, overly fearful and unable to learn in a normal class.
Though such troublesome children may be marked as having attention deficit disorder or autism, in many cases investigated the cause is found to be daily exposure to adults cursing at, threatening and belittling each other and their children, Hairston said. She cited research that indicates that the unborn are affected when a pregnant woman is battered verbally as well as slapped, bitten or pushed. Unwanted sex forced on a woman is abuse but so is withholding needed money, destroying or tormenting loved pets or other objects and keeping a spouse or partner from seeing his or her own family, materials state.
Theme of this Fifth Anniversary conference was “The New Me—No More Scars.” To remain with a violent companion can bring death to one or both.