Thursday, September 11, 2014

A Letter for Janay

I, like many people in this country, have gotten caught up in the on-going saga involving Ray Rice, his wife Janay, his former team the Baltimore Ravens and his former employer, the NFL.  There are many layers to this story with any number of people pointing the finger of blame in various directions.  What I don't want to do with this small space I inhabit is contribute to that.  I do hope and pray that these words resonate and encourage Janay and anyone that identifies with her.  

Janay,

I know you don't know me or that I even exist.  But I do want you to know that, as a man with a wife and children whom I love dearly, my heart goes out to you.  I know that you're in the midst of a storm unlike anything you've ever experienced in your life. There are people coming from every direction with something to say about you and about Ray. Most of us have absolutely no idea of what you've been through. Others, like myself, have lived through domestic violence and bear our own scars as a result of what we saw and experienced.  

You may never see this letter, but if you do, there are some things that I would like to impart to you - from one parent of a daughter to another - a parent who some 30 years ago was a young boy not much older than your daughter now...who bore witness to the ugliness and ongoing brutality of domestic violence.  

I was 8 years old when I first remember seeing my dad beat my mom.  All I could do was yell at him to stop.  That's all my 2 brothers and I could do was yell and hope and pray he would stop.  He would get to the point where he'd stop himself just short of choking her out and then he'd leave the room or leave the house in a raged panic...there was part of him that knew what he was doing was wrong but he couldn't stop himself from doing it. There were a few times mom would call the cops but somehow he'd come back home and things would get better.  Somehow he'd play nice for awhile and I'd see him be loving to my mom.  We got fooled into thinking that things would change...that it wouldn't happen again.

But inevitably, it would.  And each time the violence manifested itself more intensely. I remember thinking at times that I was going to see my mom die and then wondered what would happen to us.  Where would we go?  We had no idea what would happen.  I do remember one day leaving the apartment where we lived to go play and coming back a couple of hours later only to be confronted by flashing lights and seeing my dad in handcuffs being escorted to the backseat of a police car.  My heart sank and I wondered what I would see when I got inside.  I was relieved that Mom was okay but scared and angry because of the bruises on her face and body.  There was so much I didn't understand.  I couldn't fully wrap my mind around what was happening and why it kept happening.  Finally one night, under cover of darkness, we packed a few things and we left and stayed with family.  We had done this before, several times...but this time was different.  We didn't go back.  

The next several years we spent a lot of time in the family court system.  It was brutal. Mom finally decided to divorce Dad but he fought.  That what Dad does...he fights. He's always fought...whether it was on the streets of Baltimore as a young boy or whether it was in the jungles of Vietnam as a teenager, it's what he's always known.  It's almost like he has no identity outside of the fight.  Even after all of these years I'm not sure exactly when it was that my mom decided it was time to leave.  But I think ultimately she did it for us. Innately she knew the only chance we had of being able to turn into responsible young men was if she left.  I imagine that a vision snuck into a rare night of sleep that haunted her...a vision showing her sons growing up angry and bitter turning our rage towards our own wives in the same way he did to her.  This she could not allow to come to pass, even if it meant going it alone as a single mother of 3 boys.  She - once the young, beautiful, naive girl looking for a way out of a bad marriage only to stumble into a worse one - now as a wiser woman prayed for strength to leave and found it.  

All of these memories came flooding back to me as I watched and rewatched the video of you being brutalized.  It wasn't just that he spit on you, egged you into the knockout blow he delivered with devastating efficiency, dragged you into the lobby and dropped you face-first onto the marble floor allowing you to be partially exposed, stepped over and kicked you with his foot, then placed you in a heap only to fall back into the elevator as you were still regaining consciousness...no it was the indifference with which he did all of this.  Not one action that was caught in any of that footage reflected any measure of decency or respect due to you - his fiancee and the mother of his daughter. Please know that there's nothing you did to justify his vicious behavior towards you. At any point during this entire ordeal, he could've walked away to give you both space to regain some measure of composure.  No...this was too easy for him.  It was too casual...this is familiar territory for him.  But it shouldn't be.  It shouldn't even be an option to begin with.

I understand your wanting to create space to protect your family's privacy.  And I understand your defending your husband and what he's worked for in his career.  But this is about you and your daughter and the fight to give her a chance to grow up into a woman that understands that in no way is what happened to you tolerable, acceptable or normal.  I challenge you to make a new normal for you and for her...the kind of normal that makes no excuses for, nor aides or abets abuse or abusers.  There's no amount of money, no sense of security that can replace what you have the ability to offer your little girl by making the choice to disable anyone from abusing you ever again.  I believe that you have family and friends who love you and your daughter and will do anything in their power to help you. You are blessed to have a support system. Use it and do what you have to do to protect yourself and your child.  If there's any chance of Ray becoming the man he needs to be, you have to stop enabling him.  

None of what I'm saying is easy.  Being in the public eye certainly makes trying to live your life much more complicated.  I know you didn't ask for all of this but this is what you are having to face.  Even when you feel alone and that no one understands, please know that isn't true.  There are people praying for you and those who are in closer proximity to you - family, friends - are just waiting for you to tell them what you need. Don't feel guilty about asking for help from them.  God put them in that position for a reason because He knew they were uniquely positioned to help you in a way no one else could.

And know that you have people like me around the country that are praying for you, your daughter and Ray.  I hope that in the still quiet moments when it's just you and God, that you allow Him to minister to you...that you allow Him to give you what you need.  You'll find that you will have strength you didn't know you had to do things you didn't know you could do...like maybe even one day be the embodiment of strength and inspiration not only for your daughter but for countless women in our country and around the world who have been victims of domestic violence.  But that's for later. :) For now, just take it one day at a time.


Wishing you a better tomorrow,

Kunta