Groups host rally against child abuse at State Capitol
“A lot of the problems with the kids are because they are a product of a broken home. The kids are trying to find a role model somewhere. They may reach out to the guys on the street corner ...” Michael “A.V.” Mitchell, gospel rapper, on his youth program
A crowd of about 100 people chanted, “It’s a fact ... we’re taking our children back,” downtown and at the State Capitol steps Saturday morning during a walk and rally against child abuse.
Co-sponsored by Family and Community Together, also called the F.A.C.T. Project of Baton Rouge, and the Center of Empowerment for Families and Youth Inc., both nonprofit groups dedicated to helping families, the inaugural gathering was designed to raise awareness of child abuse and present information on how to end it, organizers said.
“We’re out here for a very serious matter,” said LaTonia Dunbar, a social worker and child advocate who is president of the F.A.C.T Project. “One out of four girls and one out of six boys are sexually abused before the age of 18.
“Abuse affects our children in a horrible way,” Dunbar said. “It is intended to rob you of your self-esteem. It is up to us, person-to-person, to determine what we are going to take back and what we are going to allow abuse to take from us.”
Many children act out, take drugs and alcohol, and are sexually promiscuous because of abuse, Dunbar said. “More than 53 percent of women who are incarcerated have had some history of physical or sexual abuse.”
“It affects everyone,” Dunbar said, because it requires society to spend money to incarcerate offenders and to help victims with health care.
Main speaker Juan Barthelemy, who holds a doctorate and practices social work in Baton Rouge, told the audience youth detention facilities are filled with young people who act out because of child abuse and neglect.
“Children who are beaten just get more calloused and tougher and tougher and when they get old enough to beat someone else, that’s what they do,” Barthelemy said. “They repeat that cycle — we have a repetitive cycle of violence — that is what we’re trying to break.
“A lot of little boys see men beat their moms and talking to their moms in a disrespectful manner and they hate it and think about all the things they would do to stop it if they were big enough,” Barthelemy said. “But then they turn 14 or 15, they are too big for their mother to tell them what to do and they start talking back to her and then they start laying hands on their mom — the very things they hated growing up — is what they do.”
The girls who experience abuse grow up to believe that is how people show them love, Barthelemy said, because “her mother was beaten and she stuck it out” and the cycle repeats itself.
“It doesn’t take a real man to lay hands on someone — that just means you are stronger than them,” Barthelemy said. “It doesn’t take a real man to yell and scream at someone, but it takes a real man to admit he made some mistakes and change his behavior.”
Joseph Antoine brought a group of boys and girls to the rally because, he said, “we need to raise awareness of child abuse. It’s not just in Baton Rouge, it’s nationwide. These kids are our future — our leaders. We need to show them we care.”
SiMon Franklin, of World Shakers Church, delivered a monologue about a conflicted woman and illustrated it by wearing a dress that was half white and half black.
Darin Fontenette, 46, of the Gardere Youth Alliance, served as master of ceremonies. Fontenette said he was doing his best to be a role model for boys growing up in single-mother households.
“We have a lot of youth with no daddies,” Fontenette said. “I did have a father; he was tough, but he was there for me — and that made the difference for me.”
Making an appearance at the rally was Michael “A.V.” Mitchell, 29, a gospel rapper who has a youth program called the V.I.P. Project, which stands for Vision, Identity and Purpose.
Mitchell performed a new rap song specifically for Saturday’s gathering that declared, “No longer victimized, no longer mesmerized, we’re overcomers, we rise — It’s a fact, we’re taking our children back.”
Fontenette credited Mitchell with “stepping up to the plate” for being a positive role model.
“A lot of the problems with the kids are because they are a product of a broken home,” Mitchell said prior to the rally’s program. “The kids are trying to find a role model somewhere. They may reach out to the guys on the street corner or they may find one of us and gravitate to us.
“We’re going to be out there so they can see us instead of their neighborhood hustle-man,” Mitchell said. “We’re trying to point them in the right direction.”
State Rep. Regina Barrow, D-Baton Rouge, stopped by to announce she will issue a proclamation of support for the groups next week.
A half-dozen motorcycle riders with Bikers Against Child Abuse attended the rally, too. “We have a common goal,” biker April Albritton said.
Catrina Pullum, of the Center of Empowerment for Families and Youth, said anyone needing information or support to find help with child abuse is asked to contact the rally organizers’ websites at http://thefactprojectla.org and http://coe4youth.org.