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My Sister's Place: Protecting Battered Women One Purse at a Time

10/23/2012, 3:53 p.m.

When Ebony Mabry was in the third grade in the early 1980s, she first heard "Candy Girl," a song by R&B band, New Edition, on the radio. She and her older sister, Cassandra, and other children in their home would sing and dance along. She still giggles at the distant memory.

"To this day, whenever the song comes on, we say, 'hey, remember when we heard that song at the shelter,'" said Mabry, 38, who lived for six months at My Sister's Place [MSP], a shelter for abused women and their children. At eight years old, Mabry said that although she knew she lived in a shelter, she was always a "happy kid," with household chores.

"My concern was that other kids in school didn't find out," said Mabry who walked to school from the shelter each day. It looked like any other home on the block; and she entered through the door at the back of the house. Several children in the shelter attended the same school.

As a child, Mabry became a casualty of domestic violence. Children represent the largest homeless population nationally, and most have witnessed domestic violence in their homes and have sought sanctuary in emergency shelter systems, according to MSP. Her mother, Irene Mabry Moses and her daughters were forced to move into MSP after Moses' husband returned from Vietnam. Traumatized by the war, he began to abuse drugs and that's when the trouble started.

"I was in an abusive situation where I was mentally abused and I didn't want to leave," said Moses, "I wanted my 'toys' - my credit cards, my car - and I didn't want to go back home to my parents with my head hanging down."

Moses represented the one in four women who, in her lifetime, became a victim of domestic violence, the willful intimidation and abuse by one intimate partner onto the other, according to the DC Coalition Against Domestic Violence [DCCADV]. That's about 75,000 victims in the District. DCCADV is the federally recognized statewide coalition of domestic violence programs, organizations and individuals organized to ensure the elimination of domestic violence in Washington, D.C. Moses recounted her shame because of her homelessness, which prevented her from reaching out to friends and family.

"My life changed completely," said Moses about living at MSP. "I had to give back and I have nothing but great things to say about them." Moses, who has since been married for 20 plus years to Robert Moses, started Faith Realty in Baltimore, Md., which helps low-income people achieve home ownership by guiding them through financial obstacles and the process. She has won awards for affordable housing advocacy, serves on the board for the National Alliance to End Homelessness and wrote a chapter in Dream of a Nation with others such as former Vice President Al Gore.

Moses shared her experiences as she received the Judith Bennett-Sattler Spirit of Service Award at MSP's third annual Power of the Purse silent auction on Oct. 10 at the Rooftop Terrace in Northwest. The auction featured high-end handbags such as Coach and Ralph Lauren, and luxury goods where guests placed bids starting at $75. All proceeds go to MSP, part of an interactive community dedicated to eradicating domestic violence. The oldest domestic violence shelter in the District, MSP provides emergency shelter and transitional-to-permanent housing, supportive programs, counseling, education and advocacy to domestic violence survivors.