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Stamping out abuse: a multifaith effort

Religious leaders and laity, black and white, plan several workshops.

By WAVENEY ANN MOORE, Times Staff Writer
Published October 14, 2007


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St. Petersburg- Elihu Brayboy was furious when he read a newspaper column that suggested an African-American jury would probably side with a black preacher who had been accused of pushing, kicking and stomping on his famous co-pastor wife in an Atlanta parking lot.

Brayboy, 58, who is also black, called a news conference to make it clear that he and other men like him don't condone violence.

"We, the men of south St. Petersburg's Afro-American community, cannot remain silent as we've witnessed the proliferation of violence against women by black men and their intimate partners," he said at the news conference attended only by the St. Petersburg Times.

Later Brayboy said religious leaders must do more to educate their congregations about family violence.

"You shouldn't stop at just saving the soul," he said.

Organizers of a series of events scheduled this week to coincide with Domestic Violence Month agree. For its programs in Clearwater and St. Petersburg, the Pinellas County Domestic Violence Task Force has picked a pastor to sell its message.

The Jewish Alliance to End Domestic Abuse, whose goals include encouraging synagogues, Jewish day schools and other Jewish agencies to include abuse awareness and prevention programs in their curricula, held a program in Palm Harbor last week. Another will take place Wednesday in St. Petersburg.

Religion can be both a blessing and a curse for domestic violence victims, says the Rev. David Kitts, 42, who will be the keynote speaker at the Pinellas County Domestic Violence Task Force events.

"Some people will say, 'I cannot leave my abusive partner or my abusive husband, because God hates divorce.' Some will say, 'Why is God allowing this to happen to me and to my children? If this is going on, I must not be praying hard enough,"' said Kitts, training specialist for the Knoxville Tenn. Police Department's domestic violence unit.

Kitts and other advocates say those hurt by family violence - the overwhelming majority of whom are women - instinctively turn to religious leaders for help. Most clergy, though, are untrained in this area, Kitts said.

Faith for many women is "what keeps them alive in the darkest hours. It's also what may keep them in a relationship that might kill them," said Linda Osmundson, executive director of Community Action Stops Abuse, or CASA, founded by a Roman Catholic nun, the late Sister Margaret Freeman.

Kitts said some religious teachings about the roles of husbands and wives and forgiveness can be harmful to women. He pointed particularly to interpretations of Bible verses in Ephesians and Luke.

"I have pastors confront me on that. What I do is take the time and clearly spell out the reality of what a victim is going through and that this victim is a child of God," he said.

Kitts will talk to religious leaders about how they interpret the Bible when preaching about relationships. He'll also give them advice about how to respond to domestic violence in their congregations.

Wednesday, the Jewish Alliance to End Domestic Abuse will present, "It Happens to Our Kids, Too: Dating Abuse in the Jewish Community."

The organization's mission statement says its role is "to raise awareness of domestic violence in the Jewish community and to strengthen Shalom Bayit (peace in the home) through education and advocacy programs."

"Domestic abuse," said chairwoman Ellen Woll, "is just as prevalent in the Jewish community as in any other, but women tend to stay longer and don't necessarily go to agencies for help."

She said rabbis, who are part of a victim's support system, are increasingly becoming involved in efforts to end family violence.

"Domestic violence has touched just about every house of worship or faith community and sometimes we leaders aren't aware of the symptoms," said the Rev. Al Hall, chaplain with St. Anthony's Health Care.

Cecil Odom Jr., one of the three black men who spoke at last weekend's news conference about domestic violence, said his mother walked away from a financially secure life to escape his father's violence.

"I'm a strong advocate for women's rights," said Odom, 57, who owns Miz Daisy's Pictures and More in Midtown with his wife, Daisy.

"Violence against women is just something I never accepted," he said.

It's the reason he joined Brayboy and Omar Davis, 30, in front of the Neighborhood Barber Shop in the Pinellas Point neighborhood to speak against abuse.

"As men, we need to carry out our roles as leaders by helping our peers and leading our youth in the right direction," said Davis, a teacher's associate at Largo Middle School.

The men were responding to a column written by Charles W. Cherry II, publisher of the Florida Courier, an African-American newspaper, about conversations he overheard in a barbershop. In the column, Cherry said that those around him had supported Bishop Thomas Weeks' assault in an Atlanta parking lot of his wife, Juanita Bynum, a nationally known evangelist.

"If Black men were the jury, Weeks would probably walk," Cherry wrote.

"I can't stop what other people think," said Brayboy, a financial consultant, "but he started speaking for me and he didn't have permission to speak for me. Nor do I agree with him. Religious leaders can help by making literature about domestic violence available to their congregations, he said.

"Also, preach it from the pulpit," he said.

Waveney Ann Moore can be reached at wmoore@sptimes.com or (727) 892-2283.

Fast facts

For help

CASA (south of Ulmerton Road): (727) 895-4912

The Haven (north of Ulmerton Road): (727) 442-4128

Statewide: 1-800-500-1119

If you go

Jewish Alliance to End Domestic Abuse, JAEDA, "It Happens to Our Kids, Too: Dating Abuse in the Jewish Community," 7 to 9 p.m. Wednesday, Benjamin Towers, 250 58th St. N, St. Petersburg. Contact Ellen Woll at JAEDA1492@tampabay.rr.com

Pinellas County Domestic Violence Task Force, "Congregations Respond to Family Violence," 8 to 11:30 a.m. and 2 to 4 p.m. Oct. 23, Hospice of the Florida Suncoast, 5771 Roosevelt Blvd., Clearwater. Keynote speaker: the Rev. Dr. David Kitts, Knoxville Police Department and Family Justice Center Chaplain Corps. Call (727) 825-1111 for registration.

Clergy Gathering, 7 to 9 p.m. Oct. 23. Learn about the Clergy Task Force on Domestic Violence in Knoxville, Tenn. No advance registration required.

"Congregations Respond to Family Violence," 8 to 11:30 a.m. Oct. 24, St. Anthony's Hospital auditorium, 1200 Seventh Ave. N, St. Petersburg. To register, call (727) 825-1111. Kitts will be the keynote speaker.

"Putting the Pieces Together: A Comprehensive and Imperative Approach to Domestic Violence Crimes," 1 to 5 p.m. Oct. 24, St. Petersburg College Allstate Center, 3200 34th St. S, St. Petersburg. Speaker: the Rev. Dr. David Kitts. To register, contact Mary Anyan at (727) 341-4457.

[Last modified October 13, 2007, 22:57:06]


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