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Sticks And Stones My Break My Bones, But Jenita’s Words Forever Changed Me!

Sticks and stones my break my bones, but Jenita’s words forever changed me!

A note for readers: This blog post contains explicit language as related by a survivor describing incidents of verbal abuse

For over six years, I have been working with Safe Harbor telling their story. Their story has so many pieces to the puzzle, so many narratives and so many different considerations. Safe Harbor’s story is a culmination of heart, soul, and the very women who have taken time to share their story; their very personal stories.

I remember the first domestic violence survivor I interviewed, her name is Jennifer. To this day, I will never forget her interview and her description how her partner abused her physically, mentally and emotionally. I will never forget the drive home after her interview and how I ended up 45 minutes in Georgia on I-85, driving 50 miles past my exit in South Carolina, not knowing how I got there. I was lost in her words…driving in silence. 

Telling the stories of domestic violence survivors has so many considerations, so many nuances, so many tears, and so many joys. Becky Callaham, Julie Meredith, and I have had deep discussions surrounding the ethics of sharing stories of survivors, using these stories for fundraising and outreach…we have and will continue to feel protective of these stories, these powerful words, these words that have streams of tears…words of justice…words of long journeys to freedom. 

Each year, we share a special story during the Fashion With A Passion fundraiser, a story of survival…a story of resilience. This past year, we met Jenita. I remember meeting her for the first time as began preparing for the video production. We sat down with Jenita on the ground floor of the West Village Lofts at Brandon Mill. As we sat there and exchange pleasantries; then I asked the question…”Are you ok telling your story in-front of a camera to the whole world.” She paused then looked at me dead in the eye, with all her strength she said, “Women need to hear my story.”

She shared with us that she had written her story and wanted to send it to me so I could prepare the interview questions. I remember opening that email, downloading the Word Document, sitting at my desk and beginning to read. It was one long paragraph and each line struck me more and more, each word shook my soul, each sentence detailing the abuse reaffirming that an interview would do injustice to her story. I wanted her to read this document, look the camera, address the audience dead in the eye and reveal the horror, the abuse, and the resilency that other women needed to hear. 

As a man helping tell her story, I had no place to edit her words, craft interview questions to capture responses I believed were powerful. As a man, as a gender who represents the perpetrators actions…I needed to sit back and listen to her full voice shared and recorded it with care and dignity.

As a storyteller, you have a vision of where the story should go, how the words should be crafted, and how each perfect moment is revealed at the right place and at the right time. Conducting an interview for video and audio recording is more than a technical process…it is an art, a craft. I learned from the best; Peabody, Murrow, and Pulitzer Prize winners helped shape the way I conduct interviews. It was this day, I served no purpose other than providing the technical medium and opportunity for Jenita to read line-by-line, a story that shook my inner soul.

As we sat her down, with close to six lights surrounding her, microphones hanging over her head, and two cameras encroaching on her personal space…she taught this storyteller a lesson. As she read her lines that she wrote, unedited from the teleprompter, each word spoken creeped closer to a pivotal moment…sharing the nasty words her abuser consistently scolded her with daily. As she was about the read the words, she edited the words in real time not saying what he said, what she wanted to say, what she had written. As a protector of the Safe Harbor brand, I was somewhat relieved she attenuated the language…then I listened to my gut. 

I asked her to stop midway through the read. This was the most important lesson…I trusted my gut. I asked her to read what she really wrote. I asked her to read it like she wrote it with her passion, her angst, her frustration, and use her brave soul to release those words for the world to hear. 

I knew the word “FUCK” and “WHORE’ were going to rattle the audience. I knew the decision makers at Safe Harbor would debate the usage of these words for a high dollar fashion event where the “whose who” of Greenville would be in attendance. I knew Safe Harbor had yet pushed this limit, providing the space for the authenticity to emerge in this form via the spoken word on video. I knew…it had to be said!

These words were his words, her abusers words, words of emasculation, words of hate, words that other survivors had heard…words that provided a closer view inside the life of a victim who is struggling to find the right time, place, and the right kind of bravery to get out and leave. 

You know the saying, “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Words do hurt, they cause damage, they shape people in ways that determines the path of our souls. But a survivors words are more powerful if heard with an open heart and with complete transparency and authenticity. 

Jenita’s words changed me…forever! 

Bobby Rettew
Chief Storyteller
Gray Digital Group

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