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Teaching the real meaning of strength takes a special voice

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Earlier this week, I was overjoyed to learn that the Office of Violence Against Women grant to support local efforts to engage men and boys as allies to eliminate violence has finally been awarded. Chrysalis has been waiting for months, and now we can begin. This grant will bring together partner organizations Meriden-Wallingford Chrysalis, Women and Families Center, the Spanish Community of Wallingford, and Beat the Street Community Center to pilot “Real Strength.”

“Real Strength”: I love that title and I cannot claim credit for it. “Nothing is so strong as gentleness, nothing so gentle as real strength.” (Saint Jerome) Our society does little to value and reinforce real strength among boys and men. Last week, I was humbled once more by my young son, now 6, as he reminded me what real strength truly is.

His sister was angry that she was denied something she wanted. Her response, shockingly, was to hit her Momma! We were all initially taken aback. Hitting is not a known behavior in our home, and our response was to scold and demand an apology. That apology was simply not coming.

The consequences began to rise: no DVDs, no snacks, no Kindle, as the minutes passed. We continued to wait for the apology. Then the computer got turned off, followed by no toys, and we continue to restrict her choices as we wait. This was growing old, quickly. It was Noah that broke the deadlock.

“Sage, come on. Remember, you have to be very brave to say you’re sorry.” He walked over to her, grabbed her hand, led her over to Momma, and modeled for her. She doesn’t miss a beat. While she looks at her toes, “I’m sorry Momma.” Hugs and kisses abound, followed by a renewed freedom in the household. But our true pride did lie with our son saying, “you have to be very brave to say you’re sorry.”

He is so right. He also was the only one — perhaps because of the magical language of siblings, perhaps because in that moment her stubbornness was against adults, I can only guess — that was able to get through to her in that moment. That is what we hope to achieve through “Real Strength,” sending the message of nonviolence to men and boys through those they will listen to, and those whose opinions they care about.

As we embark on this goal of reducing violence in our communities, it strikes me that the first step will be the hardest, the bravery that is required to accept and believe that what we’ve always done isn’t working. The courage to redefine strength as gentle is perhaps the largest, hardest, yet most powerful step of them all. For our future, and the future of our children, I hope we have the courage to show “Real Strength.”

Sharlene Kerelejza is executive director of Meriden-Wallingford Chrysalis Inc.



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