I grew up outside of Chicago and as part of a family of six I don’t remember having many moments of quiet in my life. There were neighborhood kids over frequently, we had a foreign exchange student one year, and often had extended family over for dinners and holidays. My parents made everyone feel welcome. One night, my mom called on her way home from work and said that her coworker Kim and her son were coming to stay with us because her boyfriend threatened the two of them with a gun in their apartment and needed somewhere to stay. I helped my mom take suitcases and a car seat out of her trunk on that dark rainy night and in hushed voices was told to put their things in my sister’s room.
My mom didn’t call it domestic violence, no one questioned if it was okay for them to stay, we opened our home, our rooms, our kitchen table, as we have always done. I started working as a community organizer at REACH Beyond Domestic Violence 5 years ago because I believe everyone deserves to feel safe, respected and loved in a relationship. Kim was the only person I knew who had been threatened by an intimate partner. At least that’s what I thought then. Once I started talking about domestic violence, I learned that my grandmother was abused by my grandfather, that my one of my best friends was controlled by her abusive partner in college, and that another friend was sexually assaulted. 1 in 4 women will experience abuse at some point in her lifetime. The numbers are similar in LGBT relationships. When we start the conversation about domestic and sexual violence, we create a safe place at the table for survivors to share their experience. By starting the conversation, we begin to end domestic violence by promoting healthy relationships.
That’s why last week here in Waltham we held our 3rd Annual “Say Hi to Your Neighbors” Week. Survivors of domestic and sexual violence are more likely to share their experience with a family member, friend or neighbor before they ever call a hotline or the police. So we organize things like Say Hi Week so we can get to know our neighbors in order to build stronger, healthier communities.
Just a few of the week’s highlights:
In A Pickle Restaurant, a local business, offered customers 50% off their bill if they sat down and had a meal with people they didn’t know. It was fun to see people get to know each other over omelets and coffee.
We held a “Meet the Social Media” event where people put faces with names they recognized from Facebook and Twitter and had conversations about things they’re interested in and cared about.
On one of the coldest mornings of the year (so cold our milk froze!) we handed out coffee to commuters at the train station.
More than 60 people, including some of our elected officials, came out for a scavenger hunt at the end of the week. The team that won was made up of three people who all signed up as individuals, got grouped together and ended up winning!
It never fails, when I’m out in the community, people come up to me and tell me about their personal connection to domestic violence. I talked with people looking for support because they were in the middle of trying to leave their partner. I talked with a pastor looking for resources to give congregants experiencing abuse. Being out and about and just talking about the issue can remind people that resources are available. Many people in Waltham told me that after last year’s homicide, they felt more strongly than ever that this type of work was important.
You don’t have to live in Waltham and it doesn’t have to be a special week for you to make connections with your neighbors. Do you own a local business that could help bring community members together? Do you interact with people from your town on social media? Do you know how to make coffee? Small actions like this can make a big difference and let everyone know that domestic violence has no place at our tables and in our communities.