STAND! For Families Free of Violence strives to 'rebuild lives'
By Lou Fancher
It came as no surprise that the National Football League took the worst shellacking at STAND!'s "Rebuilding Lives" luncheon. The crowd of several hundred in the Concord Hilton ballroom on Oct. 9 repeatedly applauded keynote speaker Jennifer Siebel Newsom's blistering comments, and STAND! chief executive officer Gloria Sandoval's introductory statements.
"I'm sure you've all heard about the recent controversy around the NFL," Sandoval said. "It's a powerful moment for us to join the conversation.
"Domestic violence is a men's issue too."
The Concord-based STAND! For Families Free of Violence offers cross-spectrum programs aimed at ending domestic violence and child abuse. With comprehensive crisis services throughout Contra Costa County that include counseling, advocacy, transitional and shelter housing, emergency response teams and more, Sandoval said the organization's mission was to "turn fear to hope" and to be "the engine of change in our community."
But if the NFL was dinged repeatedly during the two-hour celebration of STAND!'s achievements, the onus on breaking through the wall of silence surrounding domestic abuse was on everyone, said board chairwoman Laurie Wolkow.
"Breaking the silence is the key," Wolkow said. "Stop asking why she stayed. Ask why hitting is his solution. End the cycle of shame."
ABC7 News anchor Cheryl Jennings has been emcee of the event for years and said, "When I first started talking about domestic violence, it was really hard to get it on TV," Jennings recalled. "I remember doing fundraisers when we were known as 'Battered Women's Alternative.'"
Newsom was more direct: "Women, despite being 51 percent of the population and giving birth to 100 percent of the population, are still overlooked (and) treated as second-class citizens."
Newsom and her husband, Lt. Gov. Gavin Newsom, have three young children she said have been treated to their share of gender profiling.
Their two daughters, she said, received compliments on appearance and lots of pink items when they were born.
Their son received "lots of blue, letters from the White House suggesting he could be and do anything" and T-shirts labeling him as future presidential material.
"Gender stereotypes start with T-shirts and dressing up," Newsom said. "America's celebration of princess culture leads to devaluing girls while honoring boys." Newsom has taken her Stanford University business degrees and her experience in Hollywood -- where she was told to ditch her MBA and rely on lying about her age to get a job -- and founded "The Representation Project."
Through films, interactive campaigns, partnerships and initiatives, Newsom said the take-action organization for which she is the CEO is structured to counter pervasive messages in the media that are "distracting our daughters, killing their confidence and ambition, while it's robbing our boys of empathy and emotion."
Like Sandoval and Wolkow, Newsom placed the ultimate blame squarely at the feet of anyone who remains silent on the issue of domestic violence. Men, she said must speak out against unhealthy dominant norms. How can democracy and patriarchy coexist, she asked.
"Silence is a form of consent," she said, urging listeners to be catalysts for consciousness raising and cultural change.
Rep. George Miller, (D-Martinez), received the Rollie Mullen Award for his commitment to championing the cause of protection and prevention for domestic violence victims at local, state and federal levels.
Menbere Aklilu told her survivor's story that began in Ethiopia, where she met with domestic violence at age 10, continued with abuse from her husband, and ended with her choice to flee to America.
"I choose to be strong," Aklilu said. "I'm not only a survivor. I can love; that is the most important thing. I am who I am because of this type of organization."
Today, Aklilu is the 20-year owner of Salute e Vita Ristorante in Richmond, the mother of an adult son, and an outspoken advocate against domestic violence.