Felicia Simpson said she was 24 when a boyfriend threw a beer bottle at her and broke her nose.
The relationship started as a typical love story, said Simpson. They had grown up only one block away from each other.
When she first saw Juan, she was instantly attracted to him. She flirted. They exchanged numbers, but it wasn’t until the next year that they actually began to date.
She said she liked his work ethic and how caring he was toward his son. The most important thing to her is that he accepted her two children from a previous relationship, she said.
“Whenever we would go somewhere, he always invited my kids,” said Simpson, now 31, from the South Side of Chicago. “He never excluded them, and I saw him as a father figure for them.”
He was willing to provide for the children, and she thought that also set him apart from other men.
“He always made sure we were taken care of before he ever bought anything for himself,” said Simpson.
Then one day during an argument, Juan threw the Corona bottle. The next day he came to the hospital with flowers, crying and apologizing for the incident. Simpson forgave him, but this was just the beginning of their abusive relationship.
Nationwide 2 million women are assaulted by their male partners each year, according to the American Medical Association. In 2007, the Chicago Police Department responded to 206,279 domestic violence related calls made to 911, according to the CPD domestic violence summary in March 2008.
In 2011, Simpson started A New Me Foundationwith the goal of “not having to open up one more domestic violence shelter.”
A New Me Foundation provides comprehensive family services for victims and survivors of domestic violence including motivational speaking, prevention education, support groups and resource referral and linkage.
“I was already providing the services for a couple of years, but after encouragement from my family and friends, I was motivated to start the foundation,” said Simpson. “I always had a business before I had an actual business.”
Brandi Williams, a volunteer with the foundation, said Simpson does a great job of spreading domestic violence awareness and explaining what it is and who it affects.
“She is very candid about the situation, and she doesn’t sugar-coat anything. She will be completely open and tell her story,” said Williams. “People might consider this type of transparency stupid on her part, but she doesn’t care. She’s focused on getting the information out there. She’s fearless!”
Veronika Hayes, a board member of the foundation, said she was inspired to work with A New Me after seeing how dedicated Simpson was to the cause.
“Her gears were always grinding — always thinking of the next move, the next event to inspire others, or the next speech to touch someone’s heart,” said Hayes.
Shaune Freeman, also a board member of the foundation, said he appreciates Simpson’s dedication to spreading awareness to the African-American community.
Black females experience domestic violence at a rate of about 22 times the rate of women of other races, according to data from A New Me Foundation.
“She is a great inspiration to young people to get them involved,” said Freeman.
Simpson’s first domestic violence workshop was at Corliss High School, on Chicago’s South Side, during its annual Diva luncheon, a program designed to empower teen-age girls.
Simpson said her workshop had the most girls in attendance. She also said after she finished telling her story, so many girls came up to her afterwards in tears because they had also been victims of domestic violence.
“It’s important to have these type of events with teenagers because they often don’t know they are in domestic violence situations,” said Simpson. “They think it’s the norm because it’s what they see in their own families. It’s importance to break the silence.”
Simpson admits that when she was in her abusive relationship, she didn’t know there was a term for it.
“I knew something wasn’t right, but I just thought it was something that was happening to me in this relationship,” said Simpson. ”No one had ever talked about this.”
Williams said she didn’t recognize she was in a domestic violence situation until recently, but it wasn’t with a boyfriend. It was with her mother.
Until she left for college at 18, Williams said she suffered daily verbal and mental abuse from her mother.
“My most depressing time was when I was living with my mother,” said Williams. “It’s terrible to be a kid and hate going home because your mom is going to scream and constantly call you out.”
Nicole Lofton, a New Me Foundation board member, suffered through a similar situation. Having a mom as an alcoholic, Lofton grew up with continual mental and verbal abuse. She said her mom would constantly scream derogatory insults at her. It became a regular routine, she said — so much so that when she got involved with her child’s father and he followed the same pattern, she just blew it off.
“I accepted it because it was something I was used to hearing,” said Lofton.
Williams recognizes domestic violence as a cycle because her friends are now telling her that she is verbally abusive.
“It’s scary because the same things I complained about with my mother, I now do.”
Williams said that her mother was also a victim of domestic violence from her father. She said that her father had thrown her mother out of a window and stabbed her with a fork. She also witnessed several violent attacks by her father on his girlfriend.
A child’s exposure to domestic abuse is the strongest risk factor for transmitting violent behavior from one generation to the next, according to the American Psychological Association.
Simpson has two sons–the oldest is Arieon Brown, 10. She said his teachers said he expresses himself angrily when he gets upset. After a violent altercation between his mom and stepdad, the boy stood at the door refusing to allow the police to come in to arrest his stepdad.
“That was hard for me to see,” said Simpson. “I understood though, because they had been very close. Juan went to all of Arieon’s games. He was the dad he never had.”
A New Me Foundation has several different events coordinated for 2012 including parenting classes, a concert, volunteering with homeless shelters and a woman’s conference.
“Domestic violence has always been so taboo in our communities,” said Simpson. “If we could get people confident to come forward, by educating them on the warning signs, we could break the silence.”
For more information, contact A New Me Foundation at (312) 523-7477. Illinois’ Domestic Violence Help Line is (877) 863-6338.