Donning purple ribbons and holding tea candles, a group gathered in the NonProfit Collaborative of Howard County’s lobby Thursday night. They exchanged hugs, tears and stories of resilience and survival against domestic violence.
HopeWorks of Howard County’s annual vigil, held each year during October’s domestic violence awareness month, included poems and stories from survivors who had left abusive partners and started their lives over, many with help from the resources provided by the county’s domestic violence service center.
The theme of the night, “We are the ones we’ve been waiting for,” was a poignant nod to the stories of strength shared by survivors, who talked of fighting to save themselves from an abusive relationship, and to now help others fight as well.
Executive Director Jennifer Pollitt Hill talked in her opening remarks of the importance of survivors raising their voices about their experiences and of how to change the future.
“Sometimes, when we lose a court case, or when the stalking starts again, or we see the same client in the hospital, or when we are unable to prevent a death, joy is nowhere to be found and our hope for a better world is severely challenged,” Hill said. “But these are the times when coming together as a united community is even more critical, so that we can learn from one another, draw from each other’s strength, comfort one another and recommit ourselves to creating a better world that we deserve.”
Poet, survivor and local advocate Brooke Abercrombie told the audience about her own experience of leaving an abusive partner and finding worth and love in herself. As she spoke, audience members nodded and whispered in agreement as she spoke about the need to love herself first.
The night brought attention to a problem that affects thousands of Howard County residents a year. As of Sept. 22, there have been 527 intimate-partner related assaults and 955 verbal-only intimate partner-related incidents this year, according to the county police department.
Domestic violence, despite what Hill called the “myth” that it primarily affects lower socioeconomic individuals, seeps into all levels of wealth, including affluent communities in Howard County, she said.
HopeWorks aims to help those residents who are victims of domestic violence through outreach, intervention and educational and community programs. Last year, the organization assisted more than 3,500 people affected by domestic violence in the county.
The vigil culminated in giving more of those survivors a chance to raise their voices by inviting them to drop pebbles in water in honor of someone affected by domestic violence or to help raise awareness.
In a moment that underscored the prevalence of this issue in the area, Hill dropped a pebble in honor of slain Wilde Lake High School teacher Laura Wallen. Wallen was killed last month, and her boyfriend has been charged in her death.
One by one, women walked to the front of the lobby and dropped pebbles in honor of sisters, friends and themselves, celebrating the strength of their journeys. Some fought back tears as they shared who the pebble honored, whether it was for advocates or for those unable to speak for themselves.
“We need your voice, we need your leadership, we need your belief that there is a way out of this darkness,” Hill said. “No one is coming to save us, we have to save ourselves.”