Tag Archives: Domestic Violence

In Memoriam: Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno

Sad news today in the Philadelphia poetry world. Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno, author of the poetry collection Slamming Open the Door and founder of Musehouse, A Center for the Literary Arts in Chestnut Hill, has died at age 61.

I didn’t know Kathleen personally but her poems chronicling her profound grief in the aftermath of her 21-year-old daughter Leidy’s death from domestic violence in 2003 resonated with me seven years ago. Below is a slightly-edited version of my review of Slamming Open the Door from April 2010.

My deepest condolences to Kathleen’s friends and family.

Slamming Open the Door, by Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno

I never should have read this book.

I never should have read this book because it should never have been written … because the subject of these incredibly heartbreaking poems, Leidy Bonanno, should still be alive.

Leidy should be alive today, not memorialized so lovingly on the pages of Slamming Open the Door, a collection of poems written by her mother Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno.
Her name is pronounced “lady” and her nickname was Ladybug – hence, the ladybug on the cover and the images of them throughout the book in illustrations and in several poems. We meet Leidy as a child (“Meeting You, Age Four”), as a nursing school graduate (“Nursing School Graduation Party, Six Weeks Before”), as a 21-year old victim of domestic violence (“Hearsay”). Her beautiful face greets the reader, and you smile wistfully back, only to be immediately choked by the first poem, “Death Barged In.”

Death Barged In

In his Russian greatcoat
slamming open the door
with an unpardonable bang,
and he has been here ever since.
He changes everything,
rearranges the furniture,
his hand hovers
by the phone;
he will answer now, he says;
he will be the answer.
Tonight he sits down to dinner
at the head of the table
as we eat, mute;
later, he climbs into bed
between us.
Even as I sit here,
he stands behind me
clamping two
colossal hands on my shoulders
and bends down
and whispers to my neck:
From now on,
you write about me.

As painful as it must have been to do, I’m grateful to Kathleen Sheeder Bonanno for sharing Leidy and her story with us. In each poem, in each line, she gives us every emotion that accompanies Leidy’s death. We are there with Kathleen and her husband as they call Leidy’s cell phone, as they drive to her apartment, as the police officer gives them the news. We’re there in the flashbacks at Leidy’s graduation party from nursing school, and we know exactly who Kathleen is talking about when she writes:

When Dave clears his throat,
and raises his glass to toast her,
we raise our glasses too –
and Johnny Early, a nice young man
from Reading Hospital,
smiles and raises his glass.

In Slamming Open the Door, we see the full spectrum of grief, from the anger to the absurd.

Sticks and Stones

To you, who killed my daughter—
Run. Run. Hide.
Tell your mother
to thread the needle
made of bone.
It is her time now
to sew the shroud.
The men are coming
with sticks and stones
and whetted spears
to do what needs doing.

What Not to Say

Don’t say that you choked
on a chicken bone once,
and then make the sound,
kuh, kuh  and say
you bet that’s how she felt.
Don’t ask in horror
why we cremated her.
And when I stand
in the receiving line
like Jackie Kennedy
without the pillbox hat,
if Jackie were fat
and had taken
enough Klonopin
to still an ox,
and you whisper,
I think of you
every day,
don’t finish with
because I’ve been going
to Weight Watchers
on Tuesdays and wonder
if you want to go too.

I saw this at the library and started reading it while my own daughter was selecting her books (the irony not being lost on me), and couldn’t put it down. Leidy’s story – that domestic violence can happen to anyone, anywhere, regardless of one’s background or education or anything – is one that needs to be told to as many people as possible. It’s a story that needs to be told, too, because it shows us that we’re not alone in our grief – that although the specific circumstances and details might differ, we have all experienced similar emotions.

Although, understandably, the majority of the poems focus on Leidy’s death and the aftermath, Slamming Open the Door is also a tribute to her all-too-brief life.  She lives in the hearts of those who loved her, and for those of us who didn’t know her, we get to do so in these 41 emotional and contemporary poems.

Slamming Open the Door is the recipient of the 2008 Beatrice Hawley Award.

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Another NFL Fumble on Domestic Violence

Purple Ribbon

Once again, the NFL has fumbled the issue of domestic violence.

This time, Pittsburgh Steelers cornerback William Gay is the latest athlete who is shining a spotlight on an issue that impacts 20 people every minute — but make no mistake, not for the same reasons as other players.

The NFL has fined William Gay $5,797 for a uniform violation. His crime? Wearing purple cleats to honor his mother Carolyn, who was killed in a domestic violence incident when William was seven years old.

In case we’ve forgotten, this is the same NFL whose commissioner, Roger Goodell, stated just over a year ago that his own “disciplinary decision [in the Ray Rice incident] led the public to question our sincerity, our commitment, and whether we understood the toll that domestic violence inflicts on so many families. I take responsibility both for the decision and for ensuring that our actions in the future properly reflect our values. I didn’t get it right. Simply put, we have to do better. And we will.”  

Despite the “No More” commercials, which include William Gay, some of us are still questioning the NFL’s sincerity, commitment, and understanding of this issue. We only need to look to October itself, long known for being the most ridiculous month in the NFL.

With every player’s shoelace, every sportscaster’s tie, and every stadium’s field blitzed in every possible hue of pink and fuchsia to commemorate October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month, the NFL’s actions ignore that October also happens to be Domestic Violence Awareness Month. What  we don’t see — and what I’m convinced we will never see, at least while Roger Goodell reigns as commissioner — is any speck of purple during October.  It seems as if the NFL would like to pretend that domestic violence would just go the hell away already.

Don’t we all.

Which is exactly why it is downright ridiculous and hypocritical for the NFL to fine William Gay for his efforts to call attention to victims of domestic violence — and, as his personal story illustrates, the lasting impact on the 1 in 15 children who are exposed to intimate partner violence each year.

Were his shoes intentionally worn to cause a stir?  Maybe.  Was it a uniform violation? OK, yeah. But here’s the thing: you can’t say you’re going to do more about domestic violence, then not do all that much (from a public perspective, anyway) and then penalize a player for demonstrating his support in a modest way — especially when you’re doing the same thing by emblazoning everything in sight with a headache-inducing hue of pink for another equally worthy cause. That shows a lack of basic common sense at its best and a complete disrespect for the victims of domestic violence and their families at its worst.

The NFL needs to take another good, hard look at what it purports to stand for. If nothing else, the League should look to William Gay as an example and use October — and every month — to do even more meaningful work toward helping victims, raising awareness and becoming a true partner in helping to end the epidemic of domestic violence. (I’ve blogged previously about concrete ways they can do just that.)

They can start by forgiving William Gay’s $5,797 fine outright or donating the full amount (and then some, because that amount is pennies to the NFL) to the Women’s Center and Shelter of Greater Pittsburgh. Unlike the NFL, which also holds a nonprofit designation, WC&S will most certainly put those funds to better use than the League will. Consider it an employer contribution in honor of William Gay’s advocacy and volunteer work with WC&S.

Either way, the NFL has a chance to use this incident as a way to put their money, their mouths and their ridiculous policies towards furthering a cause they claim to care so much about.

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‘a moment of choice’ appears in the times herald

Times Herald - LH article screenshot

It’s rare that something I write is considered worthy enough to be “Breaking News” and gets prime real estate with our Governor, a potential state attorney general candidate, and the ongoing budget stalemate (not to mention the state’s largest scandal).

But there we all are on the front page of The Times Herald, the newspaper serving the Norristown area of Montgomery County, Pa., yours truly represented by a version of my “A Moment of Choice is A Moment of Truth” post about the proposed move of Laurel House’s shelter and offices that you read here on Saturday.

So grateful to The Times Herald for giving voice to the safety of the victims of domestic violence.

 

 

 

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A Moment of Choice is a Moment of Truth: An Open Letter to the East Norriton Township Zoning Hearing Board Regarding Laurel House

Dear Solicitor Amuso, Chairman DiPietro, Ms. Cassel and Mr. Gillen:

“Integrity in the broadest sense must lead our actions in all relationships, including those with citizens and each other. On a daily basis, every one of us makes choices about how to behave – whether to do the right thing or simply the easy thing.” 
~ from the “Uncompromising Values of East Norriton” as stated on the East Norriton Township website

As residents and officials of East Norriton Township,  you have an opportunity to do the right thing.

During your upcoming zoning meeting on Tuesday 8/11 and Tuesday, 8/18,  you will be considering a proposed plan to relocate Laurel House’s domestic violence shelter and its administrative offices from Norristown to the grounds of St. Titus Church in East Norriton Township.

As you are undoubtedly aware, there is a segment of the community that strongly opposes this potential move. While they are certainly entitled to their opinion, it saddens me greatly that their stance is rooted in fear, misunderstanding, and prejudice about the essential services provided by Laurel House and, most especially, about the women and children whose very lives depend on those services.

My connection to Laurel House is that of a former employee. For five years, I worked for Laurel House as the agency’s Director of Development and Public Relations. During that time, I worked in the administrative offices and I often took funders to the shelter as part of our discussions about potential gifts and to show them how their contributions have impacted the women and children who depended on their support.

I admit, I was very scared the first time I visited Laurel House’s shelter. Part of me was terrified to walk through that door. You see, I’ve never been in a physically or emotionally abusive relationship where I feared for my personal safety, so I had misconceptions about what I could expect. I envisioned a stark, chaotic gymnasium-like room with wall to wall cots and out-of-control children.

It’s easy to visualize the worst when you don’t know what is on the other side of that door.

But when I did, I found a home-like atmosphere that looked nothing what I imagined. Laurel House’s shelter was clean and quiet, staffed with counselors talking quietly with women about legal options and how to find a job. Others were in the playroom, reading a book to a toddler. A few women were in the kitchen preparing lunch; a mom was feeding a baby who was sitting in a high chair.

And I began to realize that as afraid as I had been, the women rebuilding their lives at Laurel House were there because they truly knew what it was like to be scared to death. To feel unsafe.

The irony is that while the women are healing from their injuries and becoming emotionally stronger from some of the most horrific, incomprehensible experiences, the buildings are not as strong. The shelter is more than 100 years old and needs significant renovations in order to be fully accessible for people with disabilities. Federal and state budget cuts have impacted nonprofits in every corner of Pennsylvania while private philanthropic support for human service agencies like Laurel House is among the slowest-growing sectors of charitable giving. (Source: The Chronicle of Philanthropy)

“We must do the right thing, even when it is painful or difficult….A moment of choice is a moment of truth. It’s the testing point of our character and competence.”
~ from the “Uncompromising Values of East Norriton” as stated on the East Norriton Township website 

East Norriton Township faces a moment of choice that is a moment of truth, and a true test of the community’s character. Unfortunately, there are some in the community who have chosen to approach Laurel House’s proposed relocation by spreading untruths about many aspects of the plan, including the number of people who will be living at the shelter (35 at any given time) and the perceived threat that the residents bring.

A letter sent to East Norriton residents states, “Even more tragically they will be at our bus stops, on our buses and in our neighborhoods. Unfortunately even attempting to make a positive interaction with them will be useless….

It’s delusional to believe that domestic violence victims and their children are somehow not already in one’s neighborhood. Because when nearly 20 people each minute are being physically abused by an intimate partner in the United States, that means that a person you love or someone in your neighborhood – perhaps even that nice mom at your kids’ bus stop – is living with an abuser.

“We will always treat every person with respect and dignity. Our workplace is to be a shelter from violence, threats, harassment of any sort, discrimination, retribution, bullying, and abuses of all kinds.”
~ from the “Uncompromising Values of East Norriton” as stated on the East Norriton Township website

Solicitor Amuso, Chairman DiPietro, Ms. Cassel, Mr. Gillen and members of the East Norriton community, this decision gives you a chance to put your “uncompromising values” into action. You can do the right thing for a nonprofit that for 35 years has been serving the people of your community and all of Montgomery County.

You can approach this issue from a place of integrity and not irrational fear.

You can treat your neighbors with respect and dignity while serving as a shining example of a community that doesn’t tolerate violence and abuses, and by giving the children in your neighborhood a safe haven where they know they are loved and free from harm.

Let this moment of choice be a moment of truth for you, one where you leave fear on the steps and open the door to welcome in all that is possible through respect, dignity, peace, and love.

I thank you for your time and your careful consideration.

 

 

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Listening to Our Better Angels: 1000 Voices for Compassion

1000Voices_zps11edff99

“One blogger shares a sentiment of compassion that resonates with another blogger. That blogger has a vision of more bloggers joining together as a whole to flood the internet with compassion much like tiny drops of water causing a ripple effect across the internet, across the world. Within two weeks over 1,000 bloggers make the commitment to share compassion individually yet together as a force so strong it takes on a life of its own because so many of us crave acts of good, positive deeds, a spark of kindness, empathy and good will that has been missing for some time.”
~ “Compassion Is In Our Nature,” as published on 1000Speak for Compassion

“We are not enemies, but friends. We must not be enemies. Though passion may have strained it must not break our bonds of affection. The mystic chords of memory, stretching from every battlefield and patriot grave to every living heart and hearthstone all over this broad land, will yet swell the chorus of the Union, when again touched, as surely they will be, by the better angels of our nature.” ~ Abraham Lincoln, Inauguration Address, March 4, 1861.

I’m blogging today as part of 1000 Voices for Compassion, a worldwide initiative to get a thousand bloggers to write posts about compassion, kindness, support, caring for others, non-judgement, care for the environment etc, and to publish these posts on the same day – today, February 20. The goal? To promote good.

It took me about two nanoseconds to sign myself up for this project. Blogging about compassion?  Easy.

Among the things I strive to do as a blogger is to use this small forum as a place to share with you what I care most about. Most of the time, that’s a good book or a new-to-me author I’ve just discovered. I enjoy sharing what I’m reading with you and I love talking about good books, especially with like-minded people.

Maybe it’s the been-doing-this-for-too-many-years nonprofit professional in me, but what I am most compelled to write about here are the stories of the people and the issues and the causes I care most about, such as:

the need for acceptance and greater understanding of people with autism and other special needs;

domestic violence and how it can leave a family shattered;

our country’s deeply flawed foster care system that allows a four-year-old girl to be all but forgotten and ignored by the Wisconsin child services agencies and professionals whose jobs are to protect her legal rights – and whom a judge has bounced from one, two, three foster homes in her four years after she was taken away screaming from the adoptive parents who loved her in their home;

the still-present reality of long-term unemployment and my belief that it will alter our country’s workforce and our economy forever;

the loss of so many creative, inspiring and loving souls to the epidemic of AIDS while our country’s leaders turned a blind eye, and why our legacy to those lost too soon must be continued striving for equal rights and protection for those identifying as LGBTQIA.

All of these topics have something in common.

Yes, they’re all ones that I have written about here.

But they are also subjects that tend to bring out the worst in people.

People with AIDS? “They deserve it.”  People who are unemployed and can’t find a job? “You must not be trying hard enough.” People who are abused by those they love? “Why don’t you just leave?” People who have a child with special needs? “You wanted to be a parent, so stop complaining.”

This is tame compared to what you’ll find on the comments section of certain websites or blogs or newspapers.  The haters are rabid – and becoming even more so. I’m not sure why people feel the need to be so nasty. Whether it’s the sanctity of feeling safe behind a computer screen under the cloak of anonymity or whether we’re just so hyper-stressed that we need to vent and take our anger out on some unsuspecting person or whether we are just so desperate to be heard, I don’t know.

So what do we do? I don’t know the answer but one thing I’ve started doing is not reading the comments – or, trying not to, anyway. Mainly my reasons are that it’s a time vacuum and also unhealthy for one’s soul. Even a few minutes spent with the comments makes one bereft of feeling – or, at the very least, numb. Not reading the comments is not feeding the beast, and it isn’t polluting my sense of compassion toward others.

(Edited to add: I need to clarify this based on, ironically, a comment from earlier today: I read all the comments here. What I’m talking about are the comment sections in the online editions of the newspaper or certain websites or whatever that just seem to fuel the crazy. With the exception of certain posts – mostly the adoption ones  – this isn’t much of an issue here on my blog. .)

I admit, there have been several posts where I’ve wondered if I should “go there.” I’m not a big-time blogger. I’m not going to change the world.

But deciding not to post about certain controversial issues doesn’t help with awareness and genuine healing. Because it’s a collective effort that starts with one person realizing a different perspective and gaining understanding.

We won’t get there if we don’t address the negativity and the snark that is so prevalent while re-committing ourselves to turn outward – not inward – toward others. And the good thing is, it’s easier to do than we think.

Notice those who are struggling and those who have suffered. As the quote (attributed to many people) goes, “Be kind, for we are all fighting a hard battle.”

Extend a hand or a listening ear or a shoulder to cry on.

Be proactive in asking someone how you can help, or … just help.

Only then will we be able to fully hear the still and emerging voices inside us:

The song of our better angels.

To read links of #1000Speak Compassion posts from bloggers all over the world, click here.  

 

 

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Score or Fumble? The NFL Tackles Domestic Violence. (Finally.)

Purple Ribbon

It’s wrong to hurt other people. Hurting other people is a very, very bad thing.

Most of us learn this life lesson pretty well sometime during our earliest years. Then there are some people who grow up, become football players, make unfathomable amounts of money, and think there’s no difference between tackling your opponent on the field and tackling your girlfriend until she’s unconscious or dead.

This mindset has been business-as-usual in the NFL for decades. Now, if Commissioner Roger Goodell is to be believed, the new football season has ushered in a new attitude. In a letter sent to all 32 team owners, Goodell wrote:

“My disciplinary decision [in the Ray Rice incident] led the public to question our sincerity, our commitment, and whether we understood the toll that domestic violence inflicts on so many families. I take responsibility both for the decision and for ensuring that our actions in the future
properly reflect our values. I didn’t get it right. Simply put, we have to do better. And we
will.”

You’ll forgive me for not performing a shaking my ass, pointing to the sky celebratory endzone dance for you.

I should be. But I can’t, and here’s why.

I spent five years working at Laurel House, a domestic violence agency in suburban Philadelphia, and during that time, had the opportunity to coordinate several fundraising events and domestic violence awareness projects with Coach Andy Reid and his wife Tammy during their tenure with the Philadelphia Eagles. The Reids’ commitment and compassion to helping victims of domestic violence – often in private, off-camera ways – was something genuine and that our agency saw often. I’m grateful for having had that experience and for getting to know them in the way I did. The Philadelphia Eagles also lent their support – both financial and by having players involved – to our events. And more.

What we in Philadelphia knew was something the rest of the NFL didn’t. We knew that having the strength of the Eagles brand during 14 mostly pretty damn good seasons (no matter how the Reid era ended) was some of the most powerful advertising, advocacy and awareness for domestic violence that a nonprofit could have dreamed of. It was our personal Gatorade bucket challenge.

Imagine how different the NFL would be today if each one of the 31 teams had been doing this work alongside us for the past 14 years. We always wondered how much more magnified that message of prevention and awareness could have been if it was shouted throughout every stadium.

I’d like to believe Goodell is sincere and truthful about taking a stand against domestic violence. The reality is that attitudes about domestic violence change slowly, and usually not with press releases or letters hung up in locker rooms, especially in cultures that are indoctrinated to think otherwise. The NFL has been in overtime on this issue for entirely too long.

Now there’s a mandate and an opportunity for teams to partner with the experts in their communities to educate everyone from their players to the fans to the front office staff to the guy hawking the beers in the stands on how to recognize the signs of domestic abuse and how to get help for yourself or someone in crisis. It will take staff and funding and time – all of which are in short supply at domestic violence agencies across the country – but the NFL is a well-funded machine and has the dollars to do this right if they choose to do so.

As they kickoff a new season, here are two things the NFL can do within the next 60 days to demonstrate their commitment to helping to educate people about domestic violence.

1. Remove O.J. Simpson From the Hall of Fame. 
It’s been 20 years since the murders of Nicole Brown Simpson and Ron Goldman, and yet O.J Simpson, former running back for the Buffalo Bills and San Francisco 49ers, still remains a member of the Hall of Fame.

In his letter, Goodell writes: “Among the circumstances that would merit a more severe penalty would be …violence involving a weapon, choking, repeated striking, or when the act is committed against a pregnant woman or in the presence of a child. A second offense will result in banishment from the NFL.”

If Pete Rose can be banned from baseball for gambling, then O.J. can be removed from the Hall of Fame for practically beheading his ex-wife and companion while his children slept upstairs.

2. Drop the ball on the pink. 
Hey, have you heard about this disease called breast cancer? You have? I think most of us are Very Goddamned Aware of breast cancer. Then why, pray tell, do we really need the NFL to go all Pretty In Pink every October?

Between the fuchsia ties on the NFL Gameday hosts and the shoelaces on the players, October makes me long for the days of black-and-white television. (Yeah, buddy, I’m old enough to remember that.)  I don’t mean any disrespect to any of my friends or family who have been through this battle, but everyone knows someone who either has or has had breast cancer, most people know where to get answers and help (hint: another of my former employers, the American Cancer Society is a great resource).

Did you know that October happens to also be National Domestic Violence Awareness Month? Oh, you didn’t? I’m betting the NFL didn’t know that, either. What if, in addition to wearing purple, each NFL team distributed purple ribbons at every Sunday game in October along with instructions about what to do if you think someone is in an abusive relationship?

What if they launched a national campaign?

What if a DART (Domestic Abuse Response Team) was stationed on-site at every game, for counseling?

What if the NFL created a foundation that would support direct services in local communities for education and shelter and legal assistance for domestic violence victims, and what if a significant, substantial, meaningful percentage (I’m talking almost 50%) of ticket sales from October went towards domestic violence services in each team’s local community?

I’m encouraged by Roger Goodell’s letter – and heartened that it includes some specific examples of ways that the NFL plans to change. Since January 2000, there have been 77 players involved in 85 domestic violence incidents so forgive me for feeling like this is too little, too late. The League has a history and a reputation of fumbling the ball on this issue.

Only time will tell if the NFL scores a touchdown on this one.  I’ll be watching.

And waiting to do my celebratory dance in the endzone.

 

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still remembering kristin

Phipps Conservatory and Botanical Gardens (30)

You are not forgotten today.

http://melissafirman.com/forever-21-remembering-kristin/

Remembering you and thinking of your family with love.

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