NEW PORT RICHEY — On Valentine's Day at Ridgewood High School, about 100 students gathered to demand an end to violence against women and girls. Watching their efforts were two survivors of domestic violence from the Ridgewood family.
"Six years ago my first husband pushed me down a flight of stairs with my child in my arms," said Ridgewood reading teacher Jennifer Spicer. "I found the strength to get out."
Now happily remarried, Spicer joined Ridgewood High principal Angela Murphy and the RHS Dance Team to stage the school's first One Billion Rising.
Coordinated with Sunrise of Pasco domestic violence and sexual assault center, the One Billion Rising event was part of a global effort conceptualized by playwright Eve Ensler as part of the V-Day anti-violence protest. Last year more than 1 billion people in 200 countries took part in the Break the Chain song and dance choreographed by Debbie Allen) and written by Tena Clark.
Dancing on the sidelines were guest speakers Terri O'Brien, Sunrise director of community education, and domestic violence survivor Cecily Johnson.
"Our goal was to promote awareness about abuse and . . . incorporate themes of respect and reaching out to others," said teacher Angela Smith, dance team sponsor.
"Dance and music are universal," said dance team faculty coach Gloryvee Ortiz. "If we use dance to make students realize how important this is, if we save one girl, our mission is accomplished."
One student shared her own story of childhood abuse.
Alexis Dewalt is the class of 2014 treasurer, a National Honor Society member, and a student athlete.
"For so long I've been hiding," said Alexis, 17. "I want to tell other survivors that they don't need to be ashamed."
Alexis, who was removed from her abusive home, told her story over the intercom Friday, right before classmates ''Broke the Chain."
Aside from dancing, there were inspirational messages and statistics.
Students learned that one in three women will be raped or beaten in her lifetime — a statistic that alarmed dance team members.
"This is why we have to stand up," said Gianna Riccardi, 17.
Students recorded good deeds on a Random Act of Kindness Wall and signed a symbolic purple chain to protest domestic violence. Male students recorded the Man's Prayer, written by Ensler.
Also on Feb. 14, Saint Leo Rises! brought One Billion Rising to Selby Auditorium at Saint Leo University, sponsored by the School of Arts and Sciences and coordinated by instructors Brook McGinnis and Pamela Decius. Krista Jones, assistant director of Counseling Services at Saint Leo, talked about victims' resources and statistics associated with domestic violence and rape on college campuses.
"Pam and I felt that it was important to host this event at Saint Leo because the national statistics associated with instances of rape on college campuses are sobering," McGinnis said. "Education is a powerful agent for change."
For more information, visit onebillionrising.org.