These young advocates stand up to stop domestic violence.
by Ken Garfield
Sydney Schulze, Annabelle Thomas and Addie Paradise are 15 years old. Liza Hunter is the old-timer of the group — she’s 16. The sophomores at Charlotte Country Day School are quick to giggle and happy to talk about the pink blanket and stuffed animals that offer them comfort at the end of the day.
God bless ‘em, they are so innocent. It’s the world that’s guilty of forcing them to grow up so quickly. As we sit in the Country Day cafeteria and talk about their crusade against domestic violence, Sydney tells me about a relative who was emotionally abused. Annabelle mentions a friend whose boyfriend was overly controlling. Liza, the one with the extra year of wisdom, says no one is safe, a wariness justified by U.S. statistics: One in four women will experience severe physical violence by an intimate partner in their lifetime. One in three teens will experience physical, sexual or emotional abuse from someone with whom they are in a relationship.
These kids are kids no more.
Liza: “We’re all women who can experience it.”
Annabelle: “It’s a reality we have to face.”
Sydney: “It’s not like we haven’t been exposed to it.”
The young women are driving forces behind Country Day’s Say eNOugh Club, a student organization devoted to stopping domestic violence. It’s one of a half-dozen high-school clubs established through the Jamie Kimble Foundation for Courage. The foundation is working to form at least two new high-school “Courage Clubs” a year. Charlotte’s Ron and Jan Kimble started the foundation after their daughter was shot to death by an ex-boyfriend in 2012. Jamie Kimble was 31.
Country Day has blazed a trail. Former students Aishwarya Sharma and Taylor Riley helped launch the school’s club in 2016. Aishwarya and Taylor have gone off to college, but the movement grows. More than 100 Country Day students, including some young men, are involved.
“The fact that guys want to be in the club shows that they’re understanding what’s happening,” Sydney says. Plans include a bake sale and fashion show to raise money for the foundation.
Sydney says some young women are happy to subordinate themselves to the male in a relationship. “I see 50/50, equal, everyone has a say, no one’s overruling the other person. It should be a relationship based on love.”
The friend that Annabelle mentioned, the one with the controlling boyfriend? “She knew it was bad,” Annabelle says, “but it was hard to get out of the situation.” Addie follows up with some advice for her peers and parents: Watch for the danger signs. It doesn’t always start with a bloody nose or other physical clue. It could be something as simple, yet ominous, as cutting a young woman off from her friends and family. Or spying on her through email and social-media accounts.
Liza’s counsel is to know the signs and keep your radar up. “People can be friendly,” she says, “or overly friendly.”
When it was almost time for class, I asked Sydney, Annabelle, Addie and Liza to describe themselves in one word. They came up with five: passionate, determined, sassy, strong and fierce.
Then, to remind myself that they haven’t been robbed entirely of their youth, I asked them if they had a favorite blanket or bear. All four smiled. All four raised their hands. And all four leave those blankets and bears behind when they step out into the world, prepared to take it on. SP
Ken Garfield is a freelance writer focusing on telling stories for charitable causes. He is a frequent contributor to SouthPark magazine. Reach him at email@example.com.