Nine months into One Love’s national campaign to educate, empower and activate young people in a movement to end relationship violence, I am thrilled by how enthusiastic students across the country have been about doing whatever they can do to spread our mission and message in their campus communities. The partnership we announced with the Atlantic Coast Conference today is just further evidence that the time has come for real change on this issue.
My personal connection to One Love began on May 3, 2010 when I was called to my close friend Sharon’s home because her college-aged cousin had been killed. As I rushed to Sharon’s house, my only thought was car accident – a horrible, yet explainable tragedy. My world was forever changed when I walked in Sharon’s door and found her in shock, murmuring through barely moving lips, “He broke down the door and beat her to death.” Her cousin was Yeardley Love, a University of Virginia senior who was killed by her ex-boyfriend just weeks before their graduation. Never again could I assume relationship violence happened to other people outside my world. Yeardley’s death made it clear that relationship violence happens to people like me.
Since that day, I’ve learned much about relationship violence. It is an equal opportunity epidemic that 1 in 3 women and 1 in 4 men will experience in their lifetime. The incredible prevalence of this issue makes it one to which every one of us is directly connected, or that at most is just one degree of separation away. We as a society have been in denial about this – eager to ease our anxious worries by thinking this is something that happens to others, not us. This distancing that we do – an act of self-preservation to be sure – has kept our society from tackling a mandate for change head on.
Last summer, I joined One Love as CEO after I saw Escalation. In Escalation, I realized that One Love had created a film that made it incredibly and absolutely clear that we all know unhealthy relationships and relationship abuse intimately. The film left me with burning questions in my stomach – What can I do? How can I help change the statistics around relationship violence?
In the last year, others have shared this enthusiasm and realized a similar desire to help advance One Love’s work. The Baltimore Ravens, Jacksonville Jaguars, and several anonymous donors stepped forward with major grants to support the distribution of Escalation and the start of this movement for change. Nearly 300 colleges and over 150 high schools have signed on to hold Escalation Workshops on their campuses. New supporters are emerging who are eager to help us not only accelerate distribution of this important film, but also begin building an even larger and more comprehensive movement for change.
Our partnership with the ACC is exciting because it will support our work to engage member schools with the Escalation Workshop, and because it is the direct result of student enthusiasm for Escalation. When an Escalation Workshop was held with the ACC’s Student Athlete Advisory Committee this summer, it was the student athlete representatives that advocated for a formal partnership between the ACC and One Love. Their excitement about bringing Escalation not only to their teams and athletic departments but to their entire campus communities was clear. We hope this partnership creates a model for how other collegiate conferences can amplify and accelerate this movement to end relationship violence.
Of course this partnership is also exciting and special because it honors Yeardley, who in life pursued her dreams and became a student-athlete at the University of Virginia, and who in death is inspiring individuals across the country to work for change. Every day I think of Yeardley – at least once if not one hundred times. We work to do our part in ensuring that what happened to Yeardley doesn’t happen to someone else. And while new stories of relationship violence and new victims emerge every day, I’m convinced that many many lives will be helped or saved because of the work One Love is doing in Yeardley’s memory.
On college campuses across the country, thanks to Escalation and the over one thousand volunteers who have been trained to facilitate the workshop in the last months, a new kind of conversation is happening about healthy and unhealthy relationships and how communities can look out for each other. We are grateful to the ACC for helping extend this dialogue even further and we look forward to seeing this partnership’s impact in the months and year to come.
So join us. Do what you can do. Stand up for a set of different statistics. Your involvement – as an individual or an organization – can make an incredible difference.