Love. Revere. Discover. Connect.

October 4, 2015: “Bearing Witness”

Prayer (Read by David Domanski as Ian Griffith lights a candle for each)

In addition to the candles already lit here in our circle of caring, we light 20 additional candles, one for each of the women killed by their intimate partners, in Lake County since records began being kept.

On October 10, 1976, NANCY KUSUNIC was killed. She was 32 years old. 
February 18, 1981 CHARLENE BATTISTA, 28 
March 4, 1988 PATRICIA COLLINS, 45 
October 17, 1988 FRANCES EDMONDS, 41
Twenty five years ago today October 4, 1990 PATRICIA WOLFE, 46
July 31, 1992 ANGEL ORMSTON, 17 
April 6, 1995 SUSAN GALLESE, 37 
November 1, 1996 EVELYN COMBS, 58 
April 29, 2000 CHRISTINE RENICK, 50 
September 20, 2001 JEANNINE HUMPHREY, 47 
November 23, 2002 PATRICIA MATE, 55 
November 4, 2004 TINA A. RICE, 33 
December 29, 2006 ELAINE KAJFEZ, 47 
May 11, 2007 TYIA MARTIN, 39 
December 16, 2009 NANCY ROSE, 39 
June 15, 2010 KAYELEE MARTIN, 23 
September 20, 2010 TAMARA (BARTZ) ROMAN, 44 
August 29, 2011 ELIZABETH (TATUM) ROBINSON, 23
October 16, 2011 DIANE STROUD, 53 
November 23, 2014 NICOLE M. DEVINE, 24

We light also two more candles:

One for those homicides not labeled as having been perpetrated by an intimate partner;

And another for those women living with the threat of being killed by an intimate partner.

May each of these women know peace after the horror that ended their lives.

May we hold all of them and their families with the tender care we hold one another.

May we each do all we can to end the violence that perpetuates the killing.

May there be peace.

Introduction of Terri Hull Vunak

On November 23 of last year, Nicole M. Devine – Colie – was killed by her live-in boyfriend. She was 24 years old. Terri Hull-Vunak, her aunt, joins us today to share Nicole’s story. Originally, I thought she was going to be sharing a piece written by her son, Mato. But she has written something herself to share today, a personal reflection.

Personal Reflection, by Terri Vunak

There is nothing more special than giving life to something. It’s the opportunity to create our own miracles.

When our phones rang on Nov. 23, 2014 our lives were forever changed. That very miracle that my twin sister Tina and her husband Dean created 24 years earlier was taken from are family. So many of us would’ve jumped to the chance to trade her places, to give her the opportunity to have her own wedding, her own career and children, the things she had always dreamed of.

I’ll never forget the time I brought my new born son to meet his big cousins Jessica and Nicole. I couldn’t make it through the door before Nicole had tied herself to one of my legs yelling in excitement, Teta! Teta! Is that my Christmas present!! Is that for me!! I’ve always wanted one!

The only thing more popular then Nicole’s smile was the scare across her left cheek. a result of a dog attack when Nicole was just 3 years old….two features that would emulate her inter being. From the very moment she was born she was fighting to survive-though you never could have guessed it. As we pick up the pieces this tragedy had left behind we would continue to be amazed by the hope in one another’s attitudes and actions.

A few weeks ago we celebrated my Niece Jessica’s wedding. Her maids of honors were to be Nicole and her best friend Ashley and there were never any plans to change that. As we talked about it this past week my niece shared the story about the day she asked Nicole to be her maid of honor……as I thought back I could remember her sharing the story once before. It was the same night as the benefit that was held for Nicole. It was also around the time Jessica was to the point of praying that she could just feel something…….anything at all. Even in her state of emptiness, she told us that story and it was as if she were sitting right across from Nicole again. Drinks in hand, the two raise a toast to friends, family and a fantastic future. I think we were all impressed when, less than a year from the tragedy, we’d already been invited to share Nicole’s story. One that we debate on telling which serves as a dark reminder that silence is part of what puts us here today. So before I forget I’d like to thank you and your wonderful minister so much. For a girl that always had to get her two cents in, I know that this means a lot to Nicole as well.

July 13 1990, no more than a half hour into being on this earth, Nicole Marie Devine was being carried into the sky by a life flight helicopter. As her father stood in disbelief at the words “the next 24 hours will be critical”. A year later Colie would be back for a permanent shunt for bleeding on the brain. Between welcoming her little brothers into the world, school, and play dates Nicole managed to still have a social life. And while she always saw great success in that aspect, she always held her family above everything else. Her favorite was family parties when she knew everyone would be in one place- nothing was more important to her than simply sharing your company. Nicole was always our little angel, our beam of inspiration in a cloud of doubt. With him……she was always distant, losing weight, and withdrawing from her goals. Family events became more of a chore that they would regularly end up flaking out on. In the final moment my niece and Nicole shared together, she describes her as overjoyed and nerves. Nervous to be in the spotlight but elated to share it with her big sister. My niece put it perfectly: it was the first time in a long time that she was herself. I’m so glad we could all be reminded of that bubbly little girl.

As much as I’d like to tell you we were taken back by some sudden event or change of character, nobody can just change overnight. Before Nicole began dating HIM, she had thoughts of college and planning for her future. It seemed as though our family was becoming distant, a pretty normal feeling as the kids grow older. This continued when the two met but there was more to everything then being busy, it became clearer to us that our social butterfly wasn’t quite herself. We’ve spent plenty of time trying to solve every question. In the end, we’ve come to discover a family united once again-through the same little girl who always made us strong. We have a long road ahead of us and we certainly can’t face it alone. Intimate partner violence is the most difficult and confusing health issue of our time, its definition covers grounds of physical, verbal, and sexual abuse of anyone in an intimate relationship. Most people are familiar with domestic violence and its ugly nature. Many are under the assumption that “domestic violence” is only a relevant issue for married couples and the mentally ill. The fact that intimate partner violence has less to do with mental illness and more to do with social sickness. It’s the constant demand for a man to be in control that leads to most of the violent situations we see today, especially domestic violence. Domestic Violence is a preventable public health problem that was showing symptoms long before any of us were born. Silence will not protect our women. These are things that occur in are HOME….not in the street. So I’d like to leave you all with this little question to reflect on tonight, one that’s seemed to bring us all the answers we are hoping for; where do we go from here? Giving life to something new or remaining silent!

Sermon “Bearing Witness,” Rev. Denis Letourneau Paul

I love my older brother, and I know the feeling is mutual. We have a lot of respect for each other, and make a great creative team. Nothing made me more proud than when he and his wife asked me to be their son’s godfather, then asked me to be their children’s guardian in the event of their death.

In some ways we’re similar: we both are short and have thick necks. We both are very physical and good with our hands. But we’re also very different: he’s a body builder, I’m more bookish. I’m a talkative introvert, he’s a quiet extrovert.

When we were kids, he was tough, and he wanted me to be tough too. He wanted so much for me to be tough, sometimes he thought he could beat it into me, bullying me with his fists. As a result, I became kind of mean. I learned how to defend myself, and even hurt him, with words.

Our mother was and still is peaceful. We were never allowed toy guns, not even water guns, and we were never allowed to see violent movies or television shows.

Part of me wishes I could say my mother was influenced by strong Unitarian Universalist forebears, women like Margaret Fuller and Susan B. Anthony, but the reality is that she was profoundly influenced by women like her aunts, five women who became Roman Catholic nuns. They all knew that in their day the only way they would ever have challenging educations and fulfilling careers would be to forego marriage and live in the company of other women. They were feminist nuns.

When my brother would hurt me, it infuriated our father, who was a young man, still in his 20’s. He worked in the hypermasculine world of residential construction. He’s an amazing father and grandfather, but back then, he could be impatient, so when my brother would hurt me, sometimes my father would get so frustrated he’d try to teach a lesson by hitting and, saying “I’ll show you what it’s like to be hit by somebody bigger than you.” It was the only thing he knew how to do.

Not surprisingly, my brother would seek revenge by hitting me more.

My father is now one of the sweetest, mellowest men I know. My brother is a kind and gentle father. But in that turbulent time, when we were all growing up, learning how to be men, how to care for other people and more importantly how to care for ourselves and express ourselves, I learned that you can’t fight violence with violence. It’s a lesson that has propelled me in adulthood to work to end capital punishment and violence against women. For me, these two issues aren’t abstract: they’re personal.

And that’s why I encouraged men from this congregation to walk a mile in high heels last week. Ian Griffith, David Domanski, Pat McGovern, Justin Simons and I, along with a couple guys from the UU Society in Cleveland Heights literally put ourselves in women’s shoes to make the point that men have to exercise our compassion for women by engaging other men in conversations about what it means to be agents of change in a world that too often victimizes women. We showed up in our 6″ stilettos and pink-painted size 16 topsiders and walked a whole mile as cameras rolled for tv news audiences.

They stopped us for interviews and sound bites, asking “did walking in these shoes give you more respect for what women have to go through every day?”

They missed the point. We respect women. That’s why we were there. We wanted other men to rethink what it means to be a man, to become more compassionate and to take responsibility for changing the world, to make it a place where women are every bit as safe as men. We want that world for our sisters and wives and daughters and nieces and mothers and aunts. We wanted to begin a conversation that will make other men aware of the power they have to walk with women in a way that allows them to be who they are without expecting them to change into something else, something more docile or subservient.

The fact is that too many women, when they fall in love, sometimes they change. All people do that. We put our best selves forward and slowly start to reveal the parts of ourselves we don’t make public. But when a woman falls for a man who slowly reveals himself to be an abuser, she can change. For myriad reasons, she can twist herself into something her family no longer recognizes, to save face for herself and even to protect her abuser.

Nicole became a very different person when she fell in love. Separated from her family she lost the person she was, and now that Nicole is gone, there is nothing anybody can do but honor her. Honor the child that she was, the young woman that she was before she met the man who ultimately killed her, the man who will be spending the rest of his life in prison.

I want to thank Terri and all the members of her family for being here today, sharing with us your story, Nicole’s story, and letting us support you, and by extension the families of all the victims of violence committed by their intimate partners.

For twenty years now, during the month of October – designated as domestic violence awareness month, East Shore has installed the Silent Witness Project, a series of blood-red silhouettes on the lawn, each representing a woman killed by an intimate partner. The brainchild of member Dorothy Lemmey, the goal of the project – at least my understanding of it – is for the figures to bear witness to the violence. Their own violence. One another’s violence. The violence that is perpetrated all across the world every day in cities and villages and campuses.

The Silent Witnesses outside stand as a reminder that we must bear witness. But we must not be silent.

That’s why we put on heels and walked last week. It was our way of doing something to create a world in which everyone is safe.

Creating a world that is safe for women takes action. There are real things we must do if we want to end the cycle of violence. I want to share with you some of the things Walter Moseley and Rae Gomes shared a couple years ago in The Nation magazine: (1)

Name the real problems: we are constantly barraged by violent images of masculinity, which gets excused away by blaming victims. We only read the names of 20 women this morning because no records were kept of domestic violence in this county before 1976. We have come a long way since then, but still too often women are blamed when they become victims. They are blamed when they are asked questions like “what were you wearing?” and “Why were you there?” Instead we should be asking male perpetrators, “what made you think it was okay to do that?”

Re-examine and re-imagine masculinity. I know most UU men, nearly all UU men have re-imagined masculinity for ourselves. We find our strength in intelligence and leadership, not aggression and coercion. But if you want to make this image stick as a common understanding, join organizations and participate in events that have as part of their mission redefining masculinity.

Get enthusiastic about consent. There’s been a lot of public conversation about consent…the radical idea that no always means no and only a spoken yes means yes. And yet, we men may want to roll our eyes or pass on the message out of a sense of obligation. That’s not good enough. Practice seeking an active yes. Not just about sex, but about everything. Every. Thing.

Take an intersectional approach. That means understanding that where women are abused, others are too. LGBT people. People of color. Children. So when you see it happening, ask questions. Ask who else may be affected. Ask what you can do to be an ally. Because oppression anywhere really is oppression everywhere. It affects us all. Even if it doesn’t seem like it.

Don’t laugh about violence. Ever. The problem is that most men are good men, with good intentions. But when we laugh about women being hurt in any way, we send the message to abusers that they aren’t any different from the rest of us, that we are in their company. If you love the women in your life, it should never be funny to make them the brunt of a joke.

Finally, teach the first five things to your sons. Teach them to name the real problems; to have anew image of masculinity; to be enthusiastic about consent; to take and intersectional approach; and to never laugh about violence. And if you don’t have sons, teach someone else’s son. Even if you have your own sons, teach other boys and young men. Become mentors.

I’m talking about putting our principles into action. Not just talking about them. Not just bearing witness silently. But walking the talk.

I’m proud that we were able to reach out to Nicole’s family, to be here for them, to stand with them in their pain and hear the story of a woman whose life stopped being in her own control because she met the wrong man.

The only way anything is ever going to change… the only way we can manifest the new hour at hand that Margaret Fuller called us toward … is if we can be there for each other, for our neighbors. Connected. Walking together. Dreaming together. Even singing together.

May it be so.

(1) Conceived by Walter Moseley and co-edited by Rae Gomes. “Ten Things to End Rape Culture.” The Nation, February 4, 2013.