Relatives of murder victims speak

People who have experienced the horror of having a family member murdered will gather to discuss their experiences on Sunday, April 27, 4-6 p.m. at Beth Israel Synagogue (229 Murdock Ave.) in Asheville.

A panel of five surviving relatives will convene for “Justice Dialogues: Listening to the Personal Stories of Family Members of Murder Victims as a Path Toward Understanding and Restoration.” The event is sponsored by the Western North Carolina Chapter of People of Faith Against the Death Penalty and Western Carolinians for Criminal Justice.

The panelists will discuss the impacts on their lives, their interaction with and views on the criminal-justice system, and the degree to which the incarceration or execution of the murderer actually met their needs.

Steering Committee member Jennifer Foster stresses that “it is not in any way going to be a debate against the death penalty — and we’re not going to be trying to change anyone’s opinion.”

In fact, she notes, only two of the panelists oppose the death penalty; two are for it, and one is undecided.

But people on either side of the issue usually hold their views “for abstract moral reasons without a real understanding for the victims’ experiences,” says Foster. The event, she continues, “is an effort to educate everyone about the realities of crime which are just not heard.”

Within the traditional criminal-justice system, victims rarely get a chance to express themselves, she notes. “If they do, it’s … at a sentencing hearing — but that is only in the closed courtroom and only in the context of what punishment should be imposed on the offender.”

What’s missing, she adds, is a chance to “share these experiences in a more open, emotionally safe environment — and also … with the community.”

Any meaningful exploration of criminal-justice issues, stresses Foster, must be informed “by the actual, human experiences of those victimized by crime.”

“It’s obviously a very difficult, very frightening, very emotional thing,” she concedes. “People quite naturally can turn a blind eye to the actual realities of it until, God forbid, something would happen to them or their family.”

But the impacts of violent crime aren’t limited to the victim’s family, notes Foster, citing several high-profile local murder cases of recent years.

“It’s a community issue,” she insists. “It not only affects the safety and the general quality of life in a community … it also impacts the funding decisions and the voting decisions that we make. So it seems that the community really needs to make efforts to hear the victims’ stories.”

The discussion, she explains, is also being presented within the larger context of “restorative justice.”

The current system, which Foster calls the “retribution system of justice … looks at the [crime] as an offender violating the law of the government — and what crime should be imposed for that violation.”

Restorative justice, on the other hand, “says that a harm to one person is a harm to the entire community. It’s a much broader, more holistic view of the harm that’s caused by crime,” explains Foster.

The movement’s aim, she reports, “is to look at ways to … restore the health of the community and the society.”

Moderator Rose Sierra has extensive experience counseling victims of violent crime and their families. Panelist Kim Fink-Adams, a professional mediator, will introduce the concepts of restorative justice.

Organizers hope the event will spark an ongoing dialogue about the damage done by violent crime and the possibilities for healing at both the personal and societal levels.

For more information, call Daniel Barber at 253-6287.

— Lisa Watters

Precious PSAs

When I first interviewed Asheville filmmaker Debra Roberts more than two years ago to discuss Mama’s Magic, her wonderful video about local poet Glenis Redmond, Roberts had already begun working on a series of public-service announcements as a way to hone her filmmaking craft.

Those little videos, however, soon took on a life of their own, inspiring Roberts and co-creator Linda McLean to establish Little Pearls (, a nonprofit that takes PSAs beyond their traditional status as late-night filler seen by only a handful of insomniacs.

“They look like commercials, yet the only product they provide is inspiration,” says the Web site. “We present real people, thought-provoking ideas, and universal themes that offer positive role models for living. In a world where beneficial, meaningful messages can be difficult to find, our goal is to skillfully and lovingly plant seeds of hope and change.”

And because TV stations tend to bury PSAs, Little Pearls also buys air time, to help the 30- to 60-second spots reach the broadest possible audience.

To help fund their work, Roberts and McLean have created String of Little Pearls, a collection of their lovingly crafted “tiny films.” Some topics are generally inspirational, others are more specific; a particularly moving piece about 9/11 features schoolchildren and their messages to people who lost loved ones in the tragedy.

Little Pearls is premiering String of Pearls at a tax-deductible, $50-per-person gala at Blue Ridge Motion Pictures on Friday, April 25 (7-11 p.m.). The evening will also feature readings by Redmond, puppeteering by Hobey Ford, creative dance by Camila Karam, music and dance by Kat Williams, and a percussion performance by River Guerguerian. Besides enjoying complimentary wine and hors d’oeuvres and a cash bar, all attendees will receive a copy of String of Pearls. Proceeds from the event will benefit Little Pearls.

— Ken Hanke

How churches can help address domestic violence

For more than 15 years, Patricia Gaddis has been a counselor and advocate for victims of domestic violence. Since the 1996 publication of her book Battered But Not Broken: Help for Abused Wives and Their Church Families, she has traveled around the country talking to church groups about this sensitive issue.

Often, she says, “Women will come up to me afterwards and say, ‘I was a victim of domestic violence for 20 years and I never told anyone,’ or ‘I never shared this with my pastor because I was ashamed; I felt like it was my fault.'”

Within the church, says Gaddis, “domestic-violence victims are often ignored due to shame and … lack of knowledge on the part of the clergy. … One in three members of the faith community are victims or survivors, and the clergy is often the last place they will turn to for help.”

Most seminaries, she notes, provide no training on how to assist victims of domestic violence. “I think most clergy would like to know more, but they just didn’t get it in seminary.”

To help address that lack, the 30th Judicial District Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault Alliance is presenting the Partnership for Peace Conference on Saturday, April 26, 9:30 a.m.-4:30 p.m. at the First United Methodist Church (566 S. Haywood St.) in Waynesville. Admission is free, and lunch will be provided. At press time, space was still available, but interested parties should register ASAP.

The conference, explains Gaddis (who’s coordinating the event), is aimed at church leaders, clergy and laity — and the word “church” encompasses all denominations, she notes.

The keynote speaker will be Professor James R. Beck of Denver Seminary, a licensed clinical psychologist and the author of Women, Abuse and the Bible.

Other speakers will include Lavon Morris-Grant, the author of Whom Shall I Fear: A Spiritual Journey of a Battered Woman; Dick Bathric, co-executive director of the Atlanta-based group Men Stopping Violence; and Gaddis herself.

A range of workshops will be offered, including “Safety Counseling for Victims,” “Theological Issues Surrounding Domestic Violence,” “Teen Dating Violence,” “How Can the Church Help Victims?” and “Assisting Victims in Latino Communities.”

“Our objective is to train the clergy and laity on how to better assist women who are victims within the church,” says Gaddis.

The emphasis, she notes, is on “safety first for the victims; accountability on the part of the perpetrator, in the form of a domestic-violence treatment program; and … reconciliation — only after steps one and two have transpired.”

But reconciliation is not always possible. In such cases, Gaddis explains, “Restoration takes place by the church helping the victim to mourn the loss of that relationship.”

The conference, says Gaddis, seeks to “open up the windows and let it be a time of sharing and training and, hopefully, healing.”

The conference is funded by the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, The Duke Endowment, the Order of Saint Augustine, and the Catholic Community of Western North Carolina.

For more information or to register, call (828) 454-5082.

— Lisa Watters

Walking for peace

A Pilgrimage for Justice and Peace on Saturday, April 26 will bring together local activists, families, church members and the community at large for a 12-mile walk from Fletcher into downtown Asheville . The walk starts at 10 a.m. at Fletcher Elementary School and ends at the YWCA (185 S. French Broad Ave.) in Asheville with a meal, music and speakers (5-6:30 p.m.).

The pilgrimage, explains Melissa Fridlin of the Carolina Interfaith Task Force on Central America, seeks to spotlight four key issues: a call for peace and justice in both Iraq and Colombia, justice for immigrants in the U.S., and an end to the Free Trade Area of the Americas.

While it’s important “to remember the war that’s going on in Iraq right now,” says Fridlin, it’s also important “not to forget about the war that’s going on around the world against poor people. We’re really trying to bring those things together.”

Other event sponsors include: the WNC Peace Coalition; Witness for Peace Southeast; Western Carolinians for Peace and Justice in the Middle East; the Columbia Education Project; WNC School of the Americas Watch; Sister Parish; Jobs with Justice; the Farm Labor Organizing Committee; and the Presbyterian Peace Fellowship.

The walk (which has a permit from the city of Asheville, notes Fridlin) will follow Route 25, Patton Avenue and South French Broad.

Participants may leave their cars at the YWCA between 9 and 9:15 a.m.; vans will shuttle walkers to the starting point in Fletcher. A shuttle service will run every hour on the hour for those who don’t wish to walk the full 12 miles. All pilgrims are asked to pack a lunch (plus a little to share), wear comfortable shoes, and walk in a spirit of nonviolence.

The dinner is open to everyone, regardless of whether they took part in the walk. Food Not Bombs will be providing rice and beans; people are welcome to bring a vegetarian dish to share if they wish.

For more information, call 777-3968 or visit the WNC Peace Coalition Web site (

— Lisa Watters

Say no to animal abuse

A week later, walkers are invited to stretch their legs once again when the Asheville Humane Society presents “Let It End With Indi,” the ninth annual Anti-Cruelty Animal Walk, on Saturday, May 3. The 1.8-mile walk will start at 9 a.m. in City/County Plaza and wind through downtown Asheville. Indi, the survivor of a cruel burning attack last year, will lead the procession; participants are invited to bring both doggie and human friends.

“Amimal abuse is closely associated with … all other forms of domestic violence, including spousal and child abuse,” notes Elizabeth McHatton, the Asheville Humane Society’s director of public relations. The event, she says, aims “to draw attention to the plight of all forms of cruelty and to raise funds for our county’s anti-cruelty programs.”

Jason Boyer of WLOS-TV will serve as master of ceremonies, and Josh Jourdan will provide music. Guest speakers include Dr. Jeannette Maddox of the Yancey County Animal Shelter (who will introduce Indi), Valerie Collins of Helpmate, Bill McKelvy of the Humane Alliance, Shelly Moore of the Asheville Humane Society, and representatives of the Buncombe County Sheriff’s Department (who will bring their drug/bomb dogs for a demonstration). Vegan food, a chance to adopt shelter animals, and prizes for top fund-raisers and photo-contest winners will round out the event.

Registration/sponsorship sheets are available at the Asheville Humane Society (180 Merrimon Ave.) or on their Web site ( The registration fee is $15/advance, $20/on May 3. Free T-shirts are available while supplies last.

Entries for the cat photo contest must be mailed to the Asheville Humane Society by Monday, April 28. Categories include ‘Cutest Kitten,’ ‘Best Buddies,’ ‘Classic Cat,’ ‘Silly Kitty,’ ‘Serious Cat’ and ‘Cats at Rest.’

To learn more about the walk, call the Asheville Humane Society (236-3885).

— Lisa Watters

Help for families of the mentally ill

If you have a family member or friend who’s been diagnosed with a mental illness, a free 12-week course can help you find the support and resources you need.

The Western Carolina chapter of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill will offer the course in Asheville from 6:30-9 p.m. on Thursdays beginning May 1.

The NAMI Family-to-Family Education Program gives families up-to-date information on biological brain disorders, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, clinical depression and the various anxiety disorders.

Families can also get help with some of these commonly asked questions: How can I get a clear diagnosis for my loved one? What can I do if there’s a crisis? What services are available? What are all those drugs for? What is the best treatment? And, just as crucial: How do I take care of myself?

In addition, participants learn how to effectively advocate for their loved ones in an often-confusing mental-health system.

A clinical psychologist developed the extensive curriculum, which is taught by trained volunteer family members. Affiliates of the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill offer the course in 44 states.

Class size is limited, and preregistration is required.

For more info or to register, call 252-6824.

— Tracy Rose

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