Every day, we hear stories of domestic violence. Many of the stories that grab headlines feature celebrities who batter and abuse. We all know the story of singers Chris Brown and Rihanna. A celebrity couple whose arguments became violent and Rihanna ended up with visible bruises and cuts to the face. This example of domestic violence is fresh in my mind due to the recent airing of the Grammy Awards. Chris Brown performed multiple times on the show and received one of the prestigious Grammy awards. Many people who were watching the telecast lashed out. They were appalled that someone who batters women would be celebrated in this fashion. The comments on Twitter and Facebook attacked Brown, CBS, and the Grammy’s for allowing this person to be a showcase. I think this response from the public is a common one. When we, as a society, think about men who batter women we are very passionate and strong in our feelings towards that person. Many, like me, cannot understand why and how someone could do this. We believe these men to be monsters and we want them to receive the harshest punishment imaginable. I, personally, have always had this thought, this perception, this belief. Recently, I spent time with an organization that made me stop and rethink my stance of domestic violence predators.
The Center of Nonviolence has been serving the Fort Wayne community for over 30 years. It mission to “provide education, support, and advocacy to end domestic and other forms of violence while modeling equality and power sharing” is the driving force behind the organization. The center offers intervention programs for men, women, and youth. In today’s world, men are not the only ones who batter. In addition to these programs, the Center for Nonviolence offers support groups and community nonviolence initiatives. This week, I had the opportunity to volunteer in one of the community initiatives. “FACES: Transforming the Image of Leadership” is a school-based program that strives to teach and inspire disadvantaged youth to become leaders who use nonviolent skills to lead and model correct behaviors. Certified instructors go into schools and teach classes that feature hands-on, reality based activities. The program serves students in K-5th grade who have shown leadership potential. Some students who have shown leadership characteristics express them in negative ways. The FACES programs focuses on developing this potential and channeling it to lead positive change.
I volunteered in the classes that were being presented at Fairfield Elementary. A Title One school in an area stricken with poverty, violence, and other disadvantages. The students come to the class during their lunch period once a week. This ensures that it does not disturb the academic time required by No Child Left Behind. Upon entering the classroom, the children sat down to eat their lunch. During this time, each student had to discuss “Brick” and “Balloon” choices with one of the teachers. A “Brick” choice is a negative choice, or decision, the child has made over the last week. A “Balloon” choice is a good or positive choice made. I sat and listened to a few of the students share their choices. I was impressed with the children’s ability to identify and speak about these choices, especially the bricks. This analogy of bricks and balloons is working with the children. It is something that I hope to use with my little brothers as we discuss choices and consequences in the future.
During the school year, different dangerous thinking concepts are introduced and taught to the children. Each topic is associated with a figure and a name in an effort to make it abstract for the children. Our topic was stereotyping and his name was Shawn. The children participated in many activities geared around stereotypes and making judgements. I stood in front of the class and they had to make judgements about me based on my appearance. To some of the students, I was a basketball player because of my height. Others believed me to be 50 or 60 years of age. I sometimes feel that old, but not quite yet. Most thought that I was the brother of one of the teachers because I was white. He and I were the only white males in the room so that conclusion was made quickly. This led to an interesting discussion about racism. The class was very engaging for the students. Unfortunately, I was very disruptive as a volunteer. Once again my height became the center of attention. Everyone was so amazed at my size and that I had to duck to get through the door. This is not uncommon for me. I do get concerned, however, that it causes the children to lose out on learning when I am there. I really enjoyed time my time with the class. The children are learning about things that will make them better leaders and people in life. They are learning skills to live life without violence that will serve them for a long time.
The Center for Nonviolence works in a field that many are afraid to enter. The topics and issues they address are not warm and fuzzy. The intervention programs for men and women are making our community better. For 30 years this organization has been positively changing lives. I had the pleasure of meeting John M. Beams, one of the founders of the center. His insights and writings about the treatment of and rehabilitation of those who batter is inspiring. His passion is evident in his words, his actions, and in those who he works with at the center. Domestic violence is an ugly thing. The Center for Nonviolence works daily to end it in our community. I will never understand why others batter their wives, husbands, girlfriends, or children. It is a thought that I just cannot comprehend. I will, however, try to suppress the mental filters of my brain that allow me to label these people “monsters”. I am sure some are, but I guarantee that other aren’t. Sometimes our bad decisions lead us to the right place. Thankfully for those who choose violence, that place is the Center for Nonviolence.
Visit www.centerfornv.org to learn more about this organization and how you can get involved. We all want to inspire change. For the Center of Nonviolence, it is about one person, one family, and one world.