This was on my mind ...
On the east side of Columbus, Ohio, just south of James Road, there are three small streets accessible only from Livingston Avenue. Each street has four to eight houses. They are nice homes, larger than the majority of houses in the surrounding area. This, in and of itself, is not remarkable. Who built them, when and why, however, is. Livingston Heights came into being in the early 1940s, when two black men – a small businessman and a physician – bought land on the outskirts of Columbus in what were then little more than cow pastures. They developed this plot by selling individual parcels to other black professionals they knew.
Unwelcome elsewhere, the twenty or so families who settled there took land that was of no interest to others and built themselves a community. They held regular meetings to discuss issues of common interest: the building of roads, the construction of sewers. They presented a united front to the City of Columbus and managed to successfully integrate the area into its surroundings as the city grew out to meet it.
They named their community Livingston Heights.
I was born into that oasis in 1959. And every July, or as long as I can remember, all of the families in Livingston Heights got together for the annual picnic. We all congregated in someone’s backyard to eat, talk and enjoy one another’s company. The children in the neighborhood would put on a show for the adults. We were a spunky, if not a particularly talented, group of kids. We got rave reviews every year.
The women planned and cooked and made costumes for our show. They talked about cleaning ladies and colleges. The men made boasts about barbecue sauce and disagreed on how to light the fire.
They also spoke more quietly among themselves about the things they were trying to change for the children they watched play in the streets they had created. We kids played kickball undisturbed in the street, since all three were dead ends, and anyone who would ordinarily travel them was already accounted for in someone’s backyard.
The picnic would last well into the night. We kids all got to stay up late, since it was summertime. Toward dusk, as Johnny Walker and Jim Beam made their presence better known, the jokes began to roll, and the Richard Pryor albums came out. Our parents left us kids on our own to carry on as we pleased, content in the knowledge that we were firmly ensconced in our a safe haven conceived and built by black men and women who were told they couldn’t live like that.
As time went by and my world grew beyond the confines of those three small streets, I began to comprehend with greater clarity the significance of was happening there.
I now know that what I took for granted as nothing more than a rollicking good time on a warm summer afternoon, was more accurately a celebration of achievement and vision, the memory of which I will always cherish, along with the men and women who made it so.
At 20, I had neither the talent nor the perseverance, the dedication nor the ability to be among the top 10 people in the world at anything.
At 20, I could not have borne the pressure of coming back from being the best in the world at 16, trained, worked and waited for four years and tried to do it again.
At 20, I did not have the magnanimity to embrace, without jealously, a new 16 year-old who would step into my arena and dominate the sport I once did in a way I never managed.
At 20, I would not have been able to maintain my composure when criticized for my inability keep the natural state of my hair from emerging around the edges of my head while I did some of the most difficult things in the world.
At 20, when I failed to do my best and lost the chance to revisit the possibility of getting any medal in an arena in which I won gold four years ago, I would have been visibly distraught. (When it happened to Jordyn Wieber, she cried right then and there. I would have, too).
GABBY DOUGLAS IS A CHAMPION.
Did a hint of disappointment surface on her face while the cameras followed her non-stop at one of the toughest moments of her life, yep. Did she put her hand over her heart at the National Anthem? Nope, not every body does.
GABBY DOUGLAS IS A HUMAN BEING.
We saw extremely small snippets of the entire competition. And from those minuscule moments people have bullied that young woman mercilessly.
GABBY DOUGLAS IS TWENTY
What were you doing at twenty?
GABBY DOUGLAS …. A CHAMPION …. A CLASS ACT
No one goes out and gets into a relationship intending on being abused. Yet it is an epidemic. An incredible number of women (and increasingly men) become involved in physically dangerous relationships every year. Part of the problem is that abusive relationships typically develop over time. The behaviors are often incremental. They start out so small that they are hardly noticeable or can be easily explained away. He just grabbed your arm for a second in the heat of an argument and quickly let it go. You can’t see a reason to leave a guy you are crazy about for that reason alone. Sometimes it is a sudden act under pressure that you see as an aberration. She screamed at you about being five minutes late, but, after all, she’s had a tough week. An apology and an explanation usually come with the territory. The apology can be heartfelt and sincere because that is truly how the person feels at the time. Or it could be a well-practiced response learned over time.
I sat on a municipal court bench for eight years and saw thousands of domestic violence cases. Many abusers knew what they did wasn’t right, but at the time they were unable to act in accordance with what they knew because of how they felt. Others felt justified and saw the legal interference as usurping their rights. To them, I was a mouthpiece for an over-active and intrusive government that really did not understand the depth of their spouses’ failings or stupidity.
Sometimes abusers are hard to recognize because signs of their insecurity, which can ultimately cause them to abuse, may come off as romantic in the beginning. He needs to talk to you every hour because he is just that much in love. It is flattering at first but could be a sign that he needs to have access and control, and that usually doesn’t get better. In fact, as he becomes more emotionally invested, it tends to get much worse.
The problem with recognizing abuse arises because it is often a process and not an event. It can start with all manner of minor behaviors and small hints of what might be. One by one, signs appear but each one is apologized for or explained away. There is often a slow, subtle but consistent shifting of blame that occurs from the abuser to the victim. “I would not have done that if you had answered my call.” That presents the victim, who is often by this time in love, with a false sense of the importance of the abusive behavior and the notion that it can be controlled. It’s a small thing, she thinks. He apologized and I can make sure it doesn’t happen again if I answer his calls right away. What gets missed is the disproportionate response to something that is really not important. What gets misinterpreted is that his desire to know where you are is not a function of the overwhelming nature of his love but of his incredible insecurity.
Domestic violence is about power and control. Fear, shame and a sense of helplessness all contribute to making this shadow epidemic underreported. Even if we don’t consider the abusive situations that go unreported, the numbers are alarming. And domestic violence against men—though not nearly as common—is clearly on the rise.
Don’t say it could never happen to you. Don’t think that you don’t deal with the kind of person who is an abuser. Look at the numbers, accept the possibility and make sure you are aware of the signs. Then don’t fool yourself into believing that the rules that apply to the rest of the world do not apply to you.
Here are some of the signs of a potentially abusive relationship. It is not an exhaustive list but it’s a place to start. If anything here sounds familiar or you have other concerns take the next step and the next step and visit a domestic violence website like TheHotline.org.
- Volatile relationships in the past
If the person you’re with has left a whole stream of messy relationships in his or her wake, take heed. Don’t let him get away with telling you that a restraining order or a domestic violence charge was all the other person’s fault. Also watch for people who have great anger at past partners that they can’t quite seem to let go. If someone she used to date is now afraid of her, you don’t want to take that person’s place.
- Too much too soon
If you met him on Tuesday and by that Thursday he can’t live without you, that’s not love, that’s unusual. People with great insecurities and jealousy often do that kind of thing. In people like that, it is a precursor to a need to possess—and that you do not need. So keep you antennae up if something like that goes on. Watch to see if in a couple of weeks s/he starts needing to know exactly where you are all the time. Ignore statements like “It’s just because I love you so much.” That’s not true; it is because he is insecure. Get your tack shoes on and hit the road. It only gets worse from there.
- S/he gets mad easily over small things
Just because someone who gets angry a lot at others has yet to get angry with you does not mean that you are the one person in the world she can really get along with. What it means is that while she is in the process of seducing you, she is focused enough to stay in check. But a hothead is a hothead, and once you are no longer new and shiny, you will not only lose your exemption but you will become her easiest target.
- S/he tends to blame others for his or mistakes and problems
If the person you are dating blames everyone around him for what is going wrong in his life, scrutinize that tendency and make sure it makes sense on an objective level. Don’t get sucked up into his explanations; think it through for yourself. If she’s a blamer and cannot take personal responsibility for anything she does, once you get involved the easiest and most frequent person to blame for what happens to her will likely turn out to be you.
- S/he comes from a home where people get hit
People tend to do what they know and see, especially if they have been around it for a long time. Not all people who are raised in abusive situations become abusive themselves, but if you see that dynamic don’t ignore it. People default to what they know when emotions become involved. If they were raised in a place of violence that may very well be the script they read from when things get a little hairy.
- S/he tries to isolate you
Your lover should not get angry when you want to spend time with your friends and family. If he starts telling you that he is all you need, and does things to cut you off from people you love, that is a bad sign. Isolation is an abuser’s best friend. If she cannot tolerate anyone else having any input or positioning in your life, that is a means by which to garner control—and is a drop kickable event.
· Lots of criticism
Part of the process of abuse involves dehumanization and erosion of self-esteem. It is easier to command and control someone who doesn’t think much of herself. If you are with someone who tends to devalue everything you do, criticizes you, says you are crazy/stupid/ugly/a failure and that no one else will want you, that’s a power move that can change who you are. Run from it; it only gets worse.
- Unwelcomed physicality of any sort
Pushing, shoving and grabbing, or spoken reminders that s/he could do any of those things, are all signs of violence you do not want to ignore. Someone who loves you should not restrain you, adjust your position, or move you from where you are to a place he or she wants you to be. Yet again, we have drop kickable moment here.
They may be sorry. They may say they’ll never do it again. My experience is that is not the case. To my kids I’ve said “One blow. You go”. You do so intelligently, having gotten in touch with organizations that understand the complexities and dangers of leaving, because lethality often goes up when the victim decides to leave. But you go.
from Making Marriage Work
There are a whole lot of things I can’t control, but I don’t want to be one of them. I want to be in charge of how I react to whatever’s happening. I don’t want my responses to be dictated by some past experience that welled-up unnoticed and handled a situation it had no business being anywhere near. I don’t want my fears to dictate where I go or circumscribe what I do. I can’t have the specter of this morning’s problems haunt my afternoon. A sister is busy. I need to have the presence of mind to let my mind handle my present.
I don’t want the least of me to command the rest of me. While I’m not ashamed of my odd, I’m not enamored of it either. While some of my weird is helpful other parts are not. So I make sure that the latter doesn’t mess up the good things the former does.
I have to be in command of me even if I can’t command the situation so at the very least I don’t fool around and make matters worse. To do that I have to, in my mother’s words, “Get my Mind Right.” “Getting Your Mind Right” is a decision to actively address how you feel. This is how my mother explained it to me as my impatience showed up and was about to show out one day at the DMV.
“Get your mind right, ” she said. “This process is what it is and there isn’t anything you can do about it. You should have been prepared when you came here to feel a little annoyed and you should know enough not to pass that along. That woman up there didn’t think up this mess and she has a job to do. All day long she deals with impatient people like you who are angry with her for something that is not her fault. If you want this thing to go a little smoother, go up there and be especially nice. Sympathize with the problems she has and she’ll be more likely to go out of her way for you. Either way this process is what it is. How you feel when you leave here is completely up to you.”
I now live my entire life with that last line in mind. I don’t act on how I feel until I figured out whether it will help me get what I need to get done, even if it’s just maintaining my personal peace during a situation I can’t control.
I work my emotions like a job. I think everybody should.
More from JudgeLynn
You’ve asked. She’s answered. In Dear Sonali, Judge Lynn speaks to all the young women who call her Mom2 or the Auntie in their Head.
Judge Lynn Toler became the host of the longest running television court program, "Divorce Court" in 2006. Prior to that, Judge Lynn Toler graduated from Harvard University and The University of Pennsylvania Law School. She began practicing law in Cleveland in 1984. In 1993, at the age of 33, she was elected judge of The Cleveland Heights Municipal Court. Judge Toler volunteered actively in her community creating innovative programs for young offenders such as Woman Talk, a program designed to intensively mentor young, at-risk girls.
Toler also headed the Cleveland Heights Coordinated Community Response to Violence against Women, a countywide initiative for the coordination of community resources to assist women who are victims of violence. She was also active as an advisory board member for Templum House, a battered women's shelter. As a result of her work in the area of domestic violence in 2002, she was awarded The Humanitarian of the Year Award from The Cleveland Domestic Violence Center.
Judge Toler's dedication to ending domestic violence continues. Currently, she is on the Board of GoPurple.org, a non-profit organization that addresses the issue of domestic violence through education. GoPurple.Org sends educators into classrooms teaching students about healthy relationships, signs of potentially abusive relationships, and ways to help both themselves and others who are in abusive situations.
Judge Toler has served as an adjunct professor at Ursuline College, where she created and taught courses on Civil Rights Law, and Women and the Law. She was also a frequent instructor for the Ohio Judicial College, where she helped create and taught continuing judicial education course for other judges.
Judge Toler is the author of three books including her most recent "Making Marriage Work: New Rules for an Old Institution." Her first, "My Mother's Rules: A Practical Guide to Becoming an Emotional Genius" published in 2006, is a humorous memoir in which Judge Lynn recounts a childhood lived in the shadow of mental illness and provides a practical guide to the emotional lessons learned from that experience. And her time on the bench. Her second book, "Put It In Writing," coauthored with Deborah Hutchison, was published in September, 2009. It gives readers concrete, conflict-free solutions to the difficult situations that arise between family and friends.
Judge Toler has written for a variety of magazines including Divorce Magazine published through out the United States and Canada. In 2009, Judge Toler was given The Voice of Freedom Award by the Philadelphia Chapter of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. joining former honorees Colin Powell and Vice President Al Gore, in ringing the Liberty Bell on Martin Luther King Day.
Currently, Judge Toler appears regularly as a guest expert on WeTV's Marriage Bootcamp. Born on October 25, 1959, she has been married to Eric Mumford since April, 1989. She has two sons and four stepsons.
Paradise Remembered On the east side of Columbus, Ohio, just south of James Road, there are three small streets accessible only from Livingston Avenue. Each street has four to eight houses. They are nice homes, larger than the majority of houses in the surrounding area. This, in and of itself, is not remarkable. Who […]
At Twenty At 20, I had neither the talent nor the perseverance, the dedication nor the ability to be among the top 10 people in the world at anything. At 20, I could not have borne the pressure of coming back from being the best in the world at 16, trained, worked and waited for […]
No one goes out and gets into a relationship intending on being abused. Yet it is an epidemic. An incredible number of women (and increasingly men) become involved in physically dangerous relationships every year. Part of the problem is that abusive relationships typically develop over time. The behaviors are often incremental. They start out so […]
There are a whole lot of things I can’t control, but I don’t want to be one of them. I want to be in charge of how I react to whatever’s happening. I don’t want my responses to be dictated by some past experience that welled-up unnoticed and handled a situation it had no business being anywhere […]