Early one afternoon, James Dickerson walked up the bright purple steps to the Giving Yourself Real Love (GYRL) office on 39th and Chestnut Street. He was carrying a small pot of purple roses.
His 21-year-old niece had been shot and killed a week before, so just as over 200 other family members and survivors of domestic violence or abuse have done before him, he brought the flower to plant in the GYRL Domestic Violence Memorial Rose Garden.
Each rose bush in the garden was donated by a survivor or by a family member in memory of someone who was a victim of domestic violence.
“This is why it’s so important that we push this agenda about talking about domestic violence issues because it’s a war on women and it’s real,” said Gloria Ellington, founder of GYRL, a non-profit organization that mentors and empowers survivors of domestic violence as well as local youth. Ellington knew she wanted to create a memorial for the growing number of women victimized by domestic violence, but she did not want it to represent death like a traditional memorial would. Instead, she decided on a rose bush garden, which she says represents life and resiliency.
“A rose is surrounded by thorns, but it’s the most beautiful flower there is,” Ellington said. “All the little thorns are all the things that happen in life – the hardships that are supposed to bring you down. They somehow protect you and make you stronger.”
WOMEN’S EMPOWERMENT BEGINNINGS
GYRL began in 2000 as a women’s empowerment group, which Ellington created to teach women self-love. When she learned many of the women who were involved also dealt with domestic violence issues, she knew she had to use the group to help them. As a result, Ellington worked to create events and provide resources for those who have experienced domestic violence. She estimates GYRL has touched thousands of women whether directly through the group or through social media.
Since domestic violence impacts each person differently, GYRL believes in individualized support. Instead of solely providing class-based programming, volunteers walk the women through the processes needed to get out of a situation and/or help them find the resources they need to be successful.
As the program grew, Ellington invested in several pieces of property east of Troost Street allowing the organization to obtain an office, resource center and emergency housing center all in what Ellington calls The Village.
EXPANDING YOUTH PROGRAMMING
The houses are still in the fixing up phase, but the resource center and office is set to become the home for the organization’s youth programs, GYRL Princesses Club and Young Kings, which will help youth ages 7 to 12 build life skills such as cooking, arts and crafts.
Continuing those youth programs, the group announced a new addition: the GYRL Scholarship Arts Program. With an expanded age reach to children 7 to 18 years old, the program will offer an expanded group of training classes and programming for those may not have the opportunity to participate in school, including: martial arts, hip hop dance, jazz dance, Spanish and writing.
“My hope is all the children on the east side of Troost get the same opportunities of those children on the west side of Troost,” Ellington said.
The new arts program kicks off with an orientation Aug. 8, noon to 2 p.m. To participate in the program, GYRL is asking for a $10 enrollment fee, just to handle the paperwork, for each student.
EDDIE GRIFFIN AND VOLUNTEERS
At the Eddie Griffin 23rd Street name change ceremony on July 31, Griffin announced he would take the top 10 students in ten of the different subjects and help them with their futures.
Besides Griffin’s pledge of support for the students, up until this point, GYRL has been a totally self-supported organization. They’ve never received any grants or government funding. That’s been particularly difficult, since they’ve been forced to rebuild several times following break-ins to their office and after their rose garden was mowed over twice.
“(Destroying the garden), shows that the victim has been victimized over and over again,” Ellington said. “When somebody puts a flower there, it represents someone getting killed. It’s very personal.”
By the second time the garden was destroyed, Ellington was ready to give up. But with help from volunteers and the garden manager, Kyra Gross, the garden has been rebuilt.
When Gross saw GYRL’s destroyed garden on Facebook at the beginning of the summer, she knew she could help, since she had experience with urban agriculture. Since she started about three months ago, she has been a regular fixture, working at the memorial garden.
Gross was drawn to the intimate, grassroots feel of GYRL. Instead of putting her time into a “mega nonprofit,” she says putting her time into a group like GYRL feels more real because she sees how it directly helps people and encourages others to start their own grassroots groups.
Volunteers come out every Saturday and Sunday helping with weeding, watering and building pathways. Gross said volunteers are always welcome and says for other volunteering opportunities, individuals can stay updated on the GYRL Facebook page.
“I feel like this whole year has been a lot about people asking, ‘What can I do for the cause, or how can I help,”’ Gross said, “You don’t have to reinvent the wheel or be revolutionary. You can just get out there and start shoveling dirt.”
To sign up as a volunteer for the GYRL arts program or to sign up your student for the GYRL’s Scholarship Arts Program, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
GYRL is also looking for volunteer grant writers and administrative staff. For more information on how to get involved, email email@example.com.