Ypsilanti resident Cherisa Allen never meant to start a nonprofit. She just wanted to raise awareness of domestic violence.
"Domestic violence is near and dear to my heart because I have experienced it," she says. "I've been physically assaulted, and verbally and mentally abused. I wanted to bring to light that this is serious and impacts everybody, not just the household or that one woman. It has a domino effect on everybody that is attached to that woman or man."
Allen now leads multiple initiatives through her nonprofit, Women and Men Working for Change, including a 5K held annually during Domestic Violence Awareness Month in October. This year's 5K will take place from 9 a.m. to noon Oct. 3 at Parkridge Park, 791 Harriet St. in Ypsilanti, with a $35 entry fee.
In addition to raising awareness, a portion of the event proceeds each year are donated to what Allen describes as "an agency or organization or individual or family who has experienced domestic violence and is trying to move forward in life." The first year, proceeds went to SafeHouse Center in Ann Arbor. This year's 5K will benefit The ENOUGH Initiative, a Michigan-based domestic violence prevention organization.
Allen was inspired to launch the 5K in October 2017. She wanted to do something like a telethon to raise awareness of domestic violence, but knew she didn't have that kind of money and needed more people to get some kind of event going. She began talking about doing a 5K walk in a local park to raise awareness, and one of the friends she recruited invited another friend who came and gave the group an intensive three-hour class on creating a nonprofit.
"All of a sudden, it was like, 'Who wants to stay and make a commitment to making this into a nonprofit so we can get benefits like grants and sponsorships?'" Allen says.
The nonprofit sponsored its first 5K Domestic Violence Walk/Run that same month at North Bay Park in Ypsilanti Township. After two years, the event was moved to Parkridge Park.
Since then, Women and Men Working for Change has added other projects, including a "Totes for Teachers" school supply drive each January and a free community Christmas dinner. Those plans may have to change this year due to COVID-19 restrictions, but Allen says she's getting ready to do some strategic planning with her team for future events.
But domestic violence stays at the center of the mission. Allen, who is a social worker, spends a lot of time talking to men, women, and children about the topic. She finds it chilling when a teenage girl says her boyfriend wants to know where she is at all times or that he knows all her passwords.
"They don't see that those subtle signs of control is how it starts," Allen says. "We know it's not just about the violence. It's about the control. Once people get a hold of your mind, they've got you, and everything else follows. Once they can make you believe you are less than or in need of them or can't be without them, you're in it."
This year, Allen had hoped that she could still host the 5K event, despite size restrictions on group gatherings due to the COVID-19 pandemic. She is concerned about reports that domestic abuse has increased during the pandemic, a time when people are being told to stay home as much as possible.
"Right now, the victim is [trapped] in the home with their perpetrator," she says. "My heart goes out to so many people who are afraid to speak, so many people who are stuck."
With only about a month to prepare, Allen finally got the word that she could go ahead and have the event this year as long as some safety precautions around masks and social distancing are followed.
This year, Nicole Beverly of The ENOUGH Initiative will speak to participants.
"Her story is from Ypsilanti. She was in a life and death situation with domestic violence a few years ago and then started The ENOUGH Initiative," Allen says. "She's been doing preventive work the past five years but just got her 501(c)(3) status. I'm honored and blessed to have her come speak to us."
Early registration is over, but anyone interested in participating can register on site until 8 a.m. on the day of the event. More information is available on the Facebook event page.
Sarah Rigg is a freelance writer and editor in Ypsilanti Township and the project manager of On the Ground Ypsilanti. She joined Concentrate as a news writer in early 2017 and is an occasional contributor to other Issue Media Group publications. You may reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Photo courtesy of Women and Men Working for Change.