SHAKER HEIGHTS – In walks Jae Williams as he carries a basket full of red flowers. The room is silent while he softly places the basket on a stage. Seconds later, he removes a flower. Williams turns and looks at the audience.
“She got flowers today,” he starts. “It wasn’t a special day, it wasn’t her birthday, or any holiday.” Slowly, he paces the floor as he clings to the flower. “Last night he yelled at her and he pushed her, but he really didn’t mean to.”
Williams puts the flower down. He then walks to the basket, and once again, takes a flower. He begins his next line: “She got flowers today.” The reason this time, he explains, is because she was punched the night before.
The poem continues until Williams arrives at the last stanza: “Today, she got plenty of flowers. They were everywhere. People came from near and far,” he tells the audience. “If only she had done something, perhaps called someone. But if she called somebody, they would have told everything about her and she would have no place to live. She would have no money. This is the day of her funeral.”
Williams, who is Director of Youth Ministries for First Baptist Church of Greater Cleveland, was invited to share his poem at First Baptist’s 7th annual Domestic Violence Awareness Fundraiser on Friday, October 17. The gathering took place in the church’s Spahr Center, and dozens were in attendance. Sharon Anderson, FBC’s Director of Arts Outreach, was the event’s coordinator.
“The fundraiser increases people’s awareness of the need, and we supply a lot of information of: If you hear this going on with your neighbor, don’t be silent. Call somebody, because it could be a matter of somebody’s life for heaven’s sake,” said Anderson.
She collaborated with Adam Whiting, Staff Accompanist from the Cleveland Institute of Music; Karen Gordon, Justice System Advocate for the Domestic Violence & Child Advocacy Center; and Dr. Angela Isom, Director of the Henry Johnson Center to present the annual event, which was free and open to the public.
Funds were raised through a baking competition that night, in which guests used financial donations to vote for their favorite baked good. Donations were also received from FBC’s children’s ministry. Each year, $500 – $700 in funds have been raised at the event to benefit the Domestic Violence & Child Advocacy Center.
In addition, guests donated cell phones at Friday’s gathering. “We have a constant drive going on to collect cell phones,” Anderson said. “A lot of the women who are in abusive situations cannot use their own cell phones to make 911 calls. To be able to do this, they need an anonymous phone.”
Dr. Isom from the Henry Johnson Center – a Cleveland-based ministry dedicated to helping young women get back on their feet – shared a personal cell phone experience that happened in an abusive relationship several years ago.
“Everywhere I went, my phone would ring. I’ll never forget one day, I was at church and it was a 6 p.m. – 7:30 p.m. service. He called me at 7:32 p.m. and cussed me out,” said Isom. “He said, ‘Church ended at 7:30. Where are you?’ That is unacceptable.”
Isom continued: “Verbal abuse is domestic violence. Emotional abuse is domestic violence. Controlling [behavior] is domestic violence,” she said. “We’ll have someone come in the office and say, ‘At least I don’t beat her.’ But you told her she was ugly, fat, and the last thing on earth you really wanted, but she’s lucky you’re with her.”
Musical entertainment was provided by the quartet known as Great Lakes Light Opera. The company’s Executive Director, Megan Thompson, said her group was asked by Adam Whiting to sing at First Baptist’s domestic violence fundraiser, and they were more than willing to do so.
For Thompson, however, domestic violence hits close to home.
“The entire event really means a lot to me personally. I’ve actually been very fortunate that while in abusive situations, I would have enough support to get out immediately,” said Thompson as she started to tear up. “I have had friends who didn’t.”
FBC is a “Purple Pulpit Program” Partner, meaning that it’s a place where domestic violence victims can go for referrals to community resources. The church is committed to educating the public about the many facets of abuse.
“People ask, ‘why doesn’t she leave?” Anderson said to the audience. “And it’s because he’ll tell her everything’s going to be okay. And it doesn’t turn out that way. He’ll threaten to kill himself. He’ll threaten to kill her mother. He’ll threaten to kill the dog. He’ll threaten to kill the children. It’s very important to strengthen women and to have them have an escape.”