I first met Courageous SHIFT founder Melody Gross in 2018 while working on a series of stories about domestic violence in Charlotte. We met up at an old Dupp&Swatt location on The Plaza, and I was immediately struck by the figure she cut despite being more than a foot shorter than me. Her self-confidence was undeniable.
“Anybody who knows me will tell you that I am very opinionated and outspoken,” Gross told me back then. “There’s this mentality that women who experience domestic violence are weak and shy or they’re in the corner in the fetal position, and that wasn’t really the case. If you’re calling me a bitch I’m gonna say, ‘Ya mother.’”
In March 2016, Gross and her young son fled an abusive man, and once she was able to get back on her feet, she made it her life’s work to advocate for others while pushing back against the idea that it takes a weak woman to find herself in an abusive relationship.
In fact, now more than five years later, Gross still has trauma related to the incident, as she told me during a recent interview, which you can read in our latest issue or online come June 4.
“Even now sometimes, I’m years out, however, if I do something in the news, if I have an interview like this, especially if it’s a visual, on-TV thing, I’m cautious for the next week or two after that,” she told me. “I’m looking behind me and making sure that I’m not taking the same route.”
In early 2020, Gross launched Courageous SHIFT, a consulting and support organization that aims to help survivors of domestic violence navigate their escape from abusive relationships and their lives thereafter.
Through her consulting work, she also helps employers become more accommodating to survivors in the workplace through policies and programs that help coworkers recognize when there’s a problem and ensure safety for those involved.
Last November, Gross added a third aspect to Courageous SHIFT, partnering with Sanctuary in the City to launch the Eva Lee Parker Fund, a collection that supplies emergency funding to Black women who are fleeing from abusive situations.
Having known Melody for years, in May, I experienced the importance of her work firsthand. Early that month I became aware that a family I am close to had been dealing with abuse. The family, which consists of a mother and two children, one of whom I’ve mentored for seven years, fled the city early one morning after an especially bad night.
I was heartbroken by this news for so many reasons, not the least of which for not having recognized that there was an issue at all. I couldn’t help but think about how often I tried to make it clear that “Lil’ Man,” as I call him, could come to me in any situation where he was having issues. But he was a steel trap.
I certainly would never hold that against him, as Gross explained to me it’s completely normal for children in such situations to keep their mouths shut, whether out of shame, fear or the long-taught belief that what happens in the home stays there.
“We have to build spaces where people feel comfortable with seeking help. To be clear, I don’t just mean for the people who are experiencing it, I also mean for the people who are perpetrating it,” she said. “We can absolutely help survivors and victims and get them to safety and get them the emotional support, and we also need to have programs and systems in place so that people can say, ‘I am out of control and I feel like I am going to harm someone. I need help.’ So when we remove the stigma around domestic violence and around abuse and we understand the different forms that it comes in … when we have programs and systems in place to help everyone involved, then we can see some changes. Then we can see some shifts.”
Gross was able to help my mentee’s family through Courageous SHIFT and the Eva Lee Parker Fund. They had left their home with nothing, and while I worked toward helping them schedule movers to go to the house and confront other issues that would take longer to solve, the fund lifted them up in their most immediate time of need.
And yet now, the fund is beginning to dry up. I asked Gross how she grapples with the overwhelming need in her field … fighting to end an issue that has been a part of society since societies were formed.
“For me, I definitely take it one step at a time,” she said. “If I can help one person get to safety or even acknowledge that they’re experiencing abuse, one person, I’m fine with that. That is a wave effect, I’m helping them, and if they have children, then those children are helped. Their friends are helped. So for me it’s like, OK, I can’t save the world but I can save those who come to me.”
Spoken like a true local hero.
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