It's Women's History Month! Creative Loafing loves to celebrate wonderful women all year round, but this month we're spending a little extra time highlighting a few Charlotte fe-noms whose work uplifts other women and girls. We did hear a rumor they run the world ...
They stood together, father and daughter, on a small stoop overlooking the woods and creek winding behind her house. She felt nervous and ashamed, waiting quietly for his response. "Go get your husband," he said. "This is not a reason to leave."
She had never felt more alone.
In 2004, Sandra Escobosa-Guynes left a troubled marriage fraught with emotional abuse. It ended violently. Her husband chased her through the house, down the driveway as she fled and then, from his holding cell, called her pleading for reconciliation and a ride home.
Despite the lack of support from her family, Guynes left her abuser and the marriage for good. She finished a masters degree in nursing, opened a dance studio and moved on with her life - or so she thought.
"For years, I still wasn't processing the fact that I was a victim of domestic violence," Guynes says. "It took years for that to click: that I'm a survivor."
Guynes began actively seeking opportunities to connect with other women who'd experienced domestic violence. When she moved to Charlotte in 2010, she worked even harder to find and make connections, and learned more about the trust that can be built around opening up, sharing and letting go. "A thousand women, a thousand stories - what if we connected all of them together?" she mused. "What could we do?"
With DV numbers averaging 1 in 4 women, that's "53,000 women in Mecklenburg County alone that have been abused," Guynes says. The Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department files close to 9,000 cases annually (a deflated figure since most go unreported). Dedicated facilities in metro Charlotte serve less than 3 percent of those women.
"This means 90 percent of survivors in Charlotte are walking wounded," Guynes notes. "What do we do - just tell them to figure it out? So, I hit the ground running."
Guynes remarried in 2011 to a man named Odell. They share several interests - dance, travel, art - but their mutual work in photography became Guynes' jumping-off point to continue her work with survivors. In 2012, she put her vision into action.
Guynes made calls to friends, neighbors and any organization or group she could find that worked with survivors. That October (Domestic Violence Awareness Month), more than 20 women gathered in her studio to be photographed.
"I watched all these connections manifest between women whose stories shared a common thread," Guynes recalls, her eyes soft. "[There was] an implosion of love and hope and encouragement."
From there, Guynes started working on ways to keep them connected. Pearls for Creative Healing is a series of art therapy workshops, which she began in January 2013.
Fast-forward to today: Guynes has 14 artists teaching multimedia workshops (monthly and near-free) from jewelry making to painting on silk to photography to belly dance. More than 500 women have attended the programs. Guynes' goal is to keep building and finding more ways to strengthen their connections.
"As they create, they understand that it's not only the artistic process that's healing them - it's being in the room with other women who've gone through what they have," she says. "One woman who spoke at our annual exhibit put it perfectly: 'I finally took the mask off. I let go. And I don't feel shame anymore.'"
Guynes and Pearls for Creative Healing are finalists in SEED20, a competition designed to discover, spotlight, support, and fund the region's great ideas for building social value. You can also meet Guynes and learn more about Pearls at Pecha Kucha Night Charlotte on March 13 at the Neighborhood Theatre.
Check back next Friday for the next installment of "Who Run the World."