For Rafeequh Sanders, Domestic Violence Awareness Month brings a hope that’s steeped in tragedy.
In July 2011, she lost her 27-year-old daughter Rosalyn “Rose” Daniels to a domestic-violence murder. It was a Sunday when Daniels’ boyfriend Donald Newsome fatally stabbed her and torched her grandmother’s Mt. Airy home in a failed cover-up attempt.
While was no obvious domestic-violence history before that day, she said her daughter “spent all her time at the hospital or at work,” and helping care for her sick grandmother who suffered a stroke just days earlier.
Looking back, she thinks that lack of time for a social life pushed Sanders, who pleaded guilty and is serving up to 60 years in prison, over the edge.
“He was stalking her,” she said. “When she saw that, she decided to end the relationship.”
Spurred on by the loss of a daughter, and the circumstances that brought tragedy to her family, Sanders now sees October as a chance to make a difference in the lives of women and children living in fear.
“Not only did he take my daughter’s life, but he destroyed 45 years of memories,” she said. “I just couldn’t waste my life knowing I’m not doing anything. I have to reach out to the women, the children and the men.”
That’s why, in February, she started “Rose’s Journey.”
On a mission
Tragedy often points to the great need that created it, whether it is for education, services or a shift in perception and awareness.
Rose’s death prompted Sanders to seek information about services available for children and families who have lost a loved one to domestic violence, and found them lacking.
Philadelphia has one emergency shelter and one transitional-housing center for families escaping domestic violence; both are run by Women Against Abuse (WAA). The transitional-housing center offers 15 units where clients can stay up to two years. For context, there were 24 domestic-violence homicides in Philadelphia last year.
WAA was also forced to turn away thousands of requests from its emergency shelter, which served around 580 people in 2012.
Sanders cited statistics akin to these when discussing her ultimate plans for Rose’s Journey, and the existing gaps in service delivery to help “the overflow of abused women and children.”
On a personal level, Sanders said she could not find flexible, convenient peer counselling for her two grandchidren, the ones who lost a mother in Rose.
She recounted a time when her grandson called her “Mommy.” She asked him why he did so, and he responded that “I don’t want anyone to know I don’t have a mommy.” Her response?
“I said, ‘There’s other kids that don’t have a mommy, too,'” she told NewsWorks, explaning that the upstart organization was founded both in her daughter’s memory, and to let her grandchildren know they are not alone in their experiences.
Getting an organization started
Sanders is currently pinpointing locations for the scheduled January launch of Rose’s Journey’s “grief group.”
Those will be support-group meetings for children between the ages of 4 and 12 who have experienced domestic violence, a need because “there are services for 13-to-18-year-olds, but at that age, it’s too late because they’re already angry.”
With a 10-member volunteer board and a counsultant, events and fundraisers held this year include a Spring Fling and outreach to families served by West Philadelphia’s Sayre-Morris Recreation Center.
Coming up is a 5K walk against domestic violence organized by state Rep. Leanne Washington, and a toy and coat drive in December.
Next Saturday (Oct. 19) marks the group’s first flagship fundraising gala, which will be held from 6 to 11 p.m. at the Commodore Barry Club, 6815 Emlen St. in Mt. Airy.
Deemed “biggest fundraiser of the year” by volunteer board member Risé Gravely, it will feature guest speakers like state Rep. Cherelle Parker and Sultan Ahmad of the Sultan Jihad Ahmad Community Foundation Center in Francisville.
Emceed by radio personality Shemar Moore, the event will also feature a silent auction, 50-50 raffle, door prizes and dancing.
Vernetta Burger, the president of the group’s board, said she hopes it will produce “a greater sense of awareness for those women and children, for the stigma and the trauma of the events of domestic violence, and also to the approach to how we handle it.”
“We pray that people will join us in the fight, not just the people who have experienced it,” she continued. “We need fresh eyes, fresh lenses on the problem.”