By Olu Alemoru, Staff Writer
This month you may see young people in the community wearing a black eye or the words black Friday painted above their cheeks.
It’s no cause for alarm; the youths are the so-called volunteer angels for the Jenesse Center, Inc., the innovative domestic violence intervention program as it joins in national domestic violence month.
Emerging out of the first Day of Unity observed in October 1981 by the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence, Domestic Violence Month was first declared in 1987 and seeks to connect battered women’s advocates across the nation working to end violence against women and their children. The Jenesse Center, founded by five African-American women survivors of domestic violence in 1980 that includes Halle Berry amongst its distinguished patrons, has become a beacon of light with the services it provides locally.
The center, whose administrative office is located at 3761 Stocker St., includes a domestic violence clinic (located in the Inglewood Superior Courthouse), an emergency shelter, a drop-in center and two transitional housing sites. The secured housing facilities are staffed 24 hours a day and include recreation rooms, children’s play areas, classrooms and a computer lab and a boutique.
In a visit Tuesday to the center, that included a tour to one of the housing sites, Angela Parker, director of training and programs, and Alison Messenger, managing staff attorney, reflected on the organization’s work.
What things will be the center is doing for this national domestic violence month?
Parker: Usually, we don’t put a spotlight on that month because we work on the issue all year round. But it does give us a platform to discuss what we do. So, we’ll be doing a lot of media stories highlighting some of our programs and services, workshops, op-ed pieces and be more visible in the community talking about domestic relationships. Our youth will be doing Black Friday; where they will be going round with a black eye or write black Friday underneath their eye.
Messenger: I think in general domestic violence is still considered a taboo issue, so having a month dedicated to raising awareness is very important. It gives organizations like ours a platform to speak on the issue within the community. Ultimately, our goal is to get to a place where there is no need for a domestic violence month. Our goal is always future-orientated. That’s why we’re so heavily involved in outreach and our youth program is so important. We think if we can get to the next generation we can put a dent in this issue.
What are the stark facts about domestic violence?
Parker: One of the misconceptions is that people feel that it doesn’t and can’t happen to them. The truth of the matter it can happen regardless of age, gender and socio-economic background. One of the things we do is try to get people to talk about domestic violence out in the open. A lot of what we do in the community is festive. We put on events that people want to come to; they come and stay for the education. Domestic violence shelters are still shrouded in mystery and nobody knows what they are, but they know its bad and don’t want to go there.
Messenger: Again, it’s an issue in our society that people just don’t like to talk about, especially the population we serve. The stats tell us that one in four women in their lifetime will be a victim of domestic violence and/or sexual assault. There is a lot of stigma, shame and embarrassment attached to it. [Thus], we feel if we can open up the issue in a way that’s non-threatening and non-intimidating to people, we can begin to make strides. That’s why one of our signature programs is called ‘Conversations for Jenesse,’ which brings people together in a relaxed environment.
How can we hope to eradicate the issue?
Parker: Education for everybody. When I talk to young people about domestic violence I get a sense that unhealthy relationships are normalized. You don’t know you’re in the situation because your mom’s been in one, your best friend’s in one and your best friend’s cousin. It becomes a way of life and the more we educate, the more we get people talking about the signs.
Although, in the time I’ve been here, I think the events surrounding October have really started to make a dent. There was a domestic violence incident recently in a parking lot and everyone came out to see what was going on and make sure the young lady was ok. Five years ago you wouldn’t have seen that. People would have turned their heads not wanting to get involved.
Messenger: Angela couldn’t have said it better. It’s why we put so much of our resources in to outreach; we have to reach those who haven’t experienced domestic violence because they are key to ending the cycle.