Behind the Scenes with Lovern Gordon
Meet Lovern. At NDVC, her heart for supporting other leaders in the movement and deep understanding of survivors' needs, makes her a cherished addition to our Task Force Crew. She’s an Author, CEO, and Advocate who often breathes love and life into everyone around her.
Journey with us as we travel behind the scenes with Lovern to talk about her experience as a sur-THRIVER, her work as an advocate, and the issue of race in the movement.
1. What brought you to this line of work as an advocate?
I come to this work as a two time sur-THRIVER. First, as a child witness in the Caribbean and second, as an adult survivor of a two year relationship here in the U.S. After leaving the abuse, it took 10 years to open up. My time to do so was during a local beauty pageant that I competed in and won. Next, I went on to compete in L.A. and won there as well. As the title holder, this meant I had to choose a platform of advocacy to serve in over the next year Given my history with Domestic Violence, naturally I chose it. Once that year was complete, a fire had been lit inside of me to continue that work and the Love Life Now Foundation (LLN) was formed the following year in 2011.
2. Can you share a little about the Love Life Now Foundation and the work you all do?
We began by primarily focusing on education because at the time I escaped the abuse, I didn’t know about resources available to me. When the word HELP was presented to me in the emergency room, I really didn’t know what that meant. If anything, it was daunting to seek further help. I wondered at the time of starting LLN, who else might be like me. Since then, we have continued to focus on education and awareness, while also creating opportunities for people to volunteer, building community via many initiatives and encouraging more men to get involved in the conversation.
3. In focusing on men in the movement would you say you see more black and brown men involved than white men?
In my experience, no. In the last two years more men have gotten involved but throughout the span of this work, there have been more white men willing to use their voices to amplify the movement.
4. Why do you think that is?
When it comes to men in the black community speaking up against violence against women and girls, they often haven’t because many were taught that abuse is okay. That abuse is how you command respect in your home. That abuse is how you give/show love or that speaking out against it labels you as a snitch.
5. While abuse happens in all communities and crosses all boundaries, statistics say that black women are three times more likely to die from the abuse of an intimate partner than white women. Equally, domestic violence is often reported less in black communities. Could you share a little about this from your experience and perspective?
Culturally in the black community, women are taught to deal with and accept abuse. Many have also been taught to protect our men at all costs and keep their secrets. That's not just around DV, but crimes in general. Historically, black men are incarcerated at a significantly higher rate than their white counterparts so there's a level of distrust between law enforcement and black people. There's often fears that if police show up, the person harming you could get killed, so we bear it all for the sake of riding it out, no matter what. Many are more comfortable going to a church leader for counsel or look for support from family. All of whom are not equipped to deal with the issue. Then there is the lack of awareness, as well as equitable and culturally specific resources.
6. Let me ask you a really deep question. Do you think there is a connection to colonialism and abuse in the black community?
Yes. Absolutely. A lot of those attitudes and behaviors have passed down from slavery. For example, during the slave era, there was a practice by slave owners called buck breaking. It was the practice of slave trade owners raping black men or sodomising them to get them to adhere to what they wanted them to do, which in turn, broke them down as individuals and whatever manhood they had. White slave owners would sometimes make black men watch them sexually assault their black wives. The masculinity of black men was broken down and in some cases, in order to regain that sense of masculinity, they would commit violence against their own women and girls. With this mentality passed down over the years, it's definitely left its mark. In the neighborhood I grew up in the 80’s, it was understood that other men were doing it in their households and the mentality was if you’re not putting your woman in her place or "manning up" then you’re weak and you’re not a man.
Lovern can I just say thank you for sharing this. I’ve recently been reading this book called “Decolonizing Trauma” that talks a lot about the trauma issues in the aboriginal community due colonialism as well. I believe so much of the violence in America was born out of colonialism and I long for the day that our culture shifts away from violence and towards peace and restoration.
7. Race plays such a critical role from reporting, to receiving services, to incarceration and more. Could you share more with us on how race impacts black communities?
America is a country built on radical racism. When it comes to DV resources, there’s not an equal level playing field for services for women of color. For example, some women are not accepted in DV shelters because they are not looked upon as favorable for services due to their race. They might be deemed as full of drama or problematic. Some are not looked upon as empathetic enough because they have stereotyped from the time they enter the door for services. Some are pre-judged by the courts based on their hair or style of dress and therefore have no help there with advocacy. I have seen some changes over the years, but the history of the movement has done more harm to black and brown communities than help.
This issue of race and accountability overall takes form from right where people are at when reading this article. We all have a responsibility to talk about it. People can do something small but that creates a huge ripple effect, like talking to your child’s school to see if their curriculum includes diversity or if literacy is more inclusive. Doing nothing is the worst thing we can do.
8. How do you feel about the media covering stories of black women being abused?
There isn’t enough. Nobody really knows who Jamia Maddrey is or her story but the whole country heard about Gabby Petito. Jamia was murdered just before the pandemic and while Gabby’s story was more recent, those two stories were covered very differently even though they were both murdered in heinous ways. Too often, the face of the innocent person who didn’t “deserve” to be abused is a white woman who has ties to a ‘‘nice family’’, maybe a nice job or a college student. If the plight of a black woman is covered, there is often a highlight about her referencing a past arrest, past police encounter or a family member that is angrily expressing disdain for how their loved ones case was handled. All of it seeks to paint black people facing abuse in a negative light and not someone you would feel empathy for.
9. Do you think the stories have to be presented in a certain way for people to consider the person an “innocent person being harmed” and therefore worthy of interest and empathy.
Yes. And that air time or lack thereof is often wrapped up in race. When someone goes missing it is critical to get the word as early and as much possible but when black women go missing it only gets air time at the local level for one or two nights.
This presents more challenges because as the media shares little about black women’s cases, they further solidify the narrative that black women are not "truly victims" when they are murdered and that for anyone to be rendered a blameless person they have to act or look a certain way. This goes for reporting abuse to the police as well.
There was a point during my own abusive relationship, where I became fed up with receiving beatings. In retaliation to him hitting me, I would hit him back, then he would pin me down in submission to finish the attack. He was stronger than me and I couldn’t win and eventually I went back to just taking the blows but never called the cops on him. For others being abused, when police officers respond to a call they may be in that mode where they’re yelling at the person who abused them and maybe even the cops because they can’t take it anymore. Well now the police officer now sees them as a stereotypical "loud and angry black woman". They may say to themselves, “clearly she hasn’t been that abused” because they’re looking for someone who presents as blameless as possible and unfortunately my race and my tone in that moment makes me less favorable to be considered blameless or worthy of the right help. The cultural nuances that police are NOT trained to look for are horrible overall in many cases and fail us time and time again.
10. I know you do so much in your community and are so passionate about men using their voices too. Who is a male in your community raising his voice for the protection of black women and girls?
Ukumbwa Sauti is a Media and Communications Consultant. He also runs a FB Group called Men's Work Initiative. He’s been using his voice to bring awareness of the plight of women and girls who are in the black community for years, but even more so, he seeks to present men with the opportunity to really dig deep to examine the framework around misogyny, toxic masculinity, patriarchy, and more in hopes of dismantling it all – one man at a time.
I think it’s pretty clear that while we have made progress, there is much work to still be done. Thank you Lovern for sitting down with us to share your authentic perspective.
Love and Light,