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Ed. Note: Champions of Change is a weekly initiative to highlight Americans who are making an impact in their communities and helping our country rise to meet the many challenges of the 21st century.
On Thursday, October 20 I was both humbled and honored to receive a Champions of Change award along with 13 exceptional and deserving honorees. As I sat there and listened to the gripping stories of my fellow Champions it was clear to me that Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. got it right when he said, “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”
As a young boy I was blessed in countless ways, one of which was being mesmerized by the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Although many of my peers growing up idolized sports figures and entertainment stars my path went in a different direction. As I grew up I read all I could on Dr. King and it would be his pictures and quotes that appeared on my bed room walls.
By the time I arrived at college I had a developed a solidly structured ethic based upon the King doctrine; yet it wasn’t until I stumbled into my first Women Studies course that I discovered how I should channel my passion. It wasn’t until I sat and became educated on the status of women in our society, both past and present, that I realized what I should do with my life. It wasn’t until I learned a side of history that had been conveniently left out of the history books that I realized that there was a cause that had to be addressed sooner rather than later.
Dr. King was called to the pulpit, and I found my calling in life was to combat violence against women. As King eloquently stated, “In-justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” In my view the responsibility to keep victims of abuse and violence safe, and hold perpetrators accountable is shared by all. Although many would agree with this opinion when asked, how many are actually acting? During the Civil Rights Movement Dr. King use to contend that he was more upset by the appalling silence of the good people than by the hateful deeds of the oppressors. He was more disturbed by those who stood idly by, not agreeing with what was going on, but at the same time not uttering a word against it. Today we refer to this type of individual as a bystander. The individual who notices or recognizes an event that falls along a continuum of behaviors that leads to abusive or violent behavior.
The next logical question is what should an individual do? The simple answer is, do something! That something shouldn’t be based upon what others might do given the same situation. The choice an individual makes should be based on their relevant skills and experience, their relationship to the victim and/or perpetrator, their feelings and attitudes, and their perception of the relative personal cost of either intervening or doing nothing.
On a larger scale there is a good deal that groups and organization need to do. This translates into community stakeholders working collaboratively to address violence against women issues. It includes not only being made aware of what individual stakeholder responsibilities encompass in addressing these concerns; it means challenging them to hold their fellow stakeholders accountable when it comes to ensuring that they do their part.
We have come a long way, but there are still many victories to be won. Working together we can make justice a reality and make righteousness more than just a dream.
David Thomas retired from the Montgomery County Department of Police in December of 2000 after 15 years of Service and serves as the Program Administrator of the Domestic Violence Education Program as well as a faculty member in the Division of Public Safety Leadership at Johns Hopkins University.