By: Sonya D. Lavett
Etoia Toles-Wilson is a proud graduate of CSU who has earned both her bachelor’s and master’s degrees. To look at her, one might think that everything is going great in her life. However, Etoia was previously a victim of domestic violence. Some of this violence even occurred right around the time of her commencement ceremony, when most people are happy and reflective on all of their hard work and looking forward to a bright future.
Etoia was smiling on the outside because she had a lot to be proud of, but behind the scenes, she was being abused by her boyfriend. She was struggling, too afraid and ashamed to talk about it to anyone.
Those days are far removed from Etoia and her current mission. A resident of Auburn, Alabama, she is working in her community to build an outreach program where abuse is at the forefront of the conversation, nothing is hidden and people can hear her story while sharing their own.
Abusers hope that the ones they abuse will remain quiet, keeping the violence secretive. Oftentimes it does. There are many reasons for this secrecy, but the two biggest reasons are profoundly powerful: fear and shame.
Etoia does not want anyone to be trapped in this cycle so she is willing to speak truthfully about her past with anyone who wants to know. Back when it was happening to her, she would not even reveal the truth to her own family.
Since those dark days, she has learned to love herself more, with or without a partner in her life and wants to make a difference, especially to younger women. Etoia is happy to serve as an example and states “I’m not perfect and have made many mistakes in my life.”
Now, as part of her mission to bring awareness to domestic violence, she intends to spread the word through the phrase “Love Shouldn’t Hurt.” Soon, t-shirts with this phrase will be available to purchase in late July through October, National Domestic Violence Awareness month. Half of the proceeds raised from the t-shirt sales will go to the Lee County Domestic Violence Intervention Center.
Etoia has come a long way and looks to her mentors, Patsy Jones, the first African-American council woman in Opelika, Alabama and Troy D. Booth, Sr. Even Etoia says that sometimes they do not see eye to eye, but then again she appreciates the honest feedback that she receives from her mentors, even if it’s difficult to take sometimes. Etoia recognizes value in the guidance and support she has received, and now she is stepping up to provide her own guidance and support to others who might need it.
While this alone may be a poignant story, it did not begin with Etoia. Her mother also suffered abuse at the hands of Etoia’s biological father. Etoia was too small to remember her dad when he left, but her aunts shared the stories with her as she approached adulthood of his abusive and aggressive behavior toward her mom. Etoia thanks God for her family, including her mom and her sisters, who have always been there for her. She now has a supportive boyfriend and draws inspiration from a quote by Huey Newton: “If you stop struggling then you stop life.”
“Sometimes we struggle every day, mentally, emotionally and physically through so much, but at the end of the road, God gave you a life to live and a reason to live,” she said. Etoia went on to say “My struggle was not in speaking about this. Now I want to share it with the world so others will know that no matter what is happening, you have others by your side. There is a light at the end of the tunnel.”
For more information on Etoia’s mission, or to purchase a T-shirt, visit her Facebook page.