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Survivors of domestic violence are never alone thanks to Dana's Daughters

ESSEX — The Destined For Greatness Learning Center in Essex was alive with music, laughter and fellowship on Oct. 3.

The atmosphere inside the learning center was friendly, but the reason why 30 women met inside a large room was no laughing matter. Their reason for being in this place on a Saturday afternoon was to hear testimonies and find resources about intimate partner violence (IPV), more commonly referred to as “domestic violence.”

Around 30 people showed up to the Essex venue for an event called Breaking the Cycle: No More Makeup, hosted by Dana’s Daughters Healing and Restoration Ministry, a Baltimore City-based organization committed to the healing and restoration of women through unique events that are conducive for change and a move of God. The organization’s mission is the healing and restoration of women and adolescent girls in order to emancipate their minds, elevate their thinking and empower them to walk into their purpose.

All of this information can be found at the organization’s website, www.facebook.com/danasdaughters.

Sierra Walker, the organization’s co-founder, said she started Dana’s Daughters in 2018. It was prompted by several societal issues, such as fatherlessness and abandonment. She said she held her first event in 2018, and the organization picked up momentum.

“We cater to fatherless daughters and fatherless sons,” said Kya. “We try to work with the ages of 12 and older, because that’s where we see that it has the most impact on their lives.

“We know that it impacts you from birth. We know that these situations that we’re in, even if you’re having trauma and domestic violence at home, even if you have fatherlessness in your family’s history, we speak to young women ages 12 and older.”

Dana’s Daughters holds several different kinds of functions while doing outreach and support, which include prayer circles, seminars, giveaways, healing circles and more. Scott said the purpose of the healing circle is for everyone sitting in the circle to be free and open.

“We aim to bring some things down so we can build them back up,” Scott said.

Co-parenting with your abuser

The three-hour event included other organizations and people that serve victims and survivors of intimate partner abuse. One of them was Leah White Young, a Baltimore City business owner and advocate for those who have suffered from domestic violence. She owns an organization called Silence Breakers.

Young gave a presentation to the audience titled “Co-parenting with your abuser.” White told those attending that she is a survivor of intimate partner violence, and learning to co-parent with her spouse after their marriage was something she had to learn.

At the beginning of her presentation, Young noted that October is commonly recognized as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It is also Domestic Violence Awareness Month, but it is not as commonly recognized.

Young told the audience that she was with her abuser for 14 years. She said that he was controlling in their relationship. They are no longer together, and Young said that they are equals.

“My daughter is now 21, and she is very particular in who she dates,” Young said. “I had to be real clear and transparent about what happened between me and her father, and she saw it. She saw us fighting. She saw us throwing pillows. She saw us beating up things.”

“What you guys might think are just normal things in your home, haha that’s funny? That’s not funny. That doesn’t happen in normal homes.”

Young told the audience that, unfortunately, there could be a part where you will still have to co-parent with an abuser after the relationship ends. She presented audience members with a game called “Co-parenting Bingo.” The squares on the bingo card include things like self love, a digital line of communication with your abuser, disengaging from emotional triggers and so forth.

“If it’s something you’re experiencing in your home or it’s something you’re doing right now, you can mark it with an ‘x,’” Young said. “If you’re not, that’s something you need to work on.”

Women at a Stand

Tasha Chance is a community support specialist and the host of a podcast titled Let’s Talk Love Podcast. She is also the owner of an organization called Women at a Stand, dedicated to assisting women who have, who still are or know someone that have experienced domestic violence.

Chance said she started Women at a Stand as a sisterhood for women who have been abused. Her model is that when one woman stands, she stands for all women, she said.

“I started that organization because when I was going through my abusive stage, I did not have anybody to turn to,” Chance said. “I didn’t have a sister. I didn’t have a friend to confide in.”

“The guy I was in a relationship with, he was a public figure. He was looked at as someone who was doing good in his community. Someone who could never ever do the awful things he had done to me over those seven years that we were together.”

Chance said she later became that woman that other women could confide in. She is a case manager, and she is currently in school to become a therapist. She said she has always had the type of energy that invites people to go to her for advice.

“We need that type of sisterhood, like a sorority,” Chance said. “When my organization started, that’s what I am, a sorority. I share resources. I give information. I connect you to any and everything to help you get through it.”

Domestic violence stats in Maryland

According to the Maryland Network Against Domestic Violence (MNADV), 702 victims of intimate partner violence were served in just one day in 2019. The census was taken through state domestic violence programs. In 2018, 22,692 temporary restraining orders were served by Maryland courts, while 10,107 final protective orders were served.

MNADV also found that between the period of July 1 2017 and June 30, 2018, 46 Marylanders died as a result of domestic violence. Twenty-six of those victims (57 percent) were the victims of intimate partner violence. This number includes 17 women, seven men and two teenagers.

So far this year, Maryland courts have held 25,094 protective order hearings. This number includes all hearings, including dismissed cases and cases where an order was not granted. This information was provided by the Maryland Administrative Office of the Courts. The data covers Jan. 1-Sept. 30. Data for October is not yet available.

That report, which was carried by local media outlets in mid-2019, pointed out that domestic violence doesn’t only affect victims in a relationship. Five bystanders died over that period, including four people who died while aiding a fleeing victim. The study also showed that 15 abusers also lost their lives, including 12 men, two women and a teenager.

In 2019, Maryland ranked 10th in female homicides by men in intimate partner violence incidents, a rate of 1.58 per 100,000 women.

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Teachers discuss pros and cons of reopening White Oak School early

BALTIMORE COUNTY—The Baltimore County school system is proceeding with a plan to start bringing faculty, staff and students back for in-person instruction in November.

It is not a popular plan amongst teachers, if the public comment section during the first meeting of the Baltimore County school board this month is any indication.

One-by-one, a parade of teachers (and a couple of parents) spoke out against the plan during the virtual meeting.

Specifically, the plan calls for staff to begin returning during a phased-in approach beginning on Nov. 2.

Small groups of students will begin returning on Nov. 16 at the four public day schools — Battle Monument (Dundalk), White Oak School (Parkville), Ridge Ruxton School (Towson) and Maiden Choice School (Arbutus).

Cindy Sexton, president of the Teachers Association of Baltimore County, spoke at the school board meeting prior to the public comment portion:

“We have fielded countless emails from our members and our community,” Sexton said. “There are great concerns being raised over going back into the buildings, and great concerns being raised over not going back into the buildings.

“There have been hundreds of questions around safety, schedules, timelines, PTE, the medical fragility of students, staff who are at high risk {for complications from COVID-19] and a plethora of other issues.”

For the teachers who signed up to speak during the board meeting, there was only one concern: being forced to return to in-person teaching before they feel it is safe.

Ten teachers spoke, and they all prefaced their comments with the same opening sentence: “I stand in solidarity with the educators and families of the four targeted schools who are voicing overwhelming outrage over the hasty and ill-informed re-opening.”

“I can attest to the overwhelming fear and anxiety of existing inn the COVID era,” a Dundalk Middle School teacher began. “My body will not protect me from the virus, and I’m terrified of being forced back into school at this point, as is happening with the targeted schools.

“I would have to make a choice between my safety and my employment, because if I get this virus I will not survive. I’m 28 years old with my entire life ahead of me. I am not expandable. I give everything for this job; I should not have to give my life.”

The Dundalk Middle teacher cited a study estimating 22 percent of the global population have at least one underlying condition that puts them at high risk pf complications from COVID-19 — thus approximately 2,425 county teachers and 25,396 county students have high-risk conditions.

“We have a responsibility to protect our students and educators, and we have an infrastructure already in action to do so, she said.

The teacher then quoted a faculty member from one of the four targeted schools, who said they had attended the funerals of three students who died due to their medically fragile conditions: “BCPS is sending their most high-risk and medically-fragile students back into school, from the four targeted schools. A threat to our most vulnerable population is a threat to our community as a whole.”

The families of students schedule to return in November need not do so; they may opt-out and return when the second semester begins on Feb. 1.

School faculty does not have that option.

“Why?” the Dundalk Middle teacher asked. “Are we expendable? Re-0opening schools is a calculated risk, but BCPS is doing the math and not letting us see the formula.”

A teacher at Deep Creek Middle School, after making her “I stand in solidarity ...” statement, read from a letter she said was written by a school nurse who did not agree with the plan to reopen the four targeted schools.

“This plan is driven by political pressure at the federal and state government level, as well as monetary incentive offered by Gov. Hogan, rather than by sound health advice.” the nurse wrote. “A number of students at the special schools have multiple serious medical diagnosis and are extremely medically fragile.

“These students are at high-risk for life-threatening consequences if they contract COVID-19. Medical experts do not recommend high-risk students be cohorted in enclosed spaces with inadequate building ventilation and the inability of students to comply with social distancing and the wearing of masks.”

The other teachers and a couple of parents expressed similar sentiments: concern for their health and that of their students; being forced to decide between the health and their job; afraid of exposing their families to the virus.

Prior to public comment, however, some inadequacies with remote learning were highlighted.

A member of the Special Education Citizen Advisory Committee reported that, while some special education students preferred the online classes, there was another group who could not engage at all with remote learning.

“We know these students need a return to classrooms to regain lost skills and move forward, or perhaps they need a teacher one-to-one physically present with them in their homes,” she said.

“There is also a third category of students being largely ignored: this is the group that could learn remotely if they had the proper support. They experience intense frustration and growing learning gaps. The barriers in distance learning are too many, and the supports provided are too few.”

The Special Education Citizen Advisory Committee has heard from “parents who are at their breaking point watching their child regress, or become frustrated or demoralized. We have heard about kids begging for this to stop.

“Many teachers are putting on a brave face, many parents are doing their best, but virtual learning is not working for many children. Additional support and intervention could improve the situation, but these issues are not being problem-solved fast enough at the system level.”

Some of the problems: children who can’t manipulate an online worksheet aren’t getting printed materials and worksheets; students who need a scribe aren’t getting people to write for them; and students who are unable to learn in large groups aren’t being put in smaller groups due to staffing limitations.

“My own child,” the committee member said, “has been unable to make it through a single class and has received no education since the school year began because he cannot access it. We need to get honest about the problems with virtual learning and the possible solutions.”

A volunteer picks up a beach area near the Back River Bridge.

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CCBC aims to "correct history" at first Indigenous People's Day celebration

BALTIMORE COUNTY — As Dr. Dennis Seymour walked up to the podium to speak at the Community College of Baltimore County’s first Indigenous People’s Day celebration, he proudly played a traditional Native American beat on a drum before saying a prayer to “The Creator.”

“Grandfather hear me. We are humbled before you. Teach us to heal ourselves, heal each other and heal Mother Earth,” Seymour said as 200 plus people tuned into the virtual celebration.

Seymour, who is CCBC Dean Emeritus at CCBC and Eastern Band Cherokee, was one of the several speakers at the celebration who spoke about the importance of recognizing that Indigenous People had founded what is now the United States long before Christopher Columbus.

“[We are] recognizing the history of the folks who occupied this land for 10,000 years—not the 500 years of the colonization of the Europeans,” Seymour said.

“Columbus never set foot on the North American Continent and when he first arrived in the Bahamas and encountered the native people he talked about how proud they were, how friendly they were, how often they provided sustenance to his people and in the same paragraph he said how easy it would be to enslave them. So that is the history we are overcoming and trying to correct.”

The state of Maryland, according to Seymour, does however have a history of supporting Native Americans by officially recognizing, since 2000, the day after Thanksgiving as Native American Day.

Seymour went on to say that there are around 58,000 who declared to be Native American in Maryland’s last documented census and that CCBC has always been a big supporter in the Native American community in Baltimore County.

Dr. Sandra Kurtinitis, President of CCBC, said before Seymour took to the podium that CCBC has always strived to support Native American students but that there is room for the college to do more to respect the heritage of Native Americans.

“[CCBC] is recommitting itself to an equity agenda to commit more than ever to see the work that we do through the lens of the eyes of the people that we serve,” Kurtinitis said.

“I want to be clear, “she continued, “celebrating Indigenous People’s Day is not an intended slight to Italian Americans and naming the people who claimed to have discovered America and that goes beyond Christopher Columbus. What it is, instead, is a recognition of a deeper, much older claim to the land.”

The celebration then transitioned into a more educational component where Seymour demonstrated the Shawl Dance. The Shawl Dance, according to Seymour, is a two step dance where the performer raises his or her right arm when the Honor Beat is played on the Powwow drum. Seymour explained that the Honor Beat is a series of four consecutive loud beats on the drum that are audibly different from the steady two beat rhythm that is played while the dancers perform.

Seymour’s Goddaughter, Felicity Forest performed the Shawl Dance as Seymour beat on his Powwow drum. Her right arm raised whenever Seymour played the loud Honor Beat.

“The Honor Beat signals to the dancer to honor the drum. The drum is the heartbeat of the natives and people are to think about their ancestors while they dance,” Seymour said.

Seymour also talked about the clothes he and his Goddaughter were wearing and said that traditional Native American clothing is called regalia and not a costume.

“This is my own, personal regalia. I have a ribbon shirt, which would have been a post [European] contact they would have worn. They would have traded for it and taken it home and decorated it. They would put ribbons on the shirt so it would show some of their native heritage instead of looking like another settler,” Seymour said

He then addressed the top hat he was wearing—an article of regalia that was also received by colonists.

“As chiefs were fighting against the Removal Act in the 1800s they had to go to Washington and would lobby to keep their homeland. The government said, ‘you can’t possibly see the President dressed like that’ so they gave them top hats and tails. As soon as they would take the top hat home and decorate it.”

Seymour said to all the virtual viewers he hopes Indigenous People’s Day celebrations continue year after year and that more people learn about Native American history and culture.

“It’s important for us to make this an annual event and an educational event and an event that is not only one,” Seymour said, “but to make an effort every day to be equitable with the Native population.”