Giving Tuesday

Most people want to feel that their presence in the world had an impact, or at least made a difference. As we approach #GivingTuesday, my goal isn’t to get you to write a check but, instead, to get you to figure out where you can have influence.

There are many good causes – literacy and poverty for example. As you consider whether or not you can make a difference, I’m going to suggest that the area that triggers the most pain might be the best place to start. My cause found me and, in being really honest, I wanted nothing to do with it. In fact, it was the most painful experience of my life.

As many of you know, my path was unalterably changed when I was eighteen. Desperate to create opportunity for myself, I had moved out of my parent’s house but my dreams were quickly cast aside when I was raped. The trauma of the actual event was painful but it was overwhelming when the crime wasn’t investigated – the police and my family didn’t believe what happened to me, which meant I was forced to deal with it alone.

It took 19 years and a lot of determination to get my case reopened. It was solved in 3 days. The night before the rapist was arrested, I made a vow as I placed my two palms together. If only I can have this, I will spend the rest of my life helping others. I never viewed myself as an advocate, not even then. For too many years, I was the one needing help. I didn’t believe I could have an impact.

Then I stood before the man who took away my innocence and I made another vow, this time to myself: I would be there every time. You picked the wrong woman. He would stay in jail the rest of his life.

It had taken almost two decades for the case to be solved, which generated interest from the media. They called and asked if I would go public with the details. In answering the question of whether I could help, I said yes – a lot. It started small. Whenever asked to speak about being raped, I agreed to put my name and face to a crime we would rather keep in the dark. A couple things happened: not only did it change my life but it changed the lives of many. Speaking about it lessened its power over me and then 48 Hours called and asked to do a profile on my case … and I said yes again.

Five years later, that show was the crucial link in getting numerous other cases solved. A detective in Baltimore County had been working on several rapes with matching DNA but had no suspect. Her husband, a detective in Baltimore City, watched the 48 Hours show as part of his training …then he realized there were similarities in the profiles she was working on and what he had seen on the show. He suggested she watch the show. She did and, after requesting the DNA, got a match.

Paul and I were driving through the Black Hills of South Dakota, just after visiting Mount Rushmore with our children, when the call came in that the cases were going to trial. I had personally convinced two of the women, who wanted to forget it ever happened, to travel back to Baltimore for their day in court, and I would be there too. I stood before all the women who were about to face the man who changed their lives forever… and I told them what to expect. I hugged each of them after they read their statement. So few women, or men, get this kind of justice and I stood in awe of their bravery as they confronted their most intimate fears.

As you consider which organization to support tomorrow, or whether or not to write a check, what has happened in your life that inspires you to make a difference? Can you go to the deepest, scariest place inside you and start there?

No matter how small, or big, just get involved … and improve your world!

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