10/21/11 — Candlelight vigil honors domestic abuse victims

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Candlelight vigil honors domestic abuse victims

By Becky Barclay
Published in News on October 21, 2011 1:46 PM

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Naomi Barnett watches mom Mia light her candle during the Lights for a Change vigil for domestic violence victims at the Herman Park gazebo Thursday night. The event recognized the 54 victims who died across the state during the past nine months and remembered those still in domestic violence situations.

The message of the first-ever candlelight vigil for domestic violence victims in Wayne County came alive Thursday with the testimony of a former victim, Michi.

Tears streamed down her face as she told those gathered how she had grown up in a home where domestic violence was a way of life.

When she married, it continued with her husband.

Two years ago, all that changed when she was ordered to go to Wayne Uplift for an empowerment program after the police were called to her home for a domestic violence incident.

"They helped me become brave and get out of that situation," Michi said. "Now I'm self-sufficient with my three children."

But unspeakable memories will haunt this woman forever, especially the memory of her grandmother becoming a domestic violence victim and having her life taken by her abuser.

The candlelight vigil was held at Herman Park's gazebo area. The gazebo steps were lined with flickering lights of different colors and purple bows were tied all around it.

Lights for a Change remembered both the domestic violence victims who lost their lives throughout the year and the ones who are still suffering in silence, said Sherry Wooten, program director of Wayne Uplift's domestic violence program.

It was sponsored by Wayne Uplift Resource Association.

On bleachers sat plain white bags with candles in them. Toward the end of the event, those attending were also given candles to light as the names of North Carolina domestic violence were read.

Ms. Wooten said there have been 54 domestic violence deaths in the state since January -- 37 women, nine men and eight children.

"It's not just about women," she said. "We're getting a lot of men now participating in our program."

Also during the ceremony, the first-ever Men and Women for Change awards were given to individuals who support the local domestic violence program. Recipients were Jerome Ellis, Sheriff's Deputy Paul Kelly, Tim Smith, Kriquette Davis, Carol Lane and Sheriff's Deputy Betty Lantz.

"We want to recognize not only the victims, but also the people who support us," Ms. Wooten said.

Giving local statistics about domestic violence, Debra Carter with Wayne Uplift said the organization sees an average of 40 new clients a month.

"Domestic violence is a huge deal in Wayne County," she said. "And we need to get it under wraps."

To honor a special Wayne County victim, Marcella Rodriguez, who was killed March 23, 2009, Ms. Carter read a poem she wrote in honor of Mrs. Rodriguez titled "Gone."

Michi urged those attending to reach out and help someone who is being abused, like Wayne Uplift helped her.

"You never know. They might not make it another day," she said.

One of the domestic violence shelter workers, Yasheeka Sutton, discussed how her friend and classmate died at the hands of her abuser.

"She stayed in the abusive situation because they had two children together," Ms. Sutton said. "He killed her and then killed himself, leaving those children without a mother or a father.

"You need to speak out if you see domestic violence happening. Too many times we turn the other cheek because we don't want to bring it to light."

Ms. Wooten said she hoped that the candlelight vigil will make people aware that domestic violence happens not only to women, but also to men and even children.

"A lot of times people are afraid to speak out," she said. "We're trying to empower people to speak out and let them know that we are here for them. We hope to prevent another person from being injured, maimed or killed -- another light from being lost. We're hoping to change someone's life."