“Christopher Scott Childers Jr., 6 months.” A blue balloon floated up toward the sky.
“Baby Boy Fouts, 1 day.” Another blue balloon rose.
As workers with Wake County Human Services released light blue and pink balloons, WRAL reporter Leyla Santiago read the names of the 28 victims of child abuse in 2012.
Gathered in the sunshine at Pullen Park on Saturday, about 130 people participated in the second annual Child Abuse Prevention Walk put on by the department.
“April is Child Abuse Prevention Month, and this is what Wake County does to memorialize the children who died,” said organizer Denise Billman, human service program manager with the department.
The walk was to raise awareness about how to prevent child abuse. Participants strolled up the steps over the bridge by the lake, around the water, and made their way back to the stage. Each walker had a story.
Durenda Johnson Ward walked with other members of Poplar Springs Christian Church. As a counselor for Wake County Public Schools, she sees signs of abuse.
“I see this. I call CPS (Child Protective Services) a lot,” said Ward, the mother of two boys.
“No one ever asks to be born. It’s a parent choice. If you make that choice, you need to take the responsibility,” she said.
Ward tries to give polite advice at school, at church and even in line at the grocery store. She said strangers notice the cheerfulness of her two sons, 7 and 2. The secret, she says, is to “treat them with love and respect.”
Annette Williams, who works for Wake County Human Services, knows abuse because her parents were alcoholics. When she was a teenager, she fled from her parents in the Bronx and traveled with her three children to North Carolina.
She walked on Saturday because “it’s a great cause,” she said. “It just pulls at your heartstrings.”
‘Still too many’
Keynote speaker Ramon Rojano, director of the department, told the audience that between 1991 and 2011, the rate of child deaths per 100,000 fell from 107 to 57.
“That means all our work and all your work and all the work of medicine, it cuts the rate in half,” Rojano said. “But it is still too many. How many children do you think is OK to die because of child abuse?”
“Zero!” people in the crowd yelled.
“That’s why we have these walks. You will make a difference,” Rojano said.
Carmen Willis with Wake County Child Protective Services told participants to call law enforcement or her office right away if they see signs of abuse.
“Today, we are trying to make you aware that it is everyone’s business to prevent child abuse,” Willis said.
Before, during and after the walk, activities abounded. Rosa Vazquez-Cherry, a staff member of the Wake County government, wore black stretch capris, a black tank top and sunglasses to lead an invigorating Zumba session. About a dozen people stepped, waved arms and shook hips in time with her movements.
Some distance away, children played with hula hoops provided by Billman. Volunteer Michelle McCullough gathered the children for a group photo and laughed as she hula-hooped with them.
“I love kids. It’s all about the kids,” McCullough said.
Billman said she chose Zumba and hula hoops for health and happiness.
“I thought, ‘Kids just love hula hoops, and Zumba is for everybody,’ ” Billman said.
Ignorance to blame
Informational tables from organizations such as the Family and Community Network, which connects parents with resources within the Department of Human Services, gave participants a chance to find out about how to prevent child abuse.
Marrika Lewis, a counselor, stood by the table for Wake County Human Services pregnancy care management.
“I’ve had some clients lose their child to violence from their partners, and I’m here for them,” Lewis said. She also works part time on the pediatric floor of WakeMed. “I see a lot of children there as a result of care-provider incidences of violence.”
One baby, she said, was there because of abuse by the father.
“Luckily, the baby got to go home, but sometimes, they don’t,” she said.
Education is essential, Lewis said, and she tries to help parents learn how to better care for their children. “I think it’s a lack of knowledge. As adults I think we don’t know what we’re capable of. That’s why we’re here, to raise awareness and prevent it from happening in the future.”