My Visit to the White House in Honor of Domestic Violence Awareness Month
Lori Stone is a mother, a grandmother, a student, an advocate and a survivor of domestic violence. I have had the honor of working with Lori over several years in her quest for a home free of violence for herself and her children. Among her many achievements, Lori had the distinct honor of attending a White House event marking Domestic Violence Awareness Month. This is her account of that unparalleled experience.
It all started with a call from the White House. Lynn Rosenthal, the first ever White House Advisor on Violence Against Women, had personally called me from the White House. I met Lynn 5 years ago, while speaking on a panel of domestic violence survivors. She remembered me, which was extremely flattering, and thought I would be a good fit for an October domestic violence awareness event at the White House with Vice President Joe Biden. Lynn and I talked about the obstacles that I faced as a survivor trying to leave my abuser, and the struggles I faced after leaving. There was a possibility that the Vice President Biden would mention my name during his speech. How cool was that? I had never been to the White House before, and I was beyond excited.
I had nothing to wear. I had a week to find an outfit, and the shoes; it’s all about the shoes. Being a single mom, full time student, unemployed, and having just enough funds in my checking account to cover my rent, what was I going to do? I truly considered, briefly, calling Lynn and telling her I just couldn’t attend. I didn’t want to miss this once in a lifetime opportunity, so I had to get creative. No one I knew had a suit that would fit me, so off to the mall I went with my oldest daughters. We finally decided on a simple suit that I paid for with part of my rent money. My daughter told me she had the perfect shoes that I could borrow, and would bring them to me the morning that I left for DC. I was set!
Then, two days before I was scheduled to leave Lynn called me and said President Obama would be attending the event. I literally jumped up and down throughout my house and squealed, as it has always been a dream of mine to meet him. I was over the moon with excitement and ready to go. The Michigan Coalition against Domestic and Sexual Violence paid for my flight, hotel and DC expenses, making my attendance at the event possible. I had my suit, my older daughters were watching their younger siblings, and my professors excused me from three days of school so I could attend.
On the morning of my flight to DC, my daughter came with the shoes. She was running late, and gave me the shoes in passing, literally. I was never going to be able to walk in the 4” heels she gave me, and no time or money for a plan B. I made it to DC still in shock, waiting for the events of the next day. I curled my hair three times the morning of the event, and applied more and more hairspray. I didn’t want to have a bad hair day for the President and Vice President. Finally, my hair looked good, and I wobbled down to the lobby to catch a cab to the White House. I had the only cab in DC with no working air, and it was raining lightly. As I stood outside the White House in line to enter, I was oblivious that my hair had taken on a look of its own, and now resembled straw, that had been whipped around in a tornado.
I was in awe upon entering the White House. The word “beautiful” doesn’t do it justice. Guests were free to walk around the East Wing, and look, touch, and take in every bit of grandeur there was. Lynn had told me I would have an assigned seat within the front two rows. As I entered the room where the event was to be, I walked by most of the people there, all the way to the front row, where a chair was reserved, in my name. Yes, it was a moment! I could barely contain my excitement. Sitting next to me – in the front row – on my left was Judge Susan Carbon the Director of the Office on Violence Against Women at the Department of Justice. On my right was actress and advocate Mariska Hargitay, who I must say is even more beautiful in person if you can imagine that. Further down the front row sat New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Congresswoman Donna Edwards, actor and advocate Victor Rivas, former baseball manager Joe Torre, Lynn Rosenthal, and Valerie Jarrett, the President’s Senior Advisor and Chair of the White House Council on Women and Girls. The room was full of the most amazing advocates; the energy was felt in the air.
I heard Joe Torre talk about growing up as a child in an abusive home and I almost became a Yankees fan for a moment. It was validation to me to hear him speak, to be reminded of the horrible affects domestic violence has on children. When Vice President Biden was announced I was giddy. He did an incredible job addressing the many needs of survivors, and reminded me how blessed I am to have Rebecca as my attorney, and be a part of the Family Law Project. It was when President Obama was introduced that I realized my life would never be the same. What was going to top this? I was within 10 feet of the President, and let me tell you, he is beyond dashing. I was honored when I heard him say my name in his speech. When he said it a second and a third time, he only addressed me as “Lori” and I realized we were now on a first name basis. As I sat there, I wondered if we would become face book friends. Seriously though, I was in awe. The proclamation the President gave on domestic violence was fabulous. He is the first President to address domestic violence and for that I am truly thankful.
After the speech, the President and Vice President walked down to the front row, and talked with me. The President asked me for a hug! Of course I would oblige. I was over the moon that the President was taking a stand on domestic violence, and on top of that, he asked me for a hug. He told me how proud he was of me, and thanked me for having the courage to speak out against domestic violence. I didn’t want to let go; of him or of this moment recognizing the work of so many domestic violence advocates. Leaving the White House, I didn’t notice my feet wobbling, as to me they were walking on clouds. This was a day I would never forget.
The next morning I headed home. On the way to the airport I called my oldest daughter. I told her that if anything was to happen to me on my trip home for her not to worry. I had been hugged by the President and held my granddaughter, I had done it all. I may be back to reality, but my feet still haven’t hit the ground. It was an opportunity of a lifetime that I will be forever thankful for. I’m not sure my feet will ever touch the ground again.
At the event Lori attended on October 27, 2010, President Obama spoke about the unprecedented efforts of the Federal Government and other advocates working to end domestic and sexual violence. To watch the video or read a transcript of the President’s remarks, go to: