A Focus on Dignity and Non-Violence at Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy

By Natasha L. Foreman, MBA

On April 15th I was honored to lead a Dignity Day session as a HOPE Corp Volunteer through Operation HOPE (HOPE) at the Coretta Scott King Young Women’s Leadership Academy (CSKYWLA) in Atlanta.

What is amazing is how the majority of this class of ninth graders were initially completely turned off to the idea of having to listen to yet another speaker that day as they were just returning to their classroom from an assembly that focused on the theme of 100 days of Non-Violence…so they were shifty and closed off. But about 15 minutes into our conversation some of the girls who had crossed arms were soon raising their hands and answering questions.

I started off by talking about the concept of legacy and that that day we were laying the foundation and road map for them to create and eventually leave behind a strong, dignified legacy. I had them define the term legacy in their own words and then share some of their dreams, goals and aspirations. Then as our conversation deepened I shared with them the history of how HOPE was founded, the services and programs that HOPE offers, and I started to weave a story where life included them and their legacy.

I think helping them share the names of empowered and dignified women they see in their family, community, and elsewhere who had similar or worse lives growing up helped them to see that they too could be those same type of women- that they are these women but in-training and with the potential to do more and help more in the long run because they are being equipped with the tools at a young age; and our adversity isn’t an excuse to let life pass us by or a crutch to coast through life doing and expecting the bare minimum, but a reason and motivation to excel and succeed.

These young ladies were shocked to hear that the civil rights movement as it pertained to Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr and Ambassador Andrew Young was sparked, motivated, and pushed along due to their wives Coretta Scott King and Jean Childs Young- two women who endured and overcame adversity and strife. Hearing this information made many of these girls sit up straight in their chairs and listen intently.


When I spoke about not holding grudges, and that forgiving people is not to benefit the person they were forgiving but to help themselves heal, grow, and overcome- some girls shifted in their seats their seats, a few others rolled their eyes in disbelief; but then when I mentioned Oprah Winfrey, Maya Angelou, Iyanla Vandzant and their ability to forgive their abusers and using strife as a launching pad towards success- some of the girls started naming other people like Fantasia and Tyler Perry who was sexually and physically abused and how he also overcame and pushed himself to success.

We discussed the concept of family and that it isn’t just our immediate family we need to be concerned about but our neighborhoods, cities, state, our country, and our global family. Because I know that girls can be equally as cutthroat as boys, I made sure that we had a heart-to-heart chat about trash-talking and “clowning” people and how although initially it can be lighthearted and funny, it can also be crippling and tear apart our “extended” family.

We discussed being relevant not only in this country but globally, and that true wealth (spiritual, financial, etc) can only be maintained long term by leading a dignified life, not by living up to the negative stereotypes that are projected globally about Black females. We discussed self-empowerment and not waiting on the government or specific programs to help us, that we have to help ourselves. That we shouldn’t be waiting for someone else to pick up trash on our sidewalks- we should pick it up ourselves.

We shouldn’t be waiting for someone else to cover the graffiti on our walls and buildings- we should paint over it ourselves; we shouldn’t wait for someone else to beautify our streets and parks with trees and flowers- we should plant them ourselves. I explained that they should be volunteering in their community through church or some other organization taking pride in restoring, building, maintaining, and beautifying their neighborhoods.

We had a pretty good time. We laughed and talked about boys and expectations of being respected by males and all people when you carry yourself with respect and dignity. We discussed the language of money and being financially literate, and how this literacy will empower them. It was refreshing to see that many of them have savings accounts and that two of the students had traveled abroad- one to London and the other to the Bahamas. Two young passport carriers living in an underserved and underrepresented area of Atlanta- doesn’t that give you hope? It gives me hope and encourages me to continue my work in the community, and my work through Operation HOPE.

I hope more men and women find it in their hearts to invest one hour of their time at least once per month to volunteer in a church, in a class room, or in a youth center through Operation HOPE. One person can make a difference!

Copyright 2011. Natasha L. Foreman. All Rights Reserved.

>The Complexities of Relationships: Part Six

>I’m about to touch on a sensitive topic that many people may frown upon, may attempt to avoid, and may claim they are not a testimony of…abuse! Remember one of my earlier posts when I mentioned that those of us who aren’t sociopaths want and know that we need love, it’s when we try to get and keep it at all costs when joy can quickly turn to mania. When a healthy sense of reality becomes cloudy and our judgment becomes tainted and unpredictable. 

This post is only to highlight the types of abuse, things we don’t acknowledge or see in abusive relationships (both as the abuser and abused), and how all of this impacts our relationships with others in both our personal and professional lives. It is a hope that we look deep within ourselves and take responsibility for our feelings, actions, inaction, and role as the abuser or abused. Hopefully through analysis, reflection, and dialogue we can work to free ourselves from these crippling titles and lifestyles. Part five of this series explored our personalities, this post will open the door even more so we can see how our personalities leave us vulnerable to abusing or being abused by others. We will have to split this post into two parts because it is bound to be a very lengthy read. So part seven will pick up where we leave off today. Ready to peek in and explore? Then let’s get to it!

I have read numerous books, articles, journals, and websites over the past 17 years about the various types of abuse. To simplify things I will summarize my most recent findings and refer to a few quality online sources such as the National Domestic Violence Hotline, Helpguide.org and Mentalhelp.net in case you would like a starting point for your own personal query. 

According to helpguide.org, ” If you feel like you have to walk on eggshells around your partner—constantly watching what you say and do in order to avoid a blow-up—chances are your relationship is unhealthy and abusive. Other signs that you may be in an abusive relationship include a partner who belittles you or tries to control you, and feelings of self-loathing, helplessness, and desperation.”

Understand that abusers are not out of control, contrary to popular belief, abusers are very controlled individuals and know exactly how and when to attack. They  pick and choose whom to abuse. They don’t attack everyone or just anyone, they usually focus on those closest to them, the ones they claim to love the most. They are careful about when and where they abuse, controlling rage in public for instance, and instead waiting until they can be in a more private and controlled environment. Don’t get it twisted, some abusers don’t mind acting like Ike Turner in public, but this isn’t common. Remember it’s about power and control, and their leverage shrinks when in public. 

Abusers can stop their abusive behavior when it benefits them, for example, when the police show up, their boss calls, the neighbor or family member comes to the door, etc. When it comes to violent abusers they are clever in how they deliver their abuse. They beat, kick, burn where the injuries won’t or are less likely to show. Signs of abuse on the face, etc can be done more frequently on an abused person who is closed off from frequent contact with others. Even if bruises are discovered the abused is quick to take responsibility or say “we were playing and he accidentally hit me”. 

Grabbing, hitting, slapping, pinching, pushing, kicking, thumping, hair pulling, forcing someone to eat or drink something, spitting, scratching, and restraining are all actions taken by an abuser to control and wield power over another person. Any actual or threat of physical force upon another is physical abuse.

SEXUAL ABUSE (a form of physical abuse)
“Molestation, incest, inappropriate touching (with or without intercourse), and partner or date rape are all instances of sexual abuse. Sexual abuse also occurs if one partner has agreed to a certain level of sexual activity and another level is forced upon her (or him) without prior explicit consent being given.” (mentalhelp.net) Helpguide.org wrote that “Any situation in which you are forced to participate in unwanted, unsafe, or degrading sexual activity is sexual abuse. Forced sex, even by a spouse or intimate partner with whom you also have consensual sex, is an act of aggression and violence. Furthermore, people whose partners abuse them physically and sexually are at a higher risk of being seriously injured or killed.”

This form of abuse is often sugar-coated because people rarely take into consideration the words they use towards others and how they go about delivering their messages. Verbal abuse is using words and body language to make yourself appear superior to another and in turn make them feel inferior, make them question their judgment, and force them to not stand up to the abuser. Oftentimes abusers try to convince those they attack that they are just joking, or that it’s “all in your head”. 

-Name calling
-Making threats 
-Use of profanity when speaking to or referring to the other person
-Telling someone that something they have done or that they do is stupid, ridiculous, idiotic, moronic, ignorant, or any other derivative that basically says, “what I think you should be doing/saying/thinking is the right way” and “I’m smarter and wiser than you”.
-“If it wasn’t for me you wouldn’t have…” 
-Yelling and screaming
-Raising your hand in anger (also psychological and physical abuse)
-Body language and facial expressions that show disgust, disinterest, rage, or that they think that what is being said/done is ludicrous, etc; and intimidating looks and posturing.
-Starting and continuing an argument: just because, to win, to chastise, to prove a point, to make the other person do/say what you want  

PSYCHOLOGICAL ABUSE (mental and emotional abuse)
This type of abuse is often overlooked as being abuse. Neither the abuser or the abused may recognize the signs of psychological abuse. We use the excuse that he/she is “just aggressive” or that they are only looking out “for your/my best interest”. What this comes down to is control. Just like all other forms of abuse, the abuser seeks, expects, and demands control. The method of doing so is mentally and emotionally. It’s by playing mind games; convincing the abused that he/she is imagining things or “it’s in your head”. The scars from emotional abuse can run deep and last longer than any physical scar. Let me share some examples:

-Flirting with another person in front of their spouse/significant other. Then adding an extra layer by saying, “you make me want to flirt with other women/men” or “I wouldn’t flirt if you lost weight; you don’t look like you used to”. Or how about, “if you treated me right and paid me more attention I wouldn’t have to get it from someone else”. Here’s another kicker…”I wasn’t flirting. That’s your imagination running wild again. You shouldn’t be so jealous and insecure”. 

-Flirting with another person and then quickly sharing with their significant other about the experience. The purpose of this is to feed off of your reaction from being betrayed.

-Demanding that “you do it my way or we end this relationship”; demanding that the person checks in frequently and tells them where they are and who they are with (exploding in rage when it isn’t done) 

– Frequently or strategically making statements such as “If you can’t do this then maybe we’re not meant for each other”, “Maybe you’re not cut out for a person like me. Maybe I’m supposed to be with someone else”

-Taking the telephone number of another man/woman and then making sure the abused finds out. Either mentioning it or putting the number where it can be found. 

-Telling the abused not to wear something (or wear their hair a certain way) because “only sluts do that” or “only people with no class do that” but then clearly showing attraction towards others who dress (or wear their hair) that same way.

-Making the abused think that they will/are being cheated on. “if you go to lunch with your friends then I’m going to have lunch with my own special friend”.
“If you go out with your friends tonight maybe I will have to do the same thing, or maybe I will just have a friend come by and keep me company”. 
“I’m having dinner with a friend”, and when asked who the friend is, the abuser says, “don’t worry about it. It’s a friend” (or something to that effect).
Coming home late at night the abuser is asked where they were and he/she says, “with a friend”.

-Secretly or blatantly surfing the Internet for XXX-rated websites, calling adult hotlines, engaging other people in inappropriate conversations using the phone or Internet.

-Placing weapons nearby to send a message that “I will use this on you if you get out of line”. An example of this is a couple having an conversation that is turning into a disagreement (and possible argument) and one person grabs a belt, knife or gun and holds it in their hands (or sits it within arms reach on a nearby table) while talking. It can also be used to make the other person think that what they do or say will determine whether the abuser will attempt to commit suicide.

-Intimidating looks and posturing

Tomorrow we will pick up where we left off today. Yes, there are more forms of abuse other than the ones I shared today. I hope that you take the time to review this information again, check out the websites I have provided, and reflect on what you learn. If you or someone you know is suffering from abuse please contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-787-3224

Copyright 2010. Natasha L. Foreman 


National Domestic Violence Hotline  http://www.ndvh.org/