Out of the blue in the mail recently came an article from nearly 24 years ago.
It was about Renesia Martin, then a Creighton University basketball player. She had told me in an interview back then that she grew up in the inner city of Minneapolis seeing “a lot of life that most people don't see.”
Sorry to say, I had lost track of her. But I reread the story of her upbringing with great interest.
“Prostitutes and pimps, all that type of thing,” she told me in 1989. “Usually when there was some type of drug bust, it was in my neighborhood, maybe even in my block.”
So how has her life turned out after such a traumatic start? Very well, thank you.
Martin, 44, who sent me the old article, now makes a triple-digit salary as a manager for State Farm. But she is also fighting for a cause, and that's the rest of her story — childhood domestic violence.
She recalls, as a child, screaming at her father, “Don't hit my mama!”
One time, she said, he tied her mother up and hung her upside down on the back porch. An aunt and uncle cut her down.
In recent years, the entire family — Renesia's mother, father and brother, as well as herself — has processed old wounds through professional therapy.
Martin said it's not just abused spouses who suffer from domestic violence. Many children bear lifelong scars.
UNICEF, the United Nations Children's Fund, calls childhood domestic violence “one of the most damaging, unaddressed human rights violations in the world today.”
Renesia's career has moved her around the country, but she has spent the past five years in the Omaha area and owns a home in La Vista.
This weekend she traveled to New York for the launch of a documentary by the Childhood Domestic Violence Foundation.
“The message,” she said, “is to 'share the secret.' Talk about it. It's not your fault. That's the message we really want to give out.”
October is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. In Omaha, the Domestic Violence Coordinating Council will hold a vigil at 8 p.m. Thursday at the Douglas County Courthouse.
“We stand for those who have lost their lives,” the council says. “We stand for those who cannot speak up due to fear of retribution and shame. We stand for the children — forgotten victims — who are exposed.”
In her own unstable childhood, Renesia said, her family moved at least 13 times. In high school, though, she made all-conference in basketball and was city champion in the 200-meter run.
Her basketball scholarship to Creighton, she said, made all the difference in her life.
“It opened my eyes to another world,” she said. “I had the opportunity to travel all over the country. It exposed me to a whole other way of living.”
She was greatly influenced by her coach, Bruce Rasmussen, now the CU athletic director; and by a professor, Sister Maryanne Stevens, now president of the College of St. Mary. Others, too.
When State Farm relocated her to Omaha five years ago, she said, she was elated. “It was like coming home.”
The timing coincided with her divorce in Colorado after a 14-year marriage. She is single and has no children, and has volunteered as a mentor for girls in Omaha.
In addition to growing her career, she has spent the past few years writing a book, “Don't Hit My Mama!” (Kingdom House Publishing, $19.95). She dedicated it partly to her parents, who divorced long ago, for supporting the process of “healing and wholeness.”
In domestic violence, she says, she is a witness and a survivor. She wants to help others “break the cycle of abuse.”
Her career has entered a new stage — she is being transferred to State Farm headquarters in Bloomington, Ill., on track to eventually move into executive level.
“Something inside of me always believed that if I kept going and doing the right things, good things would happen,” she said. “I would never have guessed I'd be where I am today.”
As a junior at Creighton, Renesia Martin told me hopefully: “Once you realize that someone else has struggled and made it, you realize that maybe you can make it, too.”
No maybes now. She has struggled and she has made it — and she hopes to inspire others, especially the survivors of childhood domestic violence.
Contact the writer: 402-444-1132, firstname.lastname@example.org