Valentine’s Day will mean dancing in the streets of Kalamazoo. The One Billion Rising event is being held Thursday to bring attention to the issue of violence against women. WMUK’s Gordon Evans reports.
At age 16, Kyla James, then a junior in high school, was sexually assaulted. It was a traumatic experience, and one that she initially suffered alone:
“I told no one," Kyla James says. "I was in very, very small town, about 2,000 people. I was president of my class and he was an incredibly popular football player who was vice president of our class. There were 94 kids in my class, I saw him every single day. His family was really well-known in the town. And the thought of speaking up in any, I thought ‘this will ruin my life, this will ruin my life, I can’t do it’.”
James says she tried to block it out, but that eventually proved too difficult. While attending Western Michigan University, she got into therapy, met others who had also been assaulted, and got involved with sexual assault education on campus. James says it took years for her to get over her assault, but now she talks about it freely, and every once in a while sees the man who attacked her when she’s back in her hometown. But James says she holds no malice:
“This is what’s difficult too. He is now a lovely man," she says. "He was a 16 year old, he was a 16 year old boy who had absolutely no experience or education or training whatsoever, again why I am a firm believer in comprehensive sex education about how to actually have a good sexual encounter with a young woman.”
James says education can’t all be focused on women avoiding assault. She says statistics show that many men who will become part of society commit violent acts against women, especially when they are young. The numbers say that one in three women will be a victim of violence at some point in their lives. That adds up to one-billion, or as the global event is known one-billion rising.
Kirsten Jennings helped get the Kalamazoo event off the ground. Jennings and some friends heard playwright and performer Eve Ensler when the author of the Vagina Monologues spoke at Kalamazoo College last May:
“She delivered a really inspiring lecture on theater for social change," says Jennings. "And then at the end of the lecture, she announced this one-billion rising initiative, which at that time was sort of off in the distant future, and we gathered afterward and talked about how much fun that would be to have a day of dance action here in Kalamazoo."
Jennings has also organized practices for the dance that will be performed on Thursday. She says the song was written for the one-billion rising event and it was choreographed by dancer and actress Debbie Allen:
“There are movements about physically breaking the chain, a movement of breaking your arms apart over your knee, and there’s some hand movements about stopping and things like that," Jennings says. "It’s a simple dance so everyone can do it, but it’s also got some symbolism there.”
Jennings says people can find on-line instructions about how to dance, but she says it isn’t necessary to participate. Jennings says anyone can join to dance or march on Valentine’s Day.
Kyla James plans to be there, and says she’s ready to dance. James says women who have been assaulted should know that it doesn’t have to define their life:
“I have a fantastic life. I have wonderful kids, I’ve had wonderful relationships. And this is true for most of the women that I know," James says. "Yes, it can be devastating, but it doesn’t define who you are as a person. I know sexual assault survivors, who are business owners, PhDs, incredible mothers, incredible wives, brilliant, beautiful, fantastic women. It’s important that people know that if this has happened, it didn’t ruin your life, it didn’t.”
The One Billion Rising event will begin at 4:30 Thursday afternoon at Bronson Park in downtown Kalamazoo.