Discussing strategies to protect our women and girls at March 31 ‘Summit Against Violence’

Pennsylvania

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VALERIE DIXON, with Center for Victims, speaks to summit attendees on protecting women and girls from violence, March 31. (Photo by J.L. Martello)

On Saturday, March 31, the Greater Pittsburgh Coalition Against Violence (CAV), an initiative of Black Political Empowerment Project (B-PEP), held a community-based, gender-based “Summit on Violence against Women and Girls.” Held at the Pittsburgh Theological Seminary, more than 150 participants were on hand for a day of intense workshops and discussion around ways to address the rising epidemic of violence on women and girls.

“Acknowledging that there is an issue here” is the first thing that must be done, said Valerie Dixon with the Center for Victims. “One theme shared in each session was the community needs to have access to all the services that already exist here in Allegheny County…and to make them more accessible to obtain. There was a sense that we have to become more aware and alert of signs that these incidents are occurring to the very same people we know and love.”

Other topics included “The Role of the Family and The Communities of Faith,” facilitated by, among others, Shannon Williams with CeaseFire PA and Rev. James Harris of St. James AME Church.

“We’ve got to change our dialogue with each other and support each other verbally, and speak power and empowerment and ability and potential and success,” Rev. Harris said. Reverend Harris, from other spoken forums, is also of the notion that sometimes, African American boys may have initial sexual experiences and are cheered, while African American girls may have initial sexual experiences and are denounced. This type of attitude sometimes can foster a negative attitude toward women, which could later result in emotional or physical confrontation.

The stage for the summit was constructed from the content of a strategic document produced by CAV. According to Toni McClendon, Event Coordinator and Lead Writer/Editor, “There have been three editions created, in 2008, 2010-2012 and 2015-16; It was intended to address the onslaught of violence within the Black community.”

McClendon continued: “The document, entitled STOP THE VIOLENCE—Strategies for Change—Building More Peaceful Communities; Creating Long-Term Solutions to Deep-Rooted Problems took seven years to complete, was worked on by a broad-based coalition of non-profit organizations, community-based groups and individuals all with varying viewpoints and opinions. It contains 37 domains, 838 strategies and suggestions and is broken down into three key areas—hate crimes, intimacy violence, and gender sexual assault and violence. It is the information in this document that set the stage for hosting today’s event.”

Workshops commenced after a proclamation by state Representative Ed Gainey. Workshops were interactive and each was facilitated by folks from various agencies who were actually partners, which included; P.A.C.T. Initiative, CeaseFire PA, Black Women for Positive Change and A+Schools, to name a few.

Tim Stevens, Chairman and CEO of B-PEP and co-convener of the Greater Pittsburgh Coalition Against Violence, shared: “A central objective of this day was to create a dialogue about the issues via the workshops, and to open a broader community conversation as everyone comes together at the close of the day.”

The Program closed with a special recognition of Assistant Superintendent of Allegheny County Police, Maurita Bryant, for her commitment to the community, empowerment of women, and years of service. Additionally, the audience heard a poem written and read by Bonita Lee Penn. The moving piece was inspired by the senseless killing of 26-year-old Nicole Dailey back in August 2017.

Betty Fisher, of Squirrel Hill, said that “I have long been concerned with the issues of violence against women and have worked in different areas to support women, it just made perfect sense to me that I share in this day.”

Those wanting more information on the Summit on Violence Against Women and Girls can contact B-PEP at 412-212-8775.

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