Robin Givens - actress, author, activist, survivor - emphatically told the luncheon crowd at the Concord Hilton: "We need to educate society: You cannot hit a woman."
Givens was the keynote speaker at today's 17th annual Rebuilding Lives Luncheon hosted by STAND! Against Domestic Violence at the Concord Hilton, which drew more than 400 people.
Known as an actress and the wife of boxer Mike Tyson, in September 1988 she went on the Barbara Walters Show and admitted, with Tyson sitting right beside her, that he was physically abusive.
"I remember it so vividly," she recalled about his abuse. He struck her on the side of the head and she bounced from one wall to another and passed out.
"No one seemed appalled," was the worst part of her going public, she said. "It was amazing there was no uproar."
"I remember feeling so, so alone," she said.
Which is why she respects the work done by STAND! in Contra Costa County and the women who leave their abusive situations to get help.
"Their story is my story; my story is their story," Givens said. "It doesn't matter what color you are or what position you're in."
"I have more questions than answers so I like to go around and speak to women," she noted. "I'm very much on my own journey of healing. In speaking to others I feel lighter and brighter and more hopeful."
Givens said she was the third generation of women in her family to be abused. Her mother remembered being in a crib and watching her father beating her mother but when she asked about it, her mother said it must have been a dream.
"My mother ended up marrying a man who was violent also," said Givens. "She once said to me, 'Why don't you just play dead? That's what I used to do.'"
But her mother never said a bad word about her father, said Givens, and that's one reason she continued the cycle.
"So I decided to be loud about it - to write about it and shout about it," she added.
ABC7 news anchor Cheryl Jennings was the luncheon's emcee and had done an earlier interview with Givens.
"Cheryl said, 'Are you there yet?'" related Givens.
"I feel so hurt still," she answered for the audience, wiping tears from her eyes. "Not so alone, but so hurt and not understanding how someone you love can do this."
She recalled Tyson saying to her, "I'm going to kill you and get away with it," and later saying, "I'm not going to kill you, but I'm going to make your life so miserable that you're going to kill yourself."
Now she tells her story to help others, she said.
"It can give what happened to me purpose and meaning," she said. "I'll open my heart and show you my pain. I know it's possible to stop the violence - society will no longer stand for this." She said when men realize the reality of domestic violence, they will go to another level.
"I want to applaud all of you at STAND!" she said. "I'm feeling grateful, not just for you having me here, but because we are getting somewhere in this journey."
She is raising her sons, 15 and 9, with awareness, she said. "I have two good men who will be good husbands and good fathers."
"I want you to leave here feeling more gung ho," she said. "We need to be clear: We will no longer accept the violence. We as a society are beyond that and I want everyone to know: You're not alone; we will do everything we can to stop the violence."
Givens received a bachelor's degree at Sarah Lawrence College and was trained at the American Academy of Dramatic Arts and starred in numerous television series, as well as performing on Broadway.
Two years ago she published her memoir, "Grace Will Lead Me Home," about her family's secret legacy of three generations of domestic violence. After the luncheon she was selling the book and signing it in the lobby of the Hilton.
Also at the luncheon the Rollie Mullen Award was given to the DELTA Project: Men Mentoring Boys into Compassionate Men. Founded in 2005, its members work to actively engage men in ending violence against women and children before it happens, and organizes a broad array of activities throughout Contra Costa County.
Toward the end of the program, the crowd observed a moment of silence for the 10 women who have been killed this year in Contra Costa County by domestic violence.
Gloria Sandoval, executive director of STAND! Against Domestic Violence, last week cited the following statistics in the San Ramon Valley for the last fiscal year:
Alamo: 15 calls to STAND! crisis line, representing at least four clients. A minimum of four clients received services.
Danville: 37 calls to the crisis line, representing 12 clients. Nine received service.
San Ramon: 84 calls to the crisis line for at least 14 clients. Eighteen residents received service, so probably four were carried over from the previous year.
STAND! Against Domestic Violence's Crisis Line provides crisis intervention and peer support by telephone 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Its toll-free telephone number is (888) 215-5555.
Those who are hurting someone they love can call 676-2968.
STAND! is the sole provider of comprehensive domestic violence services in Contra Costa County. During the past three years STAND! has answered more than 18,000 calls to its crisis line; and housed nearly 300 women and 350 children in its emergency shelter and transitional housing facility. Nearly 800 clients received legal advocacy services. All services are provided by a highly trained, culturally competent group of 58 staff and more than 100 volunteers.
To donate money or to volunteer, visit www.standagainstdv.org.