Ron Kimble sported his favorite ladybug socks Wednesday.
Ladybugs, because his daughter Jamie “was a ladybug fanatic.” And Wednesday would have been her 35th birthday – had not a former abusive boyfriend fatally shot her in 2012 before he turned the gun on himself.
So Kimble, Charlotte’s deputy city manager, and wife Jan decided that’d be an ideal day to hold the second annual fund-raising luncheon of their Jamie Kimble Foundation for Courage, the nonprofit the parents started to honor their only child and work on stopping domestic violence before it begins.
Nearly 1,000 friends, former colleagues and domestic violence awareness advocates filled a ballroom at the Charlotte Convention Center to hear pleas from the Kimbles and others to intervene when they suspect abuse.
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Before the event, Kimble sat waiting for his main speaker and quietly talked about his daughter’s relationship with her boyfriend of seven years and the complexity of breaking a cycle of psychological and emotional abuse.
He said he and Jan knew the relationship was abusive and made their disapproval known. They could see the strain on a daughter who worked hard to please her parents and grandparents. For much of the relationship, he said, the boyfriend was good to his daughter. “But when he treated her badly he would verbally berate her,” Kimble said. “He would get her feeling sorry for him and make her feel like everything in the relationship was her fault.
“It’s a very complicated and hard cycle to break.”
Finally in May 2012, she “summoned the courage” to break off the relationship, moving to Tampa, Fla., to work as a sales representative for Charlotte-based Coca-Cola Bottling Consolidated, where she was a rising star.
Three-and-a-half months later, on Sept. 3, the opening day of the Democratic National Convention in Charlotte, the ex-boyfriend drove from Kansas City to Tampa, hunted her down, coaxed her in his car and shot her twice.
Wednesday, the luncheon’s keynoter, Dan Lebowitz, spoke about the need to change the culture of men’s violence against women, and the importance of bystander intervention to defuse it.
Lebowitz is head of the respected Center for the Study of Sport in Society at Northeastern University in Boston and an expert on manhood. He was born 4 1/2 months premature and had to wear leg braces that he said “didn’t make me popular at times with my father.” He told the crowd he was abused at home.
“I understood disenfranchisement at a very early age,” he said in an interview.
At 11, a doctor with the former Hartford Whalers NHL team (now the Carolina Hurricanes), helped him shed his braces and he became a boxer and body builder. Since 2008, he and the center’s staff have trained the NFL, NBA, Major League Baseball, the military, Boston police – and now high schools in Massachusetts – on the issues of manhood and altering men’s violence against women.
The issue has been magnified in recent years after high-profile professional athletes were accused or caught in acts of domestic violence. In Mecklenburg, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police respond to 35,000 domestic violence calls a year, said Karen Parker, president and CEO of Safe Alliance, the Charlotte nonprofit that helps victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
The Northeastern center has worked to defuse “the issue of hyper-masculinity,” working with athletes to leave aggressions on the field or court, or in the boxing ring. “The construct of manhood needs to take a new narrative of kindness, compassion, respect for women, respect for our neighbors and differences,” Lebowitz told the crowd Wednesday.
The narrative of violence against women, he said, was not created by women, “but promulgated by men.”
The center tries to get to young people early. To high school students, Lebowitz talks about bystander intervention in terms of a middle school fight, with two fighters and a circle of students egging them on.
“There’s no way for them to leave once they’re thrown into the middle of that circle ... because the people are yelling ‘fight, fight fight,’ ” Lebowitz said. “What we’re trying to do is look at that same circle and say, ‘What if we empowered the people in that circle to do better, what if we gave them the skills to ... create a different dynamic so the (fighters) could leave with dignity?’ ”
Three of Jamie Kimble’s friends told the crowd they knew her relationship wasn’t healthy, but didn’t know how to intervene. They urged the gathering not to make the same mistake.
The foundation helps Ron and Jan Kimble cope with their loss.
“It’s everything. It’s therapy, cathartic,” Ron Kimble said. “And we think we’re doing good work so that other families don’t have to go through what we are.”
In addition to his ladybug socks and a purple tie – the color for domestic violence awareness – Kimble wore something else for the first time that kept him close to his daughter: a silver lapel pin with her fingerprint.
Perlmutt: 704-358-5061; @dperlmutt