Our 21st century task – Anna Belle Burleson’s story

Anna-Belle-Burleson-speaking_Mollie-AxtellAnna Belle Burleson gave this speech at SafePlace’s Celebration Luncheon in October. Her words affected so many in the room that day, and we want to share this with those who couldn’t be there.

“I am going to tell you the story of a very lucky woman.

It was a beautiful spring afternoon in 1986.  I was scared; I was in danger; and I was lucky!  There was room in the battered women’s shelter for my son and me.  I had finally come to the realization that, if I stayed with my violent husband, I would be killed.  My son would be left without his mother.  I knew I had to get myself and my son to a safe place – a place where I could talk to others about what was happening, a place where I could think,  a place where I could figure out what to do next, a place that would protect me.

I was lucky!  There was room for us at the shelter.  We would be safe!  And I would be able to sleep again.  I had the secret directions to the secret location of the secret shelter.  Back in those days – just 26 years ago – shelters were kept secret from the community as a means of keeping the residents safe.  So this shelter didn’t have any fancy security measures but it DID have locked doors and it was tucked neatly behind a fire station.  And, best of all, my husband didn’t know where it was!

Once I got to the shelter, I was lucky to become part of a community of women.  A community of women who supported and believed each other.  Women and their children who had suffered at the hands of a loved one.

That shelter had only 8 bedrooms.  Basically, two women with their children shared each room.  And no bed went empty for a night.  Sometimes women even slept overnight on the couch.  Just to be safe.  And there was always a waiting list for services.

I want to share a couple of my favorite memories from my shelter stay. The first happened the night I cooked dinner for everybody in the house.  I don’t remember what I cooked but I DO remember that everyone enjoyed it!  They liked it!  No one cussed me out.  No one threw a plate across the room.  This was a whole new experience for me – being appreciated! There were a number of us in the shelter at that time who liked to bake.  The shelter manager recognized our culinary talents and she stocked up on baking supplies for us.  Then, late at night after the staff had gone home and the kids were in bed, we would bake and bond – working side-by-side in the kitchen.  We gathered around those brownies in the living room for our healing time.  As valuable as all the support groups and counseling sessions were to me, I found my greatest support and nurturing during those late night sessions with my sisters.  I was so lucky!

“I had finally come to the realization that, if I stayed with my violent husband, I would be killed.  My son would be left without his mother.  I knew I had to get myself and my son to a safe place.”

After three short weeks at the shelter, my protective order was in place, criminal charges had been filed and I had a new apartment.  I was lucky as my life fell into place, and my son and I moved to our new home.

Shelters were few and far between 26 years ago!  How lucky was I to be living in a community that had realized a dream – a dream to build a shelter to take in those living in violence and keep them safe?

Today’s shelter boasts 105 beds – a far cry from those 16 or so beds behind the firehouse.  And now we even have transitional housing – 46 apartments – to give families a real chance to get back on their feet . . . to live a violence-free life.  Let’s not forget the many other programs and services offered by SafePlace.  All is surrounded by state-of-the-art security systems and a strong community presence.

Many years ago, when I was new to this movement, the battered women’s movement, the movement to end domestic violence, Gloria Steinem talked about victims being pulled out of a river to safety but she said we needed to go to the head of the river and stop them from falling in.  More recently, she has modified her words, “We are still standing on the bank of the river, rescuing people who are drowning.  We have not gone to the head of the river to keep them from falling in. This is our 21st century task.”

“Our movement and our work are too often overshadowed by other meaningful, but ‘cleaner’ causes.”

So many women, and men, have worked so hard to get to where we are today.  But domestic violence is still a dirty little secret in our society.  While nobody publicly supports it, few will publicly stand up against the violence.  Our movement and our work are too often overshadowed by other meaningful, but “cleaner” causes.  And all the while, women, children and men are falling into that river.  And we still can’t save them all!

Please – Join me, join the movement, join SafePlace.  Let’s make sure that every woman who needs a little help can be a lucky woman!  Let’s get to the head of that river and stop everyone from falling in!”

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