We must remain aware of the prevalent and nightmarish dynamics of intimate partner abuse or domestic violence. Maybe that’s why I cannot let go readily of this amazing experience I share with several homeless women who reside in NCCF’s emergency family shelters or transitional housing programs.
The occasion is a Saturday afternoon event in recognition of domestic violence month, organized by NCCF’s dedicated staff. The campus is alive with happy sounds of children playing in a moon bounce, competing in games, painting faces, eating freshly made hot popcorn. Inside the conference center, a roomful of mothers listen to a male inspirational speaker. He talks about putting closure on negative experiences, rejecting those who put you down, not allowing yourself to become hardened, keep on trying. I glance around and catch glimpses of their faces, hesitant, confused, earnestly seeking a message. As the next presenter, I was to speak on my reflections.
“Ladies, you have heard from a man. Now let’s talk woman to woman. Cuz’ you know we have a different world view. We are: Caretakers. Mothers. Lovers. Healers…..Personally, I look often to Maya Angelou’s voice for getting past being a victim. From mute to majestic and wondrously articulate. We may have been victimized but we are not victims. Maya talks about why a caged bird sings for freedom. Don’t we all want freedom?” I talk about the need to unlearn the squeeze of oppression and to explore and own the space that comes with taking one’s entitlement. Then I challenge my sisters. I say, ” I’m going to read you Maya’s poem, Phenomenal Woman, and then I want you to come up beside me and tell us all how you are phenomenal and how this helped you survive. I really want to know you better! ” I read the entire poem with emphasis, my hands on my hips:
Now you understand
Just why my head’s not bowed
I don’t shout or jump about
Or have to talk real loud.
When you see me passing
It ought to make you proud
It’s in the click of my heels.,
The bend of my hair,
the palm of my hand,
The need of my care,
‘Cause I’m a woman
One by one, nearly all of them come up and face the group. “I am a phenomenal woman!” they utter one by one, boldly, shyly, tearfully, sassily, sadly and even angrily or while shouting. Two of them need another woman to stand with them, to help them be brave. The reasons were vastly different, yet the same. He left me with six children, after I put up with the abuse. I thought I would die. At least I have my children. I believe I can make it on my own. I am beautiful. I am sexy. I know that the pleasure was not worth the pain. I will get through this. I have been clean for a year. I survived incarceration; I can do this. I thank God. I am a phenomenal woman! It turns out to be a phenomenal celebration of resiliency and self worth. Later in the week, the women in the emergency family shelter form a women’s issues group. To talk. To share.