By Gregg Bragg, Island Eye News Sr. Staff Writer
The third annual Hope Walk is scheduled for Saturday, Sept. 15 and will kick off at 8 a.m. on the Charleston side of the Ravenel Bridge (look for the tents and banners). Victims of domestic violence will march in cathartic unity, empowering each other and the throng of supporters who join them. The event has gained momentum as public awareness of domestic abuse has grown, in part because of local media coverage. However, its genesis has more to do with SC native Butch Kennedy.
Kennedy attended Eau Claire High School, located just outside Columbia, SC. He says there was a shooting in the cafeteria early his freshman year. The next time he entered the lunchroom was as an adult there to chaperone/DJ for a school dance. The area had its fair share of violence and after retiring from the Air Force, he did something about it.
Kennedy joined Project Unity, a neighborhood awareness group that works with local churches, community leaders, and law enforcement to proactively monitor and report crime. Video Cameras were conspicuously installed, and by working together, residents witnessed a dramatic drop in crime. Kennedy moved to North Charleston in the mid 2000s and was alarmed to learn the city ranked in the top 10 in violent crime statistics, even more so when it dawned they were national figures, not SC numbers. Planning to duplicate the successes seen in the midlands, Kennedy founded the Charleston branch of Project Unity, and met Sarah Finkelstein at one of the organization’s many conferences.
Finkelstein was an operative with the National Council of Jewish Women, a group that advances “social service, progressive government policies, and philanthropy.” Finkelstein’s focus was protecting women by discretely leaving business cards with emergency numbers victims could call without alerting their abusers, according to Kennedy.
He remembers Finkelstein telling him, “You can’t solve violence without addressing domestic abuse.” He took the advice to heart and formed REALMAD (Real Men Against Domestic Violence/Abuse).
Kennedy’s Facebook page can be downright chilling. The few pictures he uses to modify bad behavior will make your heart ache. His more liberal use of statistics like; “Every 9 seconds a woman is abused in the United States,” or advice like; “Fellas! Pay close attention to the way you hurt these females… so you know how to comfort your daughters later,” is just as sobering. Interestingly, REALMAD grew out of financial necessity.
Kennedy began by lending out a spare bedroom to victims, who came to him or his girlfriend. Word got out about the safe harbor and the spare bedroom turned into providing hotel rooms and eventually, to turning people away. Now, the REALMAD program provides a “leg up” with help to find secure housing and even grants scholarships, in some cases, and explains why the HOPE WALK is more celebration than lament.