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Keeping Vigil in the Quest for Paradise

Remarks from the 2013 Domestic Violence Awareness Month Vigil

Good evening everyone and thank you for being here tonight.

For those of you who do not know me, my name is Ifeoma Aduba and I am the Executive Director of A Woman’s Place, the only domestic violence organization in Bucks County.

I must admit to all of you tonight, I’ve been struggling a bit with some upset. I work with a wonderful group of passionate and dedicated staff and volunteers and, just this morning, engaged in an incredible conversation about how each of us and how A Woman’s Place as a community benefit organization can be change agents for the community. Many poignant opinions were shared, but I was struck by our need to remind ourselves to be patient. We are creating social change, and that does not occur overnight. One staff member said, “If this work could be done overnight, the founding mothers of A Woman’s Place would have taken care of everything 37 years.”

I have had the pleasure of meeting the four founding mothers of A Woman’s Place. They are incredible women who will surely never receive the historical recognition that they deserve. In no way did they fall short. But ending domestic violence is taking time, and I’m angry.

In my role at A Woman’s Place, I have felt it important to remain positive and optimistic. I often try to limit how much I expose others to my anger. On the other hand, I challenge myself and others to live and work authentically. How do I do that and hide my anger? Because, I am angry.

What I was reminded of this morning is that my anger is combined with hope, and that can make all of the difference. Great things have come from the combination of anger and hope. In fact, at the intersection of anger and hope lies our ability to make and remake ourselves for the better.

One of my favorite authors and a truly amazing woman is Chimamanda Adichie. As she so eloquently says in her talk about the Danger of the Single Story, “Stories matter. Stories have been used to dispossess and to malign, but stories can also be used to empower and to humanize. Stories can break the dignity of a people, but stories can also repair that broken dignity. When we reject the single story, when we realize that there is never a single story about any place, we regain a kind of paradise.”

I want to thank Virginia for granting permission to all of us tonight to be part of her story. There are days in this work that we might be led to believe that paradise might actually be lost. Obstacles block our paths and despair abounds. But that is when we only hear the single story of need. Part of my responsibility, and frankly, one of the best and most vital parts of my job, is to be a storyteller. When we realize that there is never a single story, we realize hope.

I wish we could hear from Violeta Isakov today, but we cannot. On a Thursday evening, accompanied by her 16-year old daughter, she pulled into the parking lot of a dress shop for her final dress fitting for her upcoming wedding. She never made it out of her car alive. Her ex-husband shot her three times in the chest with a shotgun.

I wish we could hear from Suzanne Detweiler today, but we cannot. A 41-year old mother of 3 innocent children, she was shot and killed by her husband with a shotgun.

I wish we could hear from Robin Shaffer today, but we cannot. A 43-year old mother of 2, she was shot and killed by her estranged husband who had a long history of mental health issues.

According to the Violence Policy Center, 9 women are shot dead by their husband or intimate partner every week. How can that not make you angry? But the story of violence is not just the nine women shot dead every week. It is also the story of lives now flourishing thanks to the unceasing commitment of A Woman’s Place and all of us gathered tonight to keep vigil and build a stronger community. There is no single story about domestic violence. The domestic violence story is about coming together to demand safety. It is a story about overcoming. It is a story about real and true love. It is a story about hope and persistence and rebirth. It is a story about flourishing.

I wish we could hear from Toshi Clark. Toshi spoke at our Chocolate Lovers’ Fantasy last April. She shared her story, she danced, she laughed, and then very suddenly suffered several medical conditions that caused her body to fail her and she passed away. Toshi was my friend and I miss her. But I also know that Toshi was flourishing and that is paradise.

As a community, we struggle to find the perfect solution. Perfection may be elusive, but opportunities – hopeful opportunities – to move in the right direction are not. October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. We keep vigil because each life is worthy of watchful attention. Each life is also worthy of action.

Again, I want to thank all of you for being here tonight. I also want to thank you for giving me the opportunity to be a voice for Violeta, Suzanne, Robin, and others who cannot stand here and represent themselves. Thank you for rejecting the single story about victims of domestic violence and for granting the space for anger and hope to come together and make and remake our community for the better. The risks of inaction are too well known, and the costs are way too high for any of us to accept anything less. And, “when we realize that there is never a single story about any place” – and I would dare to add when we realize there is never a single story about any person – “we regain a kind of paradise.”

With that, my quest for paradise continues.

Thank you.

Ifeoma U. Aduba
Executive Director

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