WILLIMANTIC, CT (12/05/2017) Written by Jordan Corey
Cara Bergstrom-Lynch, a professor at Eastern Connecticut State University who lives in Manchester, participated in a road race on Dec. 3 to honor the late Alyssiah Wiley, an Eastern student who was murdered by her boyfriend in 2013. The Hot Chocolate Run is an annual fundraiser to benefit Safe Passage, an organization dedicated to creating a world free of domestic violence and relationship abuse. The run took place in Northampton, MA.
The National Coalition Against Domestic Violence (NCADV) reports that nearly 20 people are physically abused every minute by a domestic partner in the United States - more than 10 million women and men per year. Of female murder victims, one in three are killed by intimate partners.
Safe Passage, located in Northampton, supports safe shelter, legal assistance and counseling services for adults and kids who have lived with violence in their homes. Since Wiley's death in 2013, Bergstrom-Lynch has been dedicated to raising awareness of intimate partner violence.
Though she was never a "runner" before her recurring participation in The Hot Chocolate Run, Bergstrom-Lynch trained for it, feeling that it's important to take a stand for all victims of domestic abuse. This year, she was joined by her two daughters, ages six and eight, as she raised $1,510 - totaling $6,185 for Safe Passage to date. "Donations came flooding in from my Eastern colleagues," she said, including former students, the dean and the president, as well as many friends and family members.
As a professor and the department chair of sociology, domestic violence has a heavy impact on Bergstrom-Lynch - something undoubtedly amplified by what happened to Wiley. At just 20 years old, Wiley was kidnapped from campus by then-boyfriend Jermaine Richards, whom she had planned on breaking up with as a result of his unhealthy, possessive behaviors. Following her disappearance, Wiley was found dismembered in the woods a month later. Having gone through two mistrials, Richards was finally convicted in September 2017.
"My senior seminar students brought Alyssiah's mother, Corinna Martin, to campus in fall 2013 to talk to an overflowing audience in the Student Center Theater about the loss of her daughter," Bergstrom-Lynch stated. "She moved me deeply." Tragically, Wiley's sister - Chaquinequea Brodie - and nine-year-old niece were also murdered this past August. Brodie's boyfriend is believed to be the perpetrator, again demonstrating the severity of domestic violence cases.
Brodie was the vice president of Mothers of Victim's Equality (MOVE) Inc., a nonprofit group established by her mother to provide dating and domestic violence education. In a similar fashion, Bergstrom-Lynch stressed the significance of promoting awareness and discussing these issues that are often deemed "private" in a public way. "All of us know someone who has been impacted by intimate partner violence, and many of us have experienced it ourselves," she said. "If anyone sees red flags, either in their own relationship or in friends or family members' relationships, I want them to know that there is hope out there, and there are safe places to go."
This year's Hot Chocolate Run collected a total of $615,000 for Safe Passage, with 6,000 runners and walkers in attendance. "Alyssiah meant a lot to many people at Eastern, and her memory lives on," Bergstrom-Lynch concluded, having completed another successful race. She encouraged students to seek assistance if needed. Options for support include Eastern's Sexual Assault and Interpersonal Violence Response Team (SAIV-RT) and the Connecticut Coalition Against Domestic Violence (CCADV), which has a 24/7 telephone line at 888-774-2900.