By Luis Quintanilla
On Oct. 24th, Home Safe and Volunteer State Community College collaborated on a tree planting ceremony to honor Lexus Williams, a Vol State student who was killed from domestic violence.
The ceremony took place at the Gallatin campus on the Wallace South Courtyard from 12 p.m. to 1 p.m. The ceremony had tables with refreshments and information about Home Safe.
Home Safe is a local program in the Gallatin area and works in the counties of Sumner, Robertson, and Wilson. The program is intended to help victims of domestic violence and abusive relationships. According to a pamphlet by Home Safe their services include, “24/7 helplines, safe house/shelter, individual and group counseling, advocacy, emergency transportation, and financial assistance.”
The event began with Shannon Lynch, an advocate for Home Safe, welcoming those in attendance. A short prayer by Glenda Barnett- Streicher, a member of the Board of Directors at Home Safe, was given to bless the ceremony. Streicher was the first of several speakers that would talk throughout the ceremony, many of which suffered the damaging effects of domestic violence in one form or the other. Streicher began by talking about her personal story and connection to domestic violence, her daughter Rebecca. Streicher told how she lost her daughter to domestic violence and how the resources of help were not available at the time. She explained that the gathering of everyone at the ceremony was meant to bring awareness to the resources now available to the victims of abuse.
Other speakers included Commander Rogan from the Hendersonville PD, who explained the collaboration the Hendersonville PD had with organizations such as Home Safe to help victims of domestic abuse.
Afterwards Laura Givens, a domestic violence survivor, told her story of abuse and ultimate escape to a more stable life. Givens not only told her story about her abusive and dangerous relationship, but of the struggles her and her daughters faced even after leaving the relationship tying to find a place to live and obtain the basic necessities when she moved to Nashville. Throughout her story she detailed the threatning nature of her boyfriend and how it was difficult for her to leave. Audience members could be seen shaking their heads in disbelief and disgust of the abuse she faced at the hands of her boyfriend. In the end, Givens was able to leave the relationship and said she has since found stable ground and said, “Don’t be too scared. This shelter is here for you. I am here for you.”
Andrea Boddie, director of the TRIO program at Vol State, then spoke about her own personal story with witnessing her mother be a victim to domestic abuse. She then spoke about Lexus Williams and the positivity and smiles she always carried despite her abusive relationship. “She would always come to our offices with sunshine,” said Boddie. She spoke of how Williams had returned to school to pursue a career where she could help others.
Afterwards Diane Berry and Rebecca Mae from Long Hollow Church joined each other to sing an original song “Take my Hand.” Berry herself said she had lost a daughter to domestic violence several years back.
Mark Hammock, a cousin of the father of Williams, spoke on behalf of Williams family. He began by talking about the various things his parents taught him growing up. Tying shoes, driving stick, and most importantly, how to treat others. Hammock said he finds it urgent we educate boys to never lash out in violence and never lay hands on a woman and to teach girls to be strong and not fall victims to those who resort to violence and abuse. Hammock warned the
audience he would try not to get emotional while speaking, but when he began talking about Williams, his voice began to crack and quiver under the tears.
The tree was then planted by the mother of Williams, Shannon Willaims, and a few others while Berry and Mae sung “Amazing Grace.”
In speaking with Shannon Williams she spoke of the meaning she found in the planted tree. “It means a lot to me. Lexus loved Vol State. She just had it in her mind she was going to do something with her life for her and her kids. I miss her, but this is beautiful. Someone might be passing by and read that and find out her story. Maybe they’re going a situation themselves. Bring some awareness so they can get help,” said Shannon Williams.
Stella Pierce, Assistant Professor of History and a member of the Board of Directors for Home Safe, helped plan and organize the event. “The tree planting is really a collaboration between Vol State and Home Safe, which there have been actually multiple collaborations between the two in the past. This might be the biggest depending on who you talk to. This might be the first in a series. It might be something that we do every year,” said Pierce.
Pierce explained the collaboration between Home Safe and Vol State is influential since Vol State is an integral part of the community and is involved in education, especially with younger students who she finds important to educate on this subject. “It’s really about education. I think that’s why Vol State is so pivotal in something like that, because it’s really about educating people and helping them to understand what to look out for how to avoid situations like that themselves and to understand why people might behave the way they do in those circumstances. Educate yourself and keep an open mind,” said Pierce.
Lexus Williams was a student of hers said Pierce. She said one of the most important things people can do is educate themselves to dispel misconceptions about abuse and to better
understand the deep rooted fear held in the victims of abuse and the cyclic nature abuse and its trauma tend to birth. “For example, the very common trope, ‘I don’t understand. Why don’t you just leave.’ What happened to Lexie is a perfect example of that, because she was trying to leave when she was shot and killed. That’s part of the reason why people don’t leave. They are terrified for themselves, for their children. She had two children,” explained Pierce.
The struggles of abuse stem beyond the aggressive grip that fear has on its victims said Pierce. The very nature of abuse changes the victims brain chemistry she explained. “That’s another part about the education is that it actually affects your brain, your brain chemistry, and your behavior in the long-term. So it takes a lot of time and a lot of therapy to get beyond the trauma, especially if it’s repeated trauma from childhood through adulthood,” she said. “It tends to be very cyclical, so somebody who experienced or saw violence as a child is more likely to find themselves in that situation as an adult either as a participant of abuse or as a victim of abuse or both potentially,” said Pierce. She said for the advocates of Home Safe it is sometimes a struggle to help since these victims often fall into to this cycle of abuse.
Pierced said the best thing someone can do who may find themselves in abusive relationship is to immediately contact an organization like Home Safe or a national hotline for abuse. “As soon as you find yourself in that situation the best thing that you can do is to contact somebody, because you are going to be speaking with people who are professionals, who are sympathetic, who have dealt with situations like that before, and the sooner you can deal with it and address it the more likely you are to be able to recover from it,” said Pierce.
Pierce then explained the symbolism and significance of planting the tree in honor of Lexus Williams. Pierce said, “I think planting a tree is definitely something that’s going to last. It’s something that’s going to be there, and it’s a symbol of life. It itself is life. It’s sort of a hopeful
message about continuation, about about processing, about healing and certainly a message of hope to anyone who is stuck in that situation because you can move forward and there is possibility beyond that. You can break the cycle and continue life beyond abuse.”
If you or anyone you know may be suffering from domestic abuse you may contact Home Safe’s hotlines
Domestic Abuse: (615) 452- 4315
Sexual Assault: (615) 454- 0373
Spanish helpline: (615) 969-3260
For those who wish to help and learn more information or more resources visit www.homesafeinc.org