Only after we had huddled under the canopy over Sherry’s and Cedric’s grave did the rain begin to fall. It was a dark Friday night. Sixty of us, holding candles in our gloved hands, stood silently in the cemetery as Yoko Kato, a woman in her sixties with silver bangs framing a kind face, thanked us for coming. It was the 20th anniversary of her daughter, and grandson’s murders. Sherry, a 23-year-old mother, and Cedric, her 18-month-old son, had been stabbed multiple times by the toddler’s father, on January 11, 1993.
Before the police woke her before dawn to break the news, Yoko had not considered becoming an activist against domestic violence. True, she had survived abuse herself many years before; still, she saw herself as a wife and mother of two daughters. She had come to the U.S. from her native Japan in the mid-1960s and made a living as a dressmaker; her specialty was wedding gowns.
Twenty-four hours after learning of the murders, the district attorney for northwestern Massachusetts visited Yoko at her home. The D.A.’s office would prosecute Sean Seabrooks for the murder of his own son and his former girlfriend. Over the ensuing years, now retired D.A. Elizabeth Scheibel would tell a story emblematic of who Yoko is. “It was only one day after the murders,” she recounted at the 10th anniversary memorial in 2003. “Yoko said, ‘What can I do to help make sure something like this never happens to another family?’”
What Yoko has done with her life since her daughter and grandson were murdered has been an inspiration—speaking out against domestic violence in Massachusetts and across Japan. She has led several delegations to Japan and organized many in the U.S. She has served on statewide commissions and the boards of directors of battered women’s organizations and a men’s center that operated a batterer intervention program. She has spoken with men in batterers’ groups who sat listening to her story with rapt attention. “We have to help the men,” she would explain to those who questioned why she had joined the men’s center’s board. In short, she has done deep, inner work to transform her family’s personal tragedy into both public healing and social change.
I thought about Yoko after the mass murders in Newtown, Connecticut. Lost to many in the horror of Adam Lanza’s killing spree at Sandy Hook Elementary School was his first victim: his mother, Nancy. Domestic violence was the spark that ignited into domestic terror.
Imagine if Vice President Biden had been heading a commission scrutinizing male socialization and contemporary expressions of masculinity. Other critical issues—like guns and mental illness—would, of course, be key issues to closely examine. President Obama can still create a commission on healthy masculinity.
If there is a silver lining in the gash that ripped open our hearts after Sandy Hook, is it that gender has finally entered the conversation about gun violence. True, the entry portal is narrow and those working to redefine and transform masculinity must be vigilant to ensure it doesn’t close.
We are at a crossroads. The Mayan calendar predicted this past December 21st not as the end of the world, but as the end of the world of ignorance. Evo Morales, president of Bolivia, described the new epoch in a speech before the United Nations General Assembly last September. He said it would be a time marking “…the end of selfishness and the beginning of brother [and sister] hood…the end of individualism and the beginning of collectivism…the end of an anthropocentric life and the beginning of a bio-centric life…the end of hatred and the beginning of love; the end of lies and beginning of truth. It is the end of sadness and the beginning of happiness; it is the end of division and the beginning of unity.”
Call it supersized idealism if you want. President Morales is giving voice to what people on every continent are yearning for—a world where love triumphs over fear; peace over violence. The signs are there: Indian men joining women in protesting the gang rape and murder of a medical student on a bus in Delhi; the pawnbroker in Tampa, Fla. who said “ethics trumps profits” in deciding to no longer sell guns. Wrenching to say: did it take seeing the faces of murdered six-year-olds to awaken closed hearts and minds?
Yoko Kato regularly sees the faces of her young daughter Sherry and toddler grandson, Cedric. She says they have guided her throughout her 20 years working against domestic violence. Today, it may be the faces of the kids from Sandy Hook that guide citizens to work against violence—men’s violence.
Few know that facing the violence in our world takes courage and perseverance more than Eve Ensler, author of The Vagina Monologues and I Am an Emotional Creature—and founder of Vday.org whose mission is to prevent violence against women and girls globally. Last year, Ensler, a member of Voice Male’s national advisory board, conceived of another campaign: One Billion Rising (www.onebillionrising.org).
This February 14th, V-Day’s 15th anniversary, she has called for a billion women, and the men who love them, to “rise up” to say no to violence. Picture citizens on every continent, on the streets of the world this Valentine’s Day exhibiting “our collective strength, our numbers, our solidarity across borders.”
Twenty years later, Yoko Kato still remembers her painful loss; two months later, the families of those killed at Sandy Hook do, too.
For some, the notion of boogieing for an end to violence may not feel right. That’s understandable. Others may be ready to quote Emma Goldman’s century-old line: “If I can’t dance, I don’t want to be in your revolution.” For me, there’s a middle way found in an observation a special woman I knew made about transforming pain. What the late Lynn Dahlborg poignantly said was, “I danced on my tears.” So can we.