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Freeman Center Executive Director Janis Broderick speaks to the crowd gathered for a fundraising walk for the shelter and counseling center on Tuesday night.
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A number of separate walks are being held around the county this week.

Pittsfield Walks for Safety and Justice with Elizabeth Freeman Center

By Brittany PolitoiBerkshires Staff
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Berkshire Pride Chair Kelan O'Brien asks for a moment of silence for murder victims Jahaira Dealto and Fatima Yasin.

PITTSFIELD, Mass. — There were 11 domestic violence murders during a six-year period in Berkshire County and the area has a rate of protection order filings for domestic and sexual violence that is 57 percent higher than the state average.

On Tuesday, local officials and organizations marched the length of North Street in the Elizabeth Freeman Center’s annual "Rise Together For Safety and Justice" fundraiser to stand against gender-based violence.

This walk was part of a series of smaller fundraising walks throughout Berkshire County, including one in North Adams on Monday.

The Freeman Center has a goal of raising $110,000 to support its efforts in counseling, shelter, and legal advocacy to victims of domestic and sexual violence.  At the time of the Pittsfield walk, it had already raised close to $93,000.

Executive Director Janis Broderick said one in four women and one in seven men suffer severe intimate partner violence nationwide.

The center saw an increase in need during the COVID-19 pandemic and more severe violence.

"It happens here, it happens a lot, it can happen to anyone, it happens in our homes, it happens on our streets in our schools and in our college campuses," Broderick said.

"We deserve better, so tonight, and other nights, we are part of building and growing a community movement of people who will stand up, speak out, model respect for themselves and others, support survivors, believe survivors, hold perpetrators accountable, and demand cultural and structural change to stop this violence."

Berkshire Immigrant Center Executive Director Michelle Lopez said her organization, unfortunately, shares hundreds of clients with the EFC.

"I say that because we wish that we didn't have to send them there but thank goodness the Elizabeth Freeman Center is here in our community, they exist and provide life-saving services," She added.

Berkshire NAACP President Dennis Powell said his organization stands for justice, equality, rights, and safety. All of these things, he explained, boil down to humanity.

"We're all human beings, and because we are human beings, we deserve to be treated as such. Domestic violence is as old as racism, we've been dealing with this type of violence against all peoples for centuries and it's got to stop," he said.

"And the way we stop it, is we speak out, we stand up, we use our voices, we support, we believe, when we hear someone saying that they've been abused, believe it, don't question it, be that support element that support mechanism, challenge yourself and challenge others to beat him."

Berkshire Pride Chair Kelan O'Brien said having a society that brings safety and justice means taking actions such as abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement, investing in communities rather than policing them, and gender-affirming hormone therapy.

"We know that we have to rise for the LGBT-plus community, we know that one in two people of trans experience are victims of sexual abuse, building on what [Lopez] said, we know that abusers, often use the threat of deportation on their victims, we know that sexual abuse happens in ICE detention facilities," he added.

"Building on what [Powell] said, we know that one in four Black girls are sexually abused by the time that they are 18 so this is not just a community issue this is not just an LGBTQ-plus issue this, is an issue that we all have to worry about, this is an issue that we all have to work toward because we know that it affects our community."

O'Brien held up a post of former Pittsfield resident and trans activist Jahaira DeAlto, who was murdered in May along with her friend Fatima Yasin. He prompted a moment of silence for her and Yasin.

"She was a mother, a sister, an aunt, a friend, a classmate of so many people, and we tragically lost her earlier this year to a domestic violence homicide," he said.

Tags: benefit walk,   domestic violence,   

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Mohawk Trail Woodlands Partnership Discusses Priorities for Forest Center

By Stephen DravisiBerkshires Staff
WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The executive committee of the Mohawk Trail Woodlands Partnership on Thursday encouraged collaborators working on ideas for a forest center not to reinvent the wheel.
A pair of students in Williams College's Environmental Planning and Design program gave a presentation to the board about a survey they plan to assess priorities for the center, "an ambitious, somewhat nebulous concept right now but ... part of the enabling legislation establishing the partnership," according to the partnership's Chair Hank Art.
That legislation empowered a collaboration of 19 towns and cities in Berkshire and Franklin Counties to increase natural resource-based economic development and promote sustainable forestry practices in the region.
Sabrine Brismeur and Abby Matheny of Williams are working with the partnership to develop early concepts of what a permanent home for the MTWP might include and where it might be located.
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