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October, 2014 / Spotlight On…Domestic Violence / by Sylvia Ford-George

Years ago a friend (Lisa) told me about the night her sister-in-law called her husband and asked him to come over right away because her live-in boyfriend hit her. Her  husband immediately jumped out of bed, and was getting dressed so he could go “take care of the situation”. Lisa asked him what he planned to do when he got there, and he said he wa going to have a “talk” with the guy because, “nobody had the right to hit his sister and get away with it”. Lisa said to him, “When you get done talking to him, give yourself that same speech, because I’m somebody’s sister too.” Her husband stopped, looked at her, got undressed and back into bed. She asked him what he was doing. “I  thought you were going to go help your sister”. He replied, “It’s none of my business.” Shortly after that Lisa and her husband separated, then divorced. She said his actions that night were the last straw for her. Before that night he had only hit her once, but he was verbally abusive and threatening—especially when he drank, and she didn’t feel safe. She thought his actions that night were hypocritical—him wanting to protect his sister from the same disregard for which he treated her. His changing his mind after he was called on it, was as good as him saying he knew it was wrong, but…


Years ago I was in a new relationship. He wanted to know what I did every second of every day. Wanted to be everywhere I was. Wanted to meet everyone I knew, and didn’t want me to spend any time with anyone but him. In the beginning I thought it was cute, but then it began to feel suffocating. He was jealous of the time I spent with my sisters and other family members, and called morning, noon and night. I cut him loose after reading about a domestic violence situation that started out similarly and led to a young woman’s death. 

When the full video of NFL football player Ray Rice punching fiancée Janay Palmer appeared online and on TV screens, it was a whole new ball game. Rice had previously  pleaded not guilty to aggravated assault and entered into a pre-trial intervention program for first-time offenders that allowed him to avoid trial. He also received a two-day suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy. Palmer and Rice married. His lawyer said Rice “will now be able to move forward with his life, and he and Janay are looking forward to putting this behind him.” But then came the videotape—and the issue of who knew what, (and when); who saw what (and when); and how much they saw— was front and center. The bottom line? The video put what’s usually done behind closed-doors out in the open for all to see. And what we saw was vicious, vile, cruel brutal, ugly, repulsive and undeniable. No ifs, ands, or buts about it. It put a bright light on domestic violence that had been dimmed and muted for far too long. Information on athletes who like Rice have been arrested on domestic violence charges were being exposed and the sports personal conduct policy was being put to the test as well as scrutinized. There was a lot of second quarterbacking and sports media was no longer just about the sport, plays, wins and losses—but about the tackles, hits, fumbles and downs done off the field. And if that’s what it takes to get the subject from behind closed doors, and closer to awareness and resolve, so be it. It’s time. 

Domestic violence affects the whole family—not just the abused and the abuser. Bringing it out in the open, drawing awareness to it, and providing help (counseling and treatment for all involved and affected) is good, but we must also find a way to stop the violence before it begins and teach individuals how to resolve conflict in other ways. And the earlier in life the lesson can be learned, the better. 

With this being Domestic Violence Awareness month, we wanted to share some of the best information we were able to find online in hopes that it will move one or more of  you who are in an abuse relationship—whether abuser, victim, or those around them—one step closer to getting out and getting help. There’s a lot of information to be found online— facts, stats and links to help. We found a wealth of it on FuturesWithoutViolence.org, Safehorizon.org, and Helpguide.org and have included some of what they had to say here. For more info visit their websites.



Domestic violence has many faces; can range from subtle behaviors to brutal beatings; and can often lead to death. It is defined as a pattern of abusive behavior used by one partner to gain or maintain power and control over another. Domestic violence can be physical, sexual, emotional, economic, or psychological actions or threats that influence another person, including behaviors that intimidate, manipulate, humiliate, isolate, frighten, terrorize, coerce, threaten, blame, hurt, injure, wound or kill.


Domestic violence can happen to anyone no matter the age, gender, race, religion, education or socioeconomic background. Domestic violence occurs in both opposite-sex and same-sex relationships and to intimate partners who are married, living together, or dating.


Domestic violence affects the abused, the abuser, and all those around them—family members, friends, co-workers, other witnesses, and the community-at-large. Children who grow up witnessing domestic violence are among those seriously affected. Frequent exposure to violence in the home predisposes children to numerous social and physical problems, and teaches them that violence is a normal way of life, increasing their risk of becoming the next generation of victims and abusers.


While the majority of domestic violence victims are women, abuse of men happens far more often than you’d probably expect, to men from all cultures and all walks of life. Figures suggest that as many as one in three victims of domestic violence are male. Men are often reluctant to report abuse by women because they feel embarrassed, or they fear they won’t be believed, or worse, that police will assume that since they’re male they are the perpetrator of the violence and not the victim.



  • Most domestic violence incidents are never reported
  • More than 60% of domestic violence incidents happen at home
  • Domestic violence is most likely to occur between 6pm and 6am
  • Domestic violence is the third leading cause of homelessness among families
  • Every day in the U.S. almost 500 women are raped or sexually assaulted
  • 84% of spouse abuse victims are women, and 86% of the abuse is committed by a boyfriend or girlfriend
  • Women are more likely to be killed by an intimate partner than men and on average more than 3 women a day are murdered by their husbands or boyfriends
  • Women who have experienced domestic violence are 80% more likely to have a stroke, 70% more likely to have heart disease, 60% more likely to have asthma, and 70% more likely to drink heavily than women who have not 
  • 1 in 4 women will experience domestic violence during her lifetime
  • 1 in 5 tweens knows a victim of dating violence
  • 1 in 5 women is sexually assaulted in college
  • Women ages 20 to 24 are at greatest risk of becoming victims of domestic violence
  • Without help, boys who witness domestic violence are far more likely to become abusers as adults
  • Without help, girls who witness domestic violence are more vulnerable to abuse as teens and adults


Are you in an abusive relationship?

Does your partner scare, criticize, or blame you? Tell you what to do and who to see? Has your partner ever hurt or threatened you, or pressured you to have sex? Does your partner verbally abuse, belittle, or humiliate you in front of friends, colleagues, or family, or on social media sites? Is your partner possessive, act jealous, or harass you with accusations of being unfaithful? Does your partner take away your car keys or medications, try to control where you go and who you see; try to control how you spend money or deliberately default on joint financial obligations. Does your partner make false allegations about you to your friends, employer, or the police, or find other ways to manipulate and isolate you, or threaten to leave you and prevent you from seeing your kids if you report the abuse? If so, you are not alone. Abuse happens in every culture, every country, and every age group. No one deserves to be abused or threatened. You cannot stop yourpartner’s abuse, but you can find help and support for yourself.


What to do if you are in an abusive relationship:

  • If you need immediate assistance, call 911 or your local emergency service.
  • Call the police if you are in danger and seek medical attention if you are hurt.
  • Talk with somebody you trust such as a friend or relative, someone from your job or house of worship, or your health care provider.
  • Develop a safety plan with your children including people they can call in an emergency.
  • Put together an “emergency kit” for a situation where you have to leave suddenly (keys, money, legal and important documents, medicines, etc.).
  • Remember that you are the expert about your own life. Don’t let anyone talk you into doing something that’s not right for you.



Why doesn’t she just leave? It’s the question many people ask when they learn that a woman is being battered and abused. But if you are in an abusive relationship, you know that it’s not that simple. Ending an important relationship is never easy. It’s even harder when you’ve been isolated from your family and friends, psychologically beaten down, financially controlled, and physically threatened. If you’re trying to decide whether to stay or leave, you may be feeling confused, uncertain, frightened, and torn. One moment, you may desperately want to get away, and the next, you may want to hang on to the relationship. Maybe you even blame yourself for the abuse or feel weak and embarrassed because you’ve stuck around in spite of it. Don’t be trapped by confusion, guilt, or self-blame. The only thing that matters is your safety. If you are being abused, remember:

  • You are not to blame for being battered or mistreated.
  • You are not the cause of your partner’s abusive behavior.
  • You deserve to be treated with respect.
  • You deserve a safe and happy life.
  • Your children deserve a safe and happy life.
  • You are not alone. There are people waiting to help.


Help for abused and battered women


Safety planning.

Whether or not you’re ready to leave your abuser, there are things you can do to protect yourself. These safety tips can make the difference between being severely injured or killed and escaping with your life.


Prepare for emergencies.

  • Know your abuser’s red flags.
  • Identify safe areas of the house.
  • Come up with a code word you can use to let your children, friends, neighbors, or co-workers know that you’re in danger and the police should be called.
  • Make an escape plan
  • Be ready to leave at a moment’s notice.
  • Practice escaping quickly and safely.
  • Make and memorize a list of emergency contacts. Memorize the numbers of your emergency contacts, local shelter, and domestic violence hotline.


If You Stay

  • If you decide at this time to stay with your abusive partner, there are some things you can try to make your situation better and to protect yourself and your children.
  • Contact the domestic violence/sexual assault program in your area. They can provide emotional support, peer counseling, safe emergency housing, information, and other services while you are in the relationship, as well as if you decide to leave.
  • Build as strong a support system as your partner will allow. Whenever possible, get involved with people and activities outside your home and encourage your children to do so.
  • Be kind to yourself! Develop a positive way of looking at yourself and talking to yourself. Use affirmations to counter the negative comments you get from the abuser. Allow yourself time for doing things you enjoy.
  • If you need immediate assistance, call 911 or your local emergency service.


Additional information on the following topics can be found on the following websites: FuturesWithoutViolence.org, Safehorizon.org, and Helpguide.org 

  • Facing the decision to either end or save the abusive relationship

  • Signs that your abuser is NOT changing

  • Phone safety

  • Computer and Internet safety

  • Protecting yourself from GPS surveillance and recording devices

  • Restraining orders

  • Domestic violence shelters

  •  Protecting yourself after you’ve left

  • Keeping your new location a secret

  • Protecting your privacy at a domestic violence shelter

  • Taking steps to heal and move on

  • Building healthy new relationships


July, 2014 / Spotlight On…Fatherhood / by Sylvia Ford-George


Webster defines the word “father” as to beget offspring as a male parent; to act as a father to somebody. Back in the day, fathers fit both of those descriptions—a male who impregnated a woman who bore him a child that they parent, nurture, love and experience together. Today, not so much. Today, the person who begets life is merely the baby daddy (in name only) or sperm donor. The one who comforts, protects, gives advice, loves and parents, is the “father”. Today there is plenty of begetting and not enough fathering.


When I was growing up my father didn’t live with us, but I don’t ever remember feeling fatherless. Despite whatever was going on with my mom and dad’s relationship, I remember feeling like a family. And I remember feeling loved. I remember him taking my sister and I to get our first pair of glasses; occasions when he’d have dinner with us, his asking about our day, what we wanted to be when we grew up, and giving us advice. I remember summer vacations to Maryland; him and my mom hiding toys at Christmastime; our excitement at showing him our Easter bonnets, crinoline lined dresses and shiny patent-leather shoes. I remember
going clothes and shoe shopping right before school started, and our going to recitals and school programs together as a family.


I remember occasions when he’d be there in the morning when we woke up; the smell of his drinking coffee and watching him read the paper in bed; his flying us around the room in his arms pretending to be an airplane and our squealing as he threw us in the air. I remember my father passing when I was 15 and his not wanting his girls to see him sick. I remember how badly he wanted a son, the four girls my mom gave birth to, his worrying about not being able to pass on his family name, and the four male descendants (three grandsons, and a great-grandson) that he never had an opportunity to meet or know. Most of all I remember
looking up to him—and not just because he was 6ft tall, but because he was the strongest, kindest, handsomest man I knew, who gave me great advice about
integrity, being honorable, facing challenges and going after what you want.


Nationally we may celebrate Father’s Day once a year in June, but fatherhood should be experienced every single day of every year because that is when kids need their dads. No matter how tired you are. No matter if they’re paying attention or not. No matter what happened at work or on your way home. No matter what’s going on between you and their mom. No matter what you and the boys got planned. No matter how much (or little) money you have, or want, or need. The father-child relationship is priceless—but ignoring it can be costly. Your presence and/or absence speaks volumes, and the impression it makes, lasts forever.


“We need fathers to realize that responsibility does not end at conception. We need them to realize that what makes you a man is not the ability to have a child, it’s
the courage to raise one”. – President Barack Obama


Statistically speaking, the U.S. Census Bureau reports that 24 million children in America, one out of three children, now live in biological father-absent homes. And
according to the National Fatherhood Initiative, 9 in 10 parents believe there is a father absence crisis in America. But there is hope. And their national survey reports that “increased involvement of fathers in their children’s lives has been associated with a range of positive outcomes for children”.


Children need to feel loved and nurtured and protected and cared for and honored and respected—especially by their fathers. A mother’s love and care is most times always there. But a father’s is too often questioned—and that’s not fair to father or child. To the dads who are role models for what a dad can and should be, thank you. To those who need to step up, step up. And to those who need help getting it done, if there are no role models for you to seek help and advice from, there’s a plethora of information available online, including: the National Responsible Fatherhood Clearinghouse/fatherhood.gov and the National Fatherhood Initiative.


We’re putting the Spotlight on Fatherhood to spark the conversations and action needed to get all fathers back to fathering. Comments are welcome.

April, 2014 / Spotlight On…Dr. Ione D. Vargus, Part 2 / by Sylvia Ford-George


 “I come from a strong Black family and was raised with a strong Black consciousness and an interest in history", Dr. Ione Vargus

In March we interviewed Dr. Vargus and got to know about her upbringing—her parents, siblings, education and life in public service. This month she responds to our questions about the founding of the Family Reunion Institute.

 What inspired you to start the Family Reunion Institute?

After I started my formal research on African American Family Reunions, negative books and articles about the Black family appeared, including a documentary entitled, “The Vanishing Black Family,” by a popular and respected TV journalist appeared on PBS. It was very negative, even suggesting that by the year 2000 the Black Family would disappear. I became determined to show the other side—the strengths of Black Family life. Our African American Museum in Philadelphia decided to focus on the Black Family as part of Philadelphia’s, “We the People Celebration,” and I served as the consultant to their family reunion conference, which focused on cultural arts. After the second conference I was asked to spearhead the direction of these gatherings for the future and I did so by making them an annual event and bringing them under the umbrella of Temple University. I decided we needed a structure through which to work and the Family Reunion Institute was established. However, I changed the focus from cultural arts to supporting family strengths, as an important finding of my study highlighted the revival of the extended family through reunions. When I began the study most black families did not recognize how much they were contributing to the American family. My agenda became that of helping families revive and preserve the extended family and to do this through encouraging reunions, and building on the family’s strengths. I also wanted to share the story of the reunions so that the public and even African Americans could see our positive side. In the latter regard, I feel rewarded.


Did you concentrate on the extended family from the very beginning? 

Not at the first two conferences. The workshops were more cultural driven. But we changed the focus and set-up a more mission driven direction.


How do you think families have changed over the years?

Families keep evolving. In the past a family was a mother, father, and their children. Today with single parenting, divorce, stepfamilies, and the LGBT community, that structure has changed. A family can be seen as four parents or two fathers or two mothers, or a single mom or dad. In today’s economy we see adult children living with their parents longer or moving back home. And there are more retirement communities which have created a whole new twist on having the holiday dinner at grandmom’s. Family is still relevant and important—no matter what the makeup. Families are not dying, just changing.


How has the Institute changed?

Not much. The focus is still the same. We’re still interested in building up and strengthening families. We are however, exploring ways to have more interaction, conversation, and dialogue on families. To get families to have reunions that are more meaningful than just good food, and eventually restoring the Family Reunion Institute conference.


Were you able to do all that you intended with the Family Reunion Institute?

Most of it. There’s a reconnections piece that was left out, not developed. I wanted to do some work connecting children, foster children, homeless children. We never got to that.


As the Institute moves into another phase, what would you like to see happen?

That it continue. That the focus stays with the extended family. That we showcase and build on the strengths of families, and continue to build them up. That we restore the conferences and find additional ways to network, relate and work to advance and improve the institution of families. And if possible, that the connections piece that had not been developed regarding children, be cultivated.


Did your family have reunions when you were a child? 

No reunions growing up.


As someone with an academic background and focus, do you find that family relationships impact family members’ views on education and higher learning?

Reaching the younger generations, building expectations, creating a sense of worthiness, building up self-esteem and high expectations, offering scholarships, and
getting children to think beyond where they are is highly important. There’s nothing better than being able to offer real, live role models that look like you, can talk with you and can mentor you. Children need role models outside of the sports and entertainment world and that’s one of the benefits of the family reunion. And that’s definitely one of the benefits of reunions being more than just a picnic.


“People need to belong to others and often benefit from the knowledge that somebody to whom they are related is doing well, in spite of the system.”


At Temple you were the first African-American academic dean. Did you set out to be a pioneer and a trailblazer?

No. When I received my doctorate I became a community organizer, worked with campfire girls, and in housing projects identifying strengths in parents to help deal with their issues and problems. I wanted to find out more about poverty, why people struggle, and try to get some answers and create solutions. At the same time students were pushing for more black faculty, they even took over a school building for 11 days. Students wanted more than just black studies programs, they wanted Blacks as part of the faculty. My becoming the first African American as well as first female academic professor just happened.


What would you say to encourage families of all cultures to have reunions?

I would talk about the benefits of having family gatherings outside of weddings and funerals, and speak about how valuable they are. Weddings are centered around a bride and groom, funerals on the death of a loved one along with feelings of sadness and sometimes guilt. A reunion is for the entire family, helps strengthen family ties and family members sense of belonging. Reunions impart values. They’re a positive experience, a place to share family history, meet new members, visit with seniors and others you’ve not seen for awhile. And when family friends and others who were instrumental in our upbringing can attend as well, it’s that much more gratifying.


How did it happen that you were given the title “Mother of Family Reunions”?

It all started when Claude Lewis, writer for The Philadelphia Inquirer, wrote an article and declared, “If Alex Haley, author of The Autobiography of Malcolm X and Roots, was the father of the African American family reunion, Temple University vice provost, Ione Vargus is its mother.” He went on to say that, “few Americans have guided so many toward uniting lost or alienated family members as she has”, and he highlighted other accomplishments including research, dozens of family gatherings attended, and consultations, lectures and broadcasts given.


Our goal is to put a spotlight on “family” and the people who are working passionately to build-up, strengthen and restore them. If you know of someone who deserves to be In the Spotlight, let us know who they are.




March, 2014 / Spotlight On…Dr. Ione D. Vargus, Part 1 / by Sylvia Ford-George


Dr. Ione D. Vargus. Many people know about her founding of the Family Reunion Institute; her role as Temple University’s first African American as well as first female academic Dean; her work encouraging family reunions beyond a mere picnic; the famed conferences that were a big part of the Institute; her being mother to daughter Suzanne and son Bill, and grandmother to three young ladies. But how much do we really know about her journey from Medford, MA to Temple, (with stops at Tufts University, University of Chicago, Brandeis University, and the University of Illinois)? How does a little girl born in the midst of racism grow up to become a trailblazer and pioneer, and deemed “The Mother of Family Reunions”?



 “Our parents had a whole set of friends who were black professionals—anybody who was anybody. The house used to be filled with people while our father was alive.”


Ione grew up in the historically African American community of West Medford, MA with her mother, father and five siblings. Their home was always filled with friends, family, card and board games, and music. Their family name had a lot of recognition and credibility throughout the city, and the family was very popular. Although her own neighborhood was ethnically diverse, segregation and racism were evident throughout the North. But her mom taught them that they were, “American first and a Negro second”. 


Her father, Edward Dugger, worked as a postal clerk, and also served as lieutenant colonel and commanding officer of the 372nd Infantry, an all African American National Guard Unit. When he passed away in 1939 the community and city worked to name a playground in Medford after him. The playground still exists in beautiful condition. Her mother, Madeline Dugger, was involved in civic committees. “My father died during the depression and my mother had to go to work to support us. Because she was Black and a woman, she had a hard time finding a job.” When she found one in 1941 as Director of Services Clubs for Black Soldiers in the Army at Fort Devens in Ayer, MA, the commute was too great to travel home more than a few times a month. With no parent in the home, her sister Madeleine took on many of the mothering responsibilities. Madeleine and two other sisters’ left for college early in the morning, worked after classes, and didn’t get home until late at night. But the community pitched in. “They took responsibility for me. They made sure I was home at night. They made sure that I studied. They made sure I took my music lessons. They occasionally helped out financially.” The community became an extension of her family and made a lasting impression on her life. When she founded the Family Reunion Institute she knew it had to focus on “extended” family relationships.



“Mother was accustomed to the military atmosphere and felt comfortable with her position. She was known as “Ma” to thousands of soldiers.”


Education was also very important to Ione’s mother. She was admitted to Sargent College for Physical Education in 1917 and in 1931, a year after Ione’s birth and with six children, earned a law degree from Portia Law School. She knew that her children’s success would be very limited if they did not earn degrees. In 1952 she was named Massachusetts Mother of the Year for having sent six children through college as a widow. It was a goal of hers that each one of them receive a college education—which they did.


Ione’s brother, Eddie Dugger, was said to have single handedly put Tufts University on the map. He was one of the most outstanding and beloved athletes in the history of Tufts athletics, and was frequently referred to as a one-man track team during his college years. However, in spite of the acclaim, he was unable to secure a job in Boston due to racism, and went to work in Ohio, becoming one of the first African American aeronautical engineers in the nation. The Dugger Memorial Auditorium at the Wright Patterson Air Force Base where he worked thirty-three years has been named in his honor. Her sister Madeleine, a pioneer in her own right, was the first African American woman to run for—and win—a seat on the School Committee in Medford, MA. The Madeleine Dugger Andrews Middle School is now named after her. Her sister Barbara graduated from Bridgewater State Teacher’s College and went on to earn a Masters’ degree and in the 1940’s, taught at the elite Charlotte Hawkins Brown School in North Carolina, always refusing to sit at the back of the bus despite being in the South. Her sister Portia, after receiving her home economics degree from Framingham State College, worked in schools, and eventually became a guidance counselor. Her brother Cortland also attended Tufts and has several scientific patents.


Ione earned a B.A. in Sociology; M.A. in Social Service Administration; and Ph.D. in Social Welfare Policy. She attended Tufts University’s Jackson College, The University of Chicago’s School of Social Service Administration and The Heller School at Brandeis University. She taught at Brandeis, San Francisco State, the University of Illinois, and Temple University. She was an Assistant Professor in the newly formed Black Studies Department at Brandeis University and also at the Heller School; Assistant Professor at the University of Illinois and Director of the Community Pupils Project. At Temple University she was the Associate Dean before becoming the first African American as well as female academic Dean. She was also the Acting Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education at Temple and was given the honored position of Presidential Fellow before retiring in 1995.




Ione’s professional experience as a social worker in the fields of family service, child welfare, public housing, home management and informal education in Chicago and Boston helped pave the way for her work, research and founding of the Institute. In 1987, Dr. Vargus was named one of 498 Hardworking Women of Pennsylvania. Her role as Chair of the Philadelphia Foundation was described as“ the first woman; the first Black person in that position; one of a handful of women in the United States who chair foundation boards; one of a handful of minorities as well.” She has served on a number of local and national boards and received many awards. She has been quoted in or appeared on over 400 national and local publications and radio, television and internet shows. She is a catalyst for carrying out extended family functions that transmit a sense of identity and direction, and strengthen values. She published a book, “Revival of Ideology: The Afro-American Society Movement”; has completed extensive research on African American family reunions; has spoken at countless family reunions. And, believe it or not, she earned money for undergraduate college cleaning professors’ houses, and for graduate school as a jazz club singer and church choir soloist.



Find out what inspired Ione to found the Institute; hear her views on how families have changed over the years; and how she came to be named “Mother of Family Reunions”.


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