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New York Giants Come to Rutgers-Newark to Talk About Domestic Violence Prevention

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RU-N VPVA Director Christie Howley, working with local partners to speak on domestic violence prevention. She sat alongside (l-r) Kym McNair, Newark Mayor Ras Baraka, Russell Shepard, Jonathan Stewart, and Olivier Vernon from the New York

Rutgers University-Newark (RU-N) Police Department Lt. Jamie Hendrix and Newark Bronze Shields teamed up with the RU-N Office of University-Community Partnerships to engage Newark high school students in dialogue about domestic violence prevention. Newark Bronze Shields is a nonprofit organization comprised of 350 African-American law enforcement officers who endeavor to uplift members of Newark’s African-American community through advocacy, education, coaching, and mentoring. Hosted in RU-N’s Golden Dome Athletic Center on Dec. 4, the event featured a performance by members of the Rutgers Unity Theater followed by a panel discussion with New York Giants Russell Shepard, Jonathan Stewart, and Olivier Vernon; Newark Mayor Ras Baraka; and local professionals in the domestic violence field. The program culminated with group and individual photos with the Giants.

To ensure everyone started from the same frame of reference, RU-N students Jordan Bryan-Smith, Christian Tang, and Kevin Cruz of the Unity Theater kicked off the agenda with a four-minute skit that depicted domestic abuse. The indelible irony and poignancy of the performance lay in the trio’s depiction of emotional and verbal abuse rather than physical abuse, and the casting of Bryan-Smith, a woman, as the abuser and Tang, a man, as the victim. When polled whether the scene portrayed a healthy relationship or an abusive one, 50 percent of the high school students voted for healthy relationship, establishing for the panelists the baseline for conversation.

In addition to the Giants and Mayor Baraka, the panel included Christie Howley, director of RU-N’s Office of Violence Prevention and Victim Assistance (VPVA); Kym McNair, coordinator for community education and engagement at My Sisters’ Place; Pamela McCauley, victim-witness coordinator for the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office; and Asia D. Smith, domestic violence specialist for the Shani Baraka Women’s Resource Center and the Newark Police Department Special Victim’s Division. Levi A. Holmes II, president of Newark Bronze Shields, and Gwen Williams, executive assistant prosecutor of the Essex County Prosecutor’s Office, moderated the panel.

Jordan Bryan-Smith (left) and Christian Tang of the Rutgers Unity Theater

Every panelist had a story to tell. He or she either had survived or witnessed domestic violence firsthand. Mayor Baraka shared the genesis of the Shani Baraka Women’s Resource Center located in Newark’s South Ward. The center was named after his younger sister, Shani Baraka, who was murdered in 2003, along with her partner Rayshon Holmes, by the estranged husband of Wanda Wilson Pasha, the sister of Shani and the mayor. Mayor Baraka explained that domestic violence is about power and control. “We live in a patriarchal society where men have physical and institutional power over women,” he said. He also stated that the Shani Baraka Women’s Resource Center was created to “give women the tools to protect themselves.” Smith added that at the center, victims have someone to talk to before the situation becomes dire and reaches the point of no return.

Howley, who joined RU-N’s VPVA nearly a year ago, wanted the students to know that survivors are unique. “They can come in any form.” VPVA, which was created more than a year ago, is a confidential resource for all RU-N students and strives to empower students to create a campus where violence is not tolerated. Howley has 15 years’ experience in domestic and sexual violence prevention. Prior to RU-N, she spent 11 years at the Somerset County Sexual Assault Center primarily serving as a program coordinator. “Ultimately, it’s about respect,” she emphasized. “Respect for your partner, respect for boundaries within relationships and friendships and most importantly respect for yourself.”

For more information about the services provided by VPVA, visit https://www.newark.rutgers.edu/VPVA.