As Domestic Violence Awareness Month draws to a close, we want to encourage you to think about what comes next. Over the past few months there has been a lot of discussion and dialogue about intimate partner violence, due to recent passed legislation here in Massachusetts and high profile cases that left us asking tough questions like, “Why does someone stay in abusive relationship?” and “How can I support someone in my life who is being abused?” But while the headlines may eventually die down, and the purple ribbons will be put away until next October, there is still much work to be done. The idea of preventing or ending domestic violence can be a daunting, maybe even impossible, notion. Working to eradicate what we don’t want can be overwhelming, and at times exhausting. Working to create what we do want – in relationships and in community – is just as vital to our goal of ending domestic violence and feel much simpler and energizing.
It might be hard for us to picture a world free of violence. Thinking of what steps it would take to get us there might have our head spinning. So let’s start small- it’s where some of the most important work takes place. It starts with us – the work begins with our friends, families, and neighbors.
In high school, I met a lot of great people, some of whom are still some of my closest friends. One of those friends didn’t even go to the same school that I attended, but I heard so much about him from our mutual friends, I often forget that he didn’t. It took me a year to learn his first name since everyone called him by his last, and it took him the same amount of time to tell me and my best friend apart. But once we got those details squared away, Josh and I found a friendship that would span decades and across the country; through the years we would celebrate each others’ successes, and be there for one another during challenging times. REACH’s mission is to “build healthy communities by ending domestic violence”. Healthy communities start with healthy relationships- the relationships we have with friends and family members that center on trust, respect, and communication. Domestic violence is about power and control; in healthy relationships we encourage our loved ones to empower themselves, to pursue their dreams, to expand their world.
In June 2013, one of my dreams came true when I joined the team at REACH as their Director of Prevention Programs. In November of that same year, I celebrated with Josh as he was elected City Councilor of Boston’s 8th District. While our work may seem different on the surface (and I must admit, his office is a more prestigious location than mine), our goals and the steps we take to get there are much aligned. In Waltham, we work with a team of community members who are dedicated to making their community a safer place. We collaborate with community members and city officials to put on events like the Waltham Neighborhoods Fall Festival and Say Hi to Your Neighbors week. And while a block party and a community scavenger hunt may not look like traditional violence prevention, we believe that a safer community is one where we know our neighbors and they know us. We provide community trainings on “What to Do and What to Say” if we become concerned that a neighbor or loved one is experiencing domestic violence. In these trainings we remind participants that “Small Actions can make a Big Difference” and that simply reaching out to someone to let them know you care and are there for them can be life saving.
Throughout the first year of his term on Boston’s City Council, Josh has shared our goals of bringing neighbors together to foster community throughout his district. He has supported and participated in block parties, festivals, and community events in every neighborhood in District 8, which includes the West End, Beacon Hill, the Back Bay, Fenway, and Mission Hill. He chairs several neighborhood Task Forces that bring members of the community, elected officials, the Boston police, and other city employees together for an opportunity to regularly participate in open dialogues about how to address issues and improve each neighborhood. He also joined with Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez to pull together a special public safety forum in Mission Hill, engaging the Police, community members, and institutions.
Whether we are an elected official or a private citizen, we all have a role in creating healthier, safer communities. Ending domestic violence would be revolutionary, and it would make the world a better place for all of us. The steps to get us there don’t have to be drastic or intimidating. Reaching out to one another, creating opportunities for our neighborhoods to come together, modeling healthy friendships- all of these are very simple actions that can have a radical effect. What do you want to create in your community and who in your life can join you and support your efforts?
Josh Zakim with REACH Staff