Noontime on Tuesday, October 4, had something for everyone. But, alas, along with the plethora of choices, decisions had to be made. For more than a thousand, the answer was The Family Place’s 2016 Texas Trailblazer Awards Luncheon at the Hilton Anatole.
After all, Luncheon Co-Chairs Lisa and Marvin Singleton had arranged for an all-star lineup — honorees Antioch Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church, Dallas Cowboys First Daughter Charlotte Jones Anderson and Dallas Police Chief David Brown along with Honorary Co-Chairs Pat and Emmitt Smith and keynote speaker Ronan Farrow.
With that cast of headliners, it was understandable that some didn’t make it. They had very good excuses. Pat Smith was with her dad, who was undergoing surgery, and since it was his last day as Dallas police chief David Brown was back at headquarters spending his last few hours with his comrades.
But the MIAs were hardly noticed in the VIP meet-and-greet with loads of guests including Lynn and Allan McBee (he’s been rehearsing with the Dallas Opera), Ros Dawson, Underwriting Co-Chair Carol Seay and Phyllis Comu who reported that she relieved not to be waking up in the middle of night in preparation for last month’s Fur Ball.
At 11:10 the man-of-the-hour Ronan slipped and looked like any very cool 20-something. But among this stiletto and silk skirt crowd that type of fella couldn’t make it by totally unnoticed, so word quickly made the rounds the “he” was in the room.
Sure, he had famous genes, but on his own Ronan had accomplished so much in his 28 years. Having graduated from college at the age of 15 and was accepted by Yale Law School at when he was 16. He deferred attendance “to work as special adviser to former U.N. Ambassador Richard Holbrooke.” Ronan did earn his law degree before he was 24. Named a Rhodes Scholar in 2012, he was leaving after the luncheon for Oxford London to defend his dissertation on violence. And that was just a smidgen of his credentials.
Regarded by many within the national media as the spokesperson for the millennial generation, he was asked his opinion if the flood of aging baby boomers might overwhelm the millennials. Without hesitation, Ronan didn’t hesitate and responded, “We don’t have the problems that say China has. There are a lot of parts in the world where there’s going to be this massive imbalance of generations and it’s going to cause all sorts of social tension. I think we’re going to be okay in the United States.”
Then taking his place in front of The Family Place backdrop, Ronan looked a bit bewildered by the grip-and-grin setup. One photographer had the VIP type shot in front of the backdrop and a second one would have step to the far left to be shot in front of a curtain. The explanation was that a lot of the media didn’t want shots in front the sponsor board. Oh.
At times the meet-and-greet seemed a bit unorganized. Unlike other photo opps where one staffer/volunteer stood at the front of the line advising guests to place their purse on the table and move quickly, this one was a little more casual. While the lineup of guests waiting their turn for a photo with Ronan stretched the length of the room, some were a little surprised to see others standing nearby and hopping into additional photos “with friends.” Wonder if Emily Post had a section on cutting in line?
Nevertheless, Ronan showed his cool factor and good naturedly went with the flow. However, he did perk up like a kid when he saw Charlotte approach. They hugged and he congratulated her on the award. Then they posed for photos with Emmitt Smith adding to the cool factor.
As the photo session wound down, guests headed to the Chantilly Ballroom. Snapshots around the room: Cindy North was taking a break from being with her dad at UT Southwestern following a double lung transplant. She was lunching with her plan Erin Young Garrett and Angela Batra … 2017 Cattle Baron’s Ball Co-Chairs Sunie Solomon and Anne Stodghill reported that they were focusing on the next ten days of supporting 2016 CBB Co-Chairs Cara French and Andrea Weber’s American Cancer Society fundraising on Saturday, October 15, at Gilley’s… and others including Annette Simmons, Anita Arnold, Sandy Chapman, Kimber Hartmann, Kelli and Jerry Ford, Joyce Fox, Sally Hoglund and Distinguished Co-Chair Julie Turner.
The guests settled down because they had a full agenda starting off with Lisa and Marvin welcoming the guests, Rev. Abe Cooper Jr. of Antioch Fellowship Missionary Baptist Church providing the invocation and a video address by Mayor Mike Rawlings “officially welcoming” and thanking attendees for supporting The Family Place and recognizing the honorees and his hero The Family Place CEO Paige Flink.
Following the video, Paige provided a state of the union for the organization that has been on the forefront of providing assistance for victims of domestic abuse. Among the developments is the new 40,000-square-foot Ann Moody Place that is currently under construction. It has been specifically designed for victims of family violence. Among the many offerings that Paige listed, it was interesting to note that the facility’s ability to accept family pets received applause from the audience. It seems, according to Paige that there are families that will not seek help if it means leaving their pet behind.
She then reported that they were in the final $2.8M stretch of their capital campaign’s goal of $16.5M. This news was a perfect lead in for the introduction of Highland Capital Management Co-Founder/President Jim Dondero, who announced “the firm has awarded a $1-million challenge grant to help The Family Place raise the final $2.8 million for its Legacy Campaign in the next six months.”
In other words as Paige explained, Highland Capital Management was offering $1M, if The Family Place could raise $2M. Immediately, Paige told all to pull out their phones and instructed on how to submit their donation. The place looked like a Pokemon Go convention.
After lunch, Paige was back at the podium with ugly statistics about domestic abuse including 158 women killed in the state of Texas. That was an increase of almost 20% over 2015. On the screen were the names of 16 women, who were murdered in Dallas and Collin counties. None of these women had services at The Family Place.
Recent developments by The Family Place have been the opening of a counseling facility in McKinney and on Sunday, October 30, the state’s first shelter for men will be opened. In the past, The Family Place has had to put these male victims of domestic abuse in hotels which was not therapeutic nor cost effective.
In recognition of those making a difference, the awards were presented with Major Alfred Diorio of the Domestic Violence Unit standing in for Chief Brown.
In accepting her award as Texas Trailblazer of the Year, Charlotte eloquently told how the Cowboys and the NFL were taking the situation of domestic abuse to heart. As part of their effort, she has had Paige involved in working with the Dallas Cowboys to “face this issue together.”
It was then time for Ronan to speak to the group and that he did. He started of saying, “I am very, very nerdy.” Highlights of his talk were:
- His visiting The Family Place that morning and talking with a hotline operator by the name of Maria. She told him that it is sometimes so hard to get callers to openly speak about their abusive situation. “They say they’re only being yelled at, when in fact what’s happening is brutal abuse.”
- He came to the lunch in two respects: “As a reporter who has tried in earnest to cover this issue and also, of course, I come to you as a sibling and as a son, whose life has been profoundly shaped by family abuse. In both respects I’ve seen two things. One, how far we have come and how the conversation around this issue is changing. And, two, how much farther we still have to go.”
- Charlotte Jones Anderson: “It is fitting that The Family Place is honoring Charlotte Jones Anderson here today. She has been at the center of the firestorm over the league [NFL]. But she has also been in the transformation of how they approach this issue. I was talking with her about it yesterday and saying that I was going to mention some of my reporting on this. And she told me that, ‘You know the media often exclusively focuses on the negative and not progress being made. I work at basic cable. This is not news to me. She’s right. There is progress.”
- His own family experiences: “It was also two years ago in that same time frame (during the Ray Rice episode) that my sister Dylan Farrow wrote about her own experiences with domestic abuse alleging that our father Woody Allen had groomed her as a young girl with inappropriate touching and had eventually sexually assaulted her when she was seven years old. It’s a story not unlike experienced by women at the shelter I was at today. Whether you are famous or live a completely private life, whether you are rich or poor, I learned firsthand that this can happen in any family.”
- The media’s treatment of Dylan’s story: “At the time, many newspapers refused to run my sister’s story. She tried to speak out, but the issue was just too hot and editors told me privately the alleged perpetrator was just too powerful for them to touch it. Nicholas Kristof, the Pulitzer Prize winning reporter and a longtime advocate for victim’s rights, put it on his blog. Soon afterwards The Times gave her alleged attacker twice the space and a prime position in the print version of their paper. It laid bare just how differently we treat vulnerable accusers, particularly women, as opposed powerful men who stand accused. After she went public, too, my sister faced a campaign of shaming, of character assassination orchestrated by our father’s powerful PR firm. Those around her, my mother, me were tarred as well though we weren’t involved…just easy targets. This is one reason why so many families stay silent for so long. And why so many abuse survivors find themselves left all alone. At the time… I hate to admit it, but I even hesitated and kept as quiet as long outside of a single brief statement of support for my sister. And my sister had to look on as the press quickly swept her story under the rug. She was retraumatized by every lifetime achievement award, every golden profile. But in Hollywood as well something began to change. Just a few days after my sister’s story ran, Gawker used that story as their lead in reviving another set of allegations against another beloved comedy icon, Bill Cosby. What followed were two years of painful cultural re-examination about how we talk about this issue, about how we confront abuse when the alleged perpetrator is powerful. So much so that when the Hollywood Reporter ran the latest of those glowing profiles this year, people were actually angry. The tone changed. Women especially, but increasingly as often men, too. And when the Hollywood Reporter approached me asking for a follow-up assessing the issue as a reporter and as a member of that family, I finally made the tough choice to embrace speaking out about this as well.
- Current situation: “My sister and my mother still face public shaming. My own Twitter feed is still razed by daily death threats from angry fans. But there is also an outpouring of support by thousands of people saying, ‘I have been there, too. My family has been there, too.’”
- The future: “There is more to be done, but how far we have come. Domestic abuse is not an NFL problem. It is not a Hollywood problem. It is an American problem. It is a global problem. And it is an urgent one. As all of us in this country lived out the shock and the horror of The Pulse nightclub shootings this past summer, we learned that the murderer had beaten his wife, as had the gunman behind the fatal hostage crisis in Sydney two years ago. In fact 16% of perpetrators in mass shootings between 2009 and 2015 had previously been charged with some kind of domestic violence.
- Terrorism: “These acts are a form of terrorism. They are the embodiment of the worst and most destructive human impotence to control others through fear and violence. And with other forms of terrorism, allowing this one to fester hurts and threatens all of us. It threatens our cultural integrity, our ability to insure all of our freedom. That’s why I felt I had that obligation to speak here today in support of my own family and to try to keep the conversation going whatever small way I can through my reporting.” But speaking is not enough. We all know that.”
- The Family Place website: “It is so inclusive. Inclusive of the many LGBTQ youth who face abuse. Of the men who face abuse.”
- His family: “Rewind for a moment to my childhood. I’m about 12 years old, sitting down for dinner at the family dinner table. To my left are Quincy and Isaiah, African American, both born to drug-addicted mothers in American inner cities. Across from me are Tam and Minh, both blind and adopted from Viet Nam and a teenager in mine, who has been with this family most of her life. She was adopted as a young girl. We are all having a heated debate as is usual the case at the Farrow family dinner table. And Quincy goes, ‘Well, as a black woman…’ And Minh stops her and says, ‘Whoa, whoa, wait. Quincy is black?’ … Every night was like that. We were a mini-United Nations or, at least, a United Color. Fourteen siblings adopted from around the world and reflecting the world’s worst problems. Siblings with cerebral palsy, with polio, blind, paraplegic, learning disabled. The people I loved most in the world were the people the world left behind. Many had faced years of abuse before I ever met them or they became a part of my family. The kind of abuse that leaves scars physical and emotional that you can never outrun sometimes.”
In closing he told how Maria admitted that hardest things she has to tell a caller, “Sorry, but we’re full.” With that Ronan made one last plea for guests to support The Family Place in providing shelter. “When my mother started adopting kids in the 70s, people called her crazy. When she faced her most vicious attacks after my sister’s allegations more recently, they called our family a commune, a shelter, not a home. But my family was both a home and a shelter. And I am so deeply proud of that. I have been so grateful to have seen the value of giving someone shelter when they need it most. I cannot think of anything more powerful and precious to give someone.