Purse Foundation

Her friend's murder gaver her the strength to escape abuse and inspired her to help others be free
By Erika Lee
ova and I met in college when she tried out for a dance team of which I was a member. On the day of try outs, I was responsible for recording everyone who was auditioning for the team.  I remember recording Nova. Watching her dance was breathtaking. Nova had a style about her that was unique.
Needless to say, she made one of the finest dance teams on the campus at Illinois State University. The dance team was like a family. We spent several hours every week with each other practicing for events. I remember when Nova and I went shopping for pajamas for our dance team’s fashion show. Nova and I had to model in kiddy pajamas. The skit was about us being kids who did not want to go to sleep.  In the skit, you could see the mom putting us to bed and as she walked out the room, the music came on and Nova and I jumped on our beds, laughed and danced.  As the mother returned to find us awake and out of our beds, she waved a belt in front of us.  We quickly jumped back in our beds to avoid the punishment. 
 Quite often, this memory of Nova replays over and over in my head.  When I reflect upon my own childhood, I remember life with no real worries or burdens.  I also think about how Nova’s son Noah will never experience having his mother come in his room and hug him or hear her say goodnight. 
 Nova and her daughter Ava were found shot to death in her apartment. Her son Noah was found asleep in a chair covered with blood stains from possibly trying to awake his mother and infant sister. Nova’s ex-boyfriend was arrested for the murders and is currently awaiting trial.
The shocking news of Nova’s death made me reflect upon the relationship I was in. No one intends to be in an abusive relationship, but I was in denial that I was even in one.  I did not realize that walls were being created to keep me held in bondage and at the mercy of my abuser. My relationship with my abuser was physically, emotionally, and verbally abusive. I thought I had met the one. He was charming, attentive, and caring. After much time had been invested in the relationship, those qualities I thought he possessed, no longer existed. He turned into someone I didn’t know, someone he never showed me—his true self.
 I had mistaken him choosing my clothes for me, as his way of caring about me. I had mistaken him telling me that certain people were not my friends as his way of looking out for my best interest. I had mistaken him keeping me away from all the activities I was involved in as his way of showing me that he loved spending time with me. I had mistaken him asking me to leave my job as his way to be a provider for me. I had mistaken him constantly calling me when I was away from the house, as his way of making sure no one had harmed me.  I did not know the red flags or warning signs of a possible abusive person or relationship.  I had never seen an abusive relationship growing up and never thought it would be something I would ever encounter.
I did not want to face the reality that I was in an abusive relationship, but I had to. I was embarrassed and ashamed. While in the relationship, I felt like everything that had happened to me was my fault. Fear kept me in the terrible relationship. It was not until I heard about Nova’s untimely death that I decided to make preparations to leave.  I feel that although her death was a tragedy, I believe it saved my life, because it served as my wake up call to get up and get out.
Weeks after Nova’s passing, I was looking death in the face, as a gun was pointed and pressed to the back of my head by my abuser. I begged for my life and thank God I am still alive.  I could not have gotten away if I continued to carry the secret burden of being in an abusive relationship to myself just because I was ashamed.  I had to tell someone, enough was enough. I had no fear of being judged any longer. I realized this man was sick and it was not me as he had brainwashed me into believing.  As soon as I reached out, my friends and family reached in. With their love and support, I was able to escape the mental and emotional prison I had been enslaved in. 
Once I was able to get myself and my thoughts together, I knew I had to be a voice for people who were in abusive relationships. Soon after Nova's death, I began to have dreams about her. One morning, I was dreaming of Nova and I saw the word P.U.R.S.E. spelled out in black bold letters with periods between each letter.  The same day that I had the dream, I came across an article featuring Nova's mother, Yolan Henry, holding a purse.  Yolan said the purse she was holding was symbolic because it was the purse her daughter was carrying when she died.  I realized I was given a mission and purpose inspired by a dream to make P.U.R.S.E. a confirmed reality. 
 P.U.R.S.E. stands for partnering under real situations every day.  The P.U.R.S.E., being referred to is the one that carries the concealed emotions of silent cries, quiet hurts, and loud pains. We all may have stories and problems that are too hurtful and shameful to share with others, so we conceal them, hoping no one will find out what we are carrying.
 The mission of P.U.R.S.E. is to focus on teen dating violence.  Each year one in four adolescents report being verbally, physically, or emotionally abused.  P.U.R.S.E. believes if teens are informed and educated early about teen dating violence, it will decrease the chances of them being subjected to violence at a young age and curve the likelihood of them becoming victims of abuse as adults.
The goal of P.U.R.S.E. is to spread awareness to community members and students about the different forms of abuse.  Also, the intent is to help people recognize the red flags associated with abuse, and help them escape and seek help if they, or someone they know, is in an unhealthy relationship.
P.U.R.S.E. has been networking and partnering with high schools and churches in hopes of effectively spreading awareness about teen dating violence. Since advocating against teen dating violence, I have met several teens who have told me what they were carrying in their purse. I also serve as a mentor for one student who was inspired by P.U.R.S.E. and willing to help spread awareness as well. In the future, P.U.R.S.E. hopes to have workshops and a mentoring program that will serve nationwide to teen boys and girls.
Erika Lee, a native of Illinois, currently resides in Georgia. she is the founder of the P.U.R.S.E. Foundation and a motivational speaker who focuses on teen dating violence.


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