Derek Summers Jr. wants victims of domestic violence to know there are people who can help them. They just need to know where to go for assistance.
Shortly after the violent death of Christina Fisher of Leesburg in April, Summers joined with friends and family members to form the Citizens Committee Against Domestic Violence. The group had a community meet-and-greet expo Aug. 27 in Leesburg, for people to learn about resources available for domestic violence victims. The plan is to make the expo an annual event.
Representatives of more than a dozen local nonprofit and government agencies participated, to build awareness of the services they offer victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
Summers, 34, of Leesburg, said he hopes “a mom or a child, someone that didn’t know they needed help, shows up and discovers that not only did they need it, but it’s literally right in front of them, right now.”
Summers was motivated to take action by the death of his friend Fisher, 34, who was fatally shot. Fisher’s ex-boyfriend, Darrick Lee Lewis, was charged with her murder. He is being held without bond at the Loudoun Adult Detention Center, sheriff’s office spokesman Kraig Troxell said.
Loudoun Board of Supervisors Chair Phyllis J. Randall (D-At Large), who attended the community expo, said she met Summers at a memorial service for Fisher.
“You could just feel the anger radiating off him,” Randall said. “I thought, ‘I need to talk to this young man,’ because that kind of anger can go in either direction.”
Summers and several friends accepted Randall’s invitation to meet with her.
“I said, ‘Instead of just being mad, do something,’ ” Randall said. “And then they took the ball and did the rest.”
Summers started by finding out what resources already existed for domestic violence victims.
“I wanted to basically fill whatever gaps there were,” he said. He found that various groups were already working on the problem and that some had never met one another. The main thing that was missing was an awareness of the resources available for people in abusive situations, he said.
To spread the word, Summers recruited friends and family members to form the Citizens Committee Against Domestic Violence. The group created a Facebook page, “It Takes Our Village,” and began organizing the expo.
Although turnout was relatively light at the Douglass Community Center in Leesburg, Summers was undaunted. The group is planning similar expos at Frederick Douglass and Catoctin elementary schools this year, he said.
The expo showcased agencies and nonprofit groups, including the Loudoun Abused Women’s Shelter, Friends of Loudoun Mental Health, the Leesburg Police Department, the Loudoun Sheriff’s Office and the Loudoun Community Services Board.
“It’s really important that we make sure we understand that this is a problem that could impact anybody at any time,” said Nicole Acosta, executive director of the Loudoun Abused Women’s Shelter. “Nobody is immune.”
Last year, the shelter helped 1,072 Loudoun residents — men, women and children — who had experienced domestic violence or sexual assault, Acosta said. The nonprofit group provides counseling, legal assistance and other services at its Leesburg center, where it helps clients create safety plans.
Its emergency shelter serves about 70 people a year, she said, adding that the nonprofit group is trying to increase the number of “ambassadors” in the community.
“If they see someone that needs help, [they reach] out to that person and let them know there is a place they can come in for help,” Acosta said. “There are options available.”
Summers recommended that people in abusive situations contact the shelter if they are uncomfortable calling law enforcement authorities directly.
Some victims fail to seek help because of the stigma associated with domestic violence, Randall said. “They’re ashamed that this is happening in their home, and so they’re always trying to hide it,” she said.
Katrina Cole, president of Friends of Loudoun Mental Health, stressed that help is available to anyone who needs it.
“This is not something you have to go through alone,” she said. “You really do have a community here that will help you.”