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Facing Shame ...

By Rae Lewis-Thornton

March 21, 2012

This piece originally appeared in Rae's blog, Diva Living With AIDS.

Yesterday I was sitting on the bench waiting on the train and a young lady sat next to me. She had a 4 year old daughter and a 2 month old son in tote. From the moment she sat down it became awkward for me. When I looked into her face I saw what appeared to be two black eyes. My heart started to ache and I became ashamed; Ashamed for me and for her. My shame was rooted in her shame. To see a young girl facing this level of hurt made me ashamed and for once in my life I was at a lost, paralyzed by shame.

I wanted to know everything and I mean everything, how, why, what the hell? I wanted to take this young girl who I believed was between 19-23 and save her from the madness.

But instead, I let shame paralyze me. I was just lost. I wanted to say something to her, but what? I didn't want her to think I was judging her, I just wanted to know, so I could help her find a way out of whoever it was that thought it was ok to do this level of damage to a young girl.

As I sat there I was trying to figure out how to get started. How could I develop a relationship with this young woman in such a public place in such a short time? I didn't know what to do and I was ashamed that I was taking no action. Her little girl kept looking up at me as mom mostly kept her head turned the other way.

So I started a conversation with her little girl. I got the basics, age, name and yes she goes to school and promised me that she would go to college. Like at 4 she knows what that is. But like most young people her age, she was willing to please.

Mom would occasionally look at us and when I looked back, she would quickly turn her head. Each time I saw that eye, my heart just ached. I knew she wanted some distance because she grabbed her baby girl's hand and made her way to the front of the train car as the doors opened.

The young man standing next to me when I got off the bench and approached the train said to me, "If she was my daughter I would catch a case." I asked, "Those are black eyes aren't they?" He said yes, and we both sighed heavily and got on the train.

Now I don't know if some man hit her or the circumstance that caused her to have two black eyes, but none of it really matters. There is no judgment, just sadness.

I wanted to do something. Something bold, but instead, I just walked to the door by the end of train car where she was sitting and I pressed my card into her hand. "Call me if you think I can ever do anything for you," I said.

She looked at me, looked at the card and said thank you. I said, "That's me on the card," so the face of the Essence cover on my card could connect with the face looking back at her on the train. I said, "Go to my blog and my e-mail address is there too, feel free to e-mail me," and I left.

Now I really don't know the circumstances, I made a lot of assumptions in my head. I don't know if it's domestic violence or not, but I wanted her to know that she is not alone. That we both must overcome the shame so we can act. I know many people who would have looked at that young woman and just shook their head and kept it moving, saying, "I don't want to get involved." But we can't expect change if we are not willing to be an agent for change. It's the right thing to do, the Christian thing to do and the village thing to do. It takes all of us to raise a village. At some point we have got to stop complaining and offer help, one girl at a time.

I don't know if she will e-mail me. I don't know if she will come to my blog, but if she does I hope she finds hope here. I hope that she is not horrified even my this blog post, I left her little girls name out on purpose. I hope and pray that she will understand as I laid my head down last night that I felt an uneasiness in my spirit. I couldn't shake it... I just can't!

God led me to write this blog, not just for her but for all of our young girls.

She is one of many, but we must start somewhere. Now, I understand that you can't save people who don't want to be saved. But some people don't understand there is a difference. Don't know there is a different way to live; And there are some who just see no way out.

I remember growing up, my mama was a working drunk. She went to work every day and just like she went to work she started her day with Christian Brothers.

I always believed in my heart that I was better than what mama said I was, but it wasn't until we moved to the suburbs that I saw that there was a world other than my mother's.

With my new examples I set out to be better than what mama said I would be. That move opened doors for me that I would have never gotten in the city. And we only moved to Evanston because mama was a maid at the Evanston Inn and she wanted to be closer to her job and oh yeah, a man.

Growing up I felt that hitting was not normal, a right way to treat the people you love. Mama beat my ass when the sun shinned and beat my ass when the sun didn't shine. It didn't matter why she beat me or what she beat me with, mama and her brand of love hurt me to my very core.

There were days when I didn't know which hurt worst, her hits with the thing in her hand at the time or the words that came out of her mouth. But I knew in my heart this was not right; This was not the way it should be. I knew hitting was not right!!! So when I got hit the first time by a man, I knew at my core it wasn't love. It took me a minute to leave his ass, but that one slap was one too many and eventually I left before he got that second chance.

Same with my ex-husband; A push here or there. A tussle every now and then, but when he dug the car keys into my hand in an attempt to get the keys and he drew blood, I knew it was time. By the end of the week he was escorted out by two sheriffs and four police officers.

I felt shame as I stood in domestic violence court trying to explain to the judge why I needed an order of protection, from my husband no less.

But I knew in my heart that AIDS hadn't killed me, Kenny wasn't going to kill me either. So I swallowed my pride and fought for my life.

So here I am, still thinking about this young girl and wondering if she knows there is something better for her. No, life won't be easy, but at least she won't have to feel the shame and hurt she felt today facing a stranger.

Yep, we look at situations and we talk about them, but rarely do we extend ourselves. We are always talking about what it means to be a Christian but when faced with the chance we turn the other check.

We are always talking about our young black girls, but what do we do to really help enrich their lives? Do we exert any energy to lift them up or rather spend our time tearing them down with our words? It's easier fighting bully's that we don't know, who kill our boys, like in the case of Trayvon Martin, but we are slow to act with the violence in our own homes, in our community.

Now be clear, we have got to take a stand for Trayvon, but at the same time, we cannot have a double standard on justice. No matter how shameful it may seem to deal with violence in our own back yard. Violence is violence, whether its mother, father, husband, boyfriend, the kids down the street or a stranger like Zimmerman, shooting an innocent child. The bottom line, in all these cases, change will only come about if we become an agent for change.

I don't know if the young lady will reach out and I'm not sure what I will do if she does, but I know I will do my best to help her be her best.

I'm gonna pray about this. I have so much to give to young girls. I need to see about developing some kind of program even if it's a once a year start.

We have got to be a part of the change. We have got to be a part of the solution. Someone has got to care enough to help make changes for the best. To help get our young people to a place where they can see themselves as God intended them to be.

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See Also
What Did You Expect While You Were Expecting?
HIV/AIDS Resource Center for Women

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Rae Lewis-Thornton Speaks

Rae Lewis-Thornton

Rae Lewis-Thornton

Rae Lewis-Thornton is an Emmy Award-winning AIDS activist who rose to national acclaim when she told her story of living with AIDS in a cover story for Essence Magazine. She has lived with HIV for 27 years and AIDS for 19. Rae travels the country speaking and challenging stereotypes and myths about HIV/AIDS. She has a Master of Divinity degree and is currently working on her Ph.D. in Church History. Rae has been featured on Nightline, Dateline NBC, BET and The Oprah Winfrey Show, as well as in countless magazines and newspapers, including Emerge, Glamour, O, the Oprah Winfrey Magazine, Jet, Ebony, the Washington Post and the Chicago Tribune, to name a few. She earned the coveted Emmy Award for a first-person series on living With AIDS for Chicago's CBS News.

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