This Sunday, May 11, over 1,000 people are expected to walk over the Brooklyn Bridge in support of victims and survivors of domestic violence. The walk will highlight the lives of those lost, and those who have overcome domestic violence.
"It's not a march, it's not a protest or demonstration, it's a day of celebration and recognition," says Dawn Diaz, the event's organizer, and founder of Milagros Day Worldwide, a non-profit that provides leadership and mentorship to survivors of domestic violence. "The walk is about celebrating and honoring mom and showing that there is a way out, that there is hope, and that there is a light at the end of the tunnel."
Domestic violence is defined as exerting power and control over another human being -- whether it manifests as physical, emotional, psychological, financial, sexual, or other type of abuse.
Domestic violence is really a case of people not feeling worthy and needing to find ways to feel more self-worth, explains Diaz. The abuser will find ways to make the other person feel unworthy; and the abused will look for ways to be worthy. While it's overwhelmingly women who are abused, men can also be victims.
The statistics are startling:
• One in three women will experience some sort of abuse in their lifetime.
• Ten million children a year are exposed to domestic violence in the home.
That last statistic really hits home for Diaz, as she is a third-generation domestic violence survivor. "My mom, after 10 years of living in an abusive relationship finally had the courage to leave the relationship. Six months later, she was killed in an automobile accident," she says. "My grandma tells me what gave her the courage to leave was that she discovered that I was being molested. It really tells a lot about a mother's love, and a mother's will. She didn't have the courage to stand up for herself, but when it came to her child, she was able to find the courage."
For 25 years, Diaz struggled with all those unresolved issues of abuse, incomplete questions, trauma, and loss. She felt damaged. She felt that something was missing. To fill the void, she says she turned to "sex, drugs and hip hop" but she kept seeking answers. Finally, after many years of searching she realized she was asking the wrong question.
Instead of asking, how do I fix myself? She realized she should have been asking, what do I have to offer? What can I do to make a difference?
Everything changed after that. She was able to channel all that knowledge, and passion, into something that helps turn abuse into success, which is the mantra of Milagros Day.
Where does Milagros come from? "Milagros means miracles in Spanish, and it also happens to be my mom's name," Diaz tells me.
For victims of domestic violence, she says three steps are vital to turning abuse into success:
1. Ask yourself: Who Am I? That is the question you need to meditate on. Make it your mantra. Who Am I? Who Am I? Who Am I? You are staying in an abusive relationship because you believe that's who you are -- that it is your lot in life, and that you deserve it. When you ask yourself who your really are, it connects you to your source, your spirit, and your higher power.
Once you know who you are, your story can shift. It can no longer bring you shame. "I tell my story with so much pride and transparency, because it's not who I am --i t doesn't define me -- it's just something I experienced that brought me to where I am today," says Diaz.
2. Surround yourself with people that will support who you really are -- and confirm it. Diaz says that a person in an abusive relationship usually surrounds themselves with toxic or negative people. Seek out positive people.
3. Contribute. The first and second steps are crucial, but you need all three to make it happen. To really become who you want to be, you really need to believe it. You know it, others have confirmed it, but now you need to believe it. The way to do that is seeing the impact that you, your presence, your purpose and your unique talents can have on someone else or a group of people. That will completely change your belief in yourself.
You may have the courage to leave your situation at any of the above steps, but Diaz cautions that only you will be able to gauge the safety of the situation. You have to be really strategic about leaving -- and you'll need help. She says by seeking out positive people and a solid support network, you'll create an environment of safe havens that become part of your exit plan.
Leaving an abusive situation is not a walk in the park, admits Diaz, it takes a lot of courage and belief in yourself.
The walk across the Brooklyn Bridge symbolizes leaving behind what doesn't serve you anymore. The walkers meet at City Hall Park, have a Zumba warm-up, and then walk over the bridge in peaceful reflection. "We have had people walking and crying and also hugging and holding pictures of their loved ones," says Diaz. "When we get to the other side, it's party time. There's music, vendors, and food. It's all about celebrating life -- and what's possible."