Story by: Spencer Durham
ADRIAN TWP. — Melissa Beal never imagined in her wildest dreams that her idea of a domestic violence awareness rally at the state Capitol would explode in the way that it did.
She never imagined the doors it would open. Never imagined it would lead to booking the former vice president of the Women’s March of Michigan, or the mayor of Lansing or Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
But at 11 a.m. Tuesday, Oct. 1, on the Michigan State Capitol lawn they, along with many others, will come together to raise awareness of domestic violence, which affects one in four women and one in nine men.
Beal is one in four women. Beal is a domestic violence survivor. But she’s also one of the lucky ones. She got out.
Beal, who lives in Adrian Township, was assaulted in June 2018 by her now ex-husband. She suffered a broken nose and bruises, among other injuries.
“You’re in shock at first,” she said. “I never imagined that anyone could do something so horrible. No one’s perfect, but you never think that someone who says they care about would break your nose, kick you, punch you on pavement.”
Her abuser was convicted on charges related to the incident.
Beal said she had to answer some difficult questions from her children and remained strong because of them.
“I never would have imagined it would happen to me,” she said. “It gave me fuel, for my children, to do something about it.”
So she did. Beal joined a local support group, Surviving to Thriving, for women who have experienced relational trauma.
“It’s made a difference in myself and my healing,” she said.
Beal wasn’t done, though, not by a long shot.
“After this I thought, ‘I’ve got to do more, I’ve got to do something more,’ ” she said of her involvement in the support group.
She met with state Rep. Bronna Kahle, R-Adrian, and the first door opened. The two discussed possible legislation related to domestic violence.
In August of this year, Beal connected with Cynthya Hale, organizer of the domestic violence rally taking place Tuesday in front of the White House.
She then met Tanesha Ash-Shakoor, an advocate and founder of Voices of Color!, a nonprofit in Lansing. Her nonprofit provides legal advocacy for domestic violence victims.
Ash-Shakoor was planning on attending the rally at the White House, but she wanted to have a rally in Michigan too. Beal and Ash-Shakoor teaming up just seemed obvious. Beal serves as the coordinator, and Ash-Shakoor is the director.
“She has such a soft spirit,” Ash-Shakoor said of Beal. “I’m excited to see how this will grow her. … She is ready to explode with passion. … She is really committed to the cause.”
The two have been hard at work spreading the word on Tuesday’s rally. In less than two months time, they have booked over 10 speakers and received support from numerous organizations.
Six organizations will have information booths at the rally including the Michigan Coalition to End Sexual Assault and Domestic Violence and End Violent Encounters (EVE).
“I keep telling my children, we can’t help what other people do but we can help what we do,” Beal said. ”… You can turn something bad and make something good out of it. I’m hoping to create change and help other women and children who have gone through this.”
State Reps Kahle, Sarah Anderson, D-Lansing, Lansing Mayor Andy Schor and Nicole Denson, former vice president of Women’s March of Michigan are on the list of scheduled speakers.
“We, the rally, are not an organization. We are a group of advocates, survivors coming together to raise awareness and create change,” Beal said. “To me, that’s beautiful.”
The family of Rachel Renee Duncan is scheduled to speak, as well. Duncan was murdered by her abuser and ex-boyfriend who then took his own life.
“I think it speaks to every component of the issue,” Ash-Shakoor said. “It will be an opportunity for her to still have a voice.”
Beal’s and Ash-Shakoor’s efforts have landed them on the radar of the governor. Whitmer is scheduled speak and issue a proclamation Tuesday marking October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month in Michigan. Whitmer’s appearance will depend on whether a state budget is in place by that time. If she cannot attend, Beal said they are hopeful Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist can make it.
“I’ve talked to Whitmer, I never would have imagined this,” Beal said Wednesday. “We have Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s support.”
There are aspirations to make the rally an annual event. Domestic violence rallies have grown from just four states to 20 in the time Beal has organized hers.
The rally won’t be the end of her efforts, either. Beal said she will be a member of a judicial committee that will work to create a bill to mandate Michigan judges undergo domestic violence training.
The idea is to train judges to recognize the signs of litigation abuse, a move abusers use while in the court system.
Beal experienced this when she divorced her husband. Litigation abuse is when someone argues or nitpicks over every small detail or refuses to settle as a way to exert power and control, she explained.
“Going through the divorce, you’re re-victimized,” Beal said. ”… They are going to make it as a difficult as they can.”
Doors have continued to open for Beal. It’s hard to imagine Tuesday’s rally will do anything other than open even more. For Beal, it was simply meant to be.
“I was meant to do something about this because the doors have opened,” she said. “They would not have opened if I wasn’t meant to do something.”
Posted on September 30, 2019 at 12:12 pm