April 10, 2003
Strong Women, Healthy Families
By Kristen Fox / SUN contributing writers
Interfaith event held to improve women’s health
Improving women’s mental and physical health is a universal concern. When there are healthy women, there are stronger families and communities. This was the subject of the Women of Color Health Symposium, an interfaith event held on March 27 at Elmwood Presbyterian Church in Syracuse. Gender, race and religious differences were put aside to learn how to improve the well being of women everywhere.
The daylong event brought together clinicians, health and human service providers and educators. Several workshops were held, examining topics such as death and dying, cancer, domestic violence and access to healthcare. Father Timothy Mulligan, OFM Conv., who serves as co-director of the Alibrandi Catholic Center at Syracuse University, said that the event was a wonderful opportunity for people of all faiths and backgrounds to unite and become proactive in the fight to raise awareness on issues of concern to women.
“The issues being discussed are of importance not only to women but the greater community as well,” Father Mulligan said. “When I was approached to get involved I thought that it would be a great cause. We have so much to learn from each other.” Geneva Hayden, president of Communities United to Rebuild Neighborhoods (CURN), presented the workshop “Violence and Community” which explored the causes and possible solutions of violence in Syracuse and what wives, mothers, and daughters can do to stop it. Hayden considers herself a community activist. A resident of Syracuse her entire life, she said that over the years she has watched the city fall victim to violence and crime. She said that for a long time city officials have not wanted to face the fact that violence is in their backyard, but now they are beginning to open their eyes.
Violence hurts children the most, Hayden noted. As a person who loves children and is always surrounded by children, it pains her to watch as drugs, gangs and fighting destroy their innocence. “The children are the ones who will be filling our shoes one day. Do we really want them to be surrounded by drugs and guns when we are supposed to love and nurture them? It is time to step up and show them that we care,” she said.
Hayden asked the group of seven women and one man to consider the causes of violence in Syracuse. Shirly Copes, a resident of Syracuse, said that she sees a multitude of things that are turning the community destructive toward children. She explained, “There is a lack of opportunity for our young people. No one is taking responsibility to help them get off the street corners and involved in something positive. Values and morals have been lost. As a community, we need to go back and help bring the children forward.”
The group agreed that is it impossible to pinpoint the exact causes of violence. Certainly, Hayden said, there is a breakdown in families as well as a loss of morals and Christian values. But since it is impossible to get into homes and make parents restructure their priorities, it is difficult for “outsiders” to attack the problem, she pointed out. Nonetheless, she urged the group to use the resources they have to fight violence. “Let’s pretend we are stars shining brightly so that we can find ways to show children the light,” she said.
Hayden dispelled the myth that it takes money to fight violence. “We don’t need money to make changes. All is takes is to open our hearts and be willing to search for ways to help the children. Open the walls of our community centers and churches and invite the children from the community to come in. Kids just want to know that people care –– a hug, a prayer, saying ‘how was your day’ –– these are the things they want. Show them that violence has no place by loving them,” Hayden said. Michael V. Francis, who serves as project coordinator for the HOPE Alliance, offered the group suggestions for getting children involved in productive things. “Be a strong role model. Give children positive programs to be involved in after school and on weekends. Find safe, convenient places for them to come to. Talk to them,” he said.
Francis also advised the group to start small. “Many times, people start out with a big bang, but end up with a fizzle. We need to reverse this. Start out small and let it grow into something big,” he said. One of the most important things to keep in mind when working with youth is to be consistent, Hayden said. Children need to know that when there is a commitment from an adult, that he or she will follow through with what they promise. “Even when you think that you helped and your work is done, go back and make sure that the child is doing okay,” she said. “Pay attention to what is going on with them. This will help stop the cycle of violence.”
Hayden hopes that the Women’s Symposium was a wake-up call for those in attendance. Hopefully, everyone learned something that they use to not only better themselves but also bring back to their communities to make them better places, she said. “Each and every single person has been blessed by God with a gift,” said Hayden. “We have an obligation to Him to use it for something to combat the violence. Use them wisely.”