Local artists work to raise awareness about domestic and sexual abuse

SPEAKING OUT: Jenna Jaffe, left, and Allison “A.G.” Hammond team up to raise awareness about sexual abuse. Photo of Jaffe by Hammond; photo of Hammond by Sarah Garland

Local singer and producer Allison “A.G.” Hammond knows what it’s like to need help.

“When I first came back to Asheville after getting away from an abusive ex, I was very alone,” she recalls. “I felt like I didn’t have a voice; I had no one to go to.”

One day, a friend told her about Helpmate, which provides emergency shelter, counseling and support for domestic violence survivors.

“I hadn’t realized that they were there to help,” she says.

Now, Hammond is looking to give back to Helpmate, as well as Our VOICE, another local agency that offers similar aid to victims of sexual abuse. On Friday, June 9, at 7 p.m., she is hosting Verbal Purple at One World Brewing West, 520 Haywood Road. The fundraiser will feature live music, a fashion show, a silent auction and local art.

“Verbal Purple is not really an organization,” she explains. “It’s more of an autonomous awareness promotional engine.”

Assisting Hammond with the project is her friend, local artist and former Our VOICE volunteer Jenna Jaffe.

Verbal Purple, Hammond says, provides the pair with a more structured way to turn inspiration into action.

Purple and teal

The name of the initiative ties in with its mission. “Purple is the color of the domestic violence ribbon,” Hammond explains. “And in my experience, I view purple as an uplifting color.”

Though absent in the name, teal — associated with sexual violence awareness — is another prominent color featured in the event’s design. “All of the fashion designs I’m creating [for the event] are purple and teal,” says Jaffe. Describing herself as a survivor of sexual abuse, Jaffe notes that some of the models who will showcase those designs are survivors as well.

Both organizers stress that Verbal Purple is an action-oriented entity designed to give survivors and victims a voice. “Because when you have action, that shows victims and survivors that they’re supported, they’re not alone.”

As reported by Xpress on Jan. 13, “the number of callers referred to the county’s lethality assessment program, which screens for domestic violence risk, has increased steadily since fiscal year 2018-19.”  The news item also noted an increase in the severity of those calls. Meanwhile, “The number of callers saying their abuser had threatened to kill or use a weapon against them was at an all-time high in fiscal year 2021-22, the most recent period for which data is available.”

During Verbal Purple, several speakers will share their personal experiences. “Just today I’ve heard from two friends,” Jaffe says. “They both said, ‘I want to speak at this event. I want to talk about my story.’ And that’s why Verbal Purple isn’t just an event: It’s a blanket for awareness.”

Feel-good tunes 

Live music will be a key feature of the event. The entertainment lineup includes well-known local and regional artists: Marisa Blake, Kim Butler, Reggie Headen, Kim Jade, John Allen Keck, Landers & Borthwick, Melissa McKinney and Ashli Rose.

Meanwhile, a house band will back up many of these performances. The group includes members of Empire Strikes Brass, JLloyd MashUp and Rahm Squad.

“It will be very empowering and uplifting music,” says Jaffe. “Feel-good, singalongs featuring covers and original music.” Jaffe notes that both she and Hammond will perform, too. In addition, comedian Christian Lee Villanueva will offer standup in between music sets, and Leeda “Lyric” Jones will DJ at the turntables. Drag performer Ganymede will serve as host.

“When a survivor walks in,” Hammond says, “they’re going to see the community there. They’ll realize, ‘Hey, they’re here for me.’”

Future initiatives

Though Verbal Purple’s inaugural event is just days away, Hammond and Jaffe are already at work planning their next happening. “We’re working on an event for October,” Hammond says. “It’s going to be more of a forum for the survivors to speak about their experience.” They’re also beginning the search for sponsorship, funding and volunteers.

Hammond says she has no plans to formalize Verbal Purple as nonprofit. Instead, her “promotional engine” concept will continue to be applied to support the work of existing organizations. “We’re not experts,” Hammond says, adding that anyone in need of help should reach out directly to Our VOICE and/or Helpmate.

“I want people to know that they have a community, that they have resources,” says Hammond. She emphasizes that domestic violence and sexual abuse are not directed only at women in heterosexual relationships: “It’s all across the board: Men are abused by their male partners, women are abused by female partners, people abuse each other, incest happens, and people are abused by priests.”

Hammond hopes that Verbal Purple will empower people. “They cannot only survive,” she says, “but thrive, move on and heal.”

WHAT: Verbal Purple
WHERE: One World Brewing West, 520 Haywood Road, avl.mx/cq0
WHEN: Friday, June 9, 7 p.m. $20



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About Bill Kopp
Author, music journalist, historian, collector, and musician. His first book, "Reinventing Pink Floyd: From Syd Barrett to The Dark Side of the Moon," published by Rowman & Littlefield, is available now. Follow me @the_musoscribe

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