Thursday, December 3, 2009

Virginia Witt: Blue Sheild of California Foundation

A veteran of the non-profit, philanthropic and public policy worlds, Virginia Witt's presence is not surprising at today's "It's Time to Talk" event, sponsored by Liz Claiborne. As Director of Public Affairs and Policy for Blue Shield of California Foundation, her job is to make sure people are talking about public health issues. She also wants to make sure people are listening. And acting on what they learn. Because apart from 20 years of experience, she also brings a relentless optimism to this fight.

"I see the situation a little bit differently," she tells me after I greet her with a disturbing statistic from a study conducted by the Boston Public Health Commission. The survey was conducted in the days following the breaking news of Rhianna's brutal physical assault at the hands of then boyfriend, Chris Brown. Several hundred teenagers were questioned about their opinions regarding the assault, which became front page news and tabloid fodder, complete with graphic and disturbing photos of Rhianna's swollen face. Almost half of the teens surveyed--46 percent--placed the blame for the assault on Rhianna. This is a statistic that continues to haunt, anger and sadden me, and I tell her so. "The way I see it, this is an incredibly important, teachable moment for American teens and their families. All of the sudden, people are paying attention to this issue, they're talking about it because it's happening, out in the open, and affecting two successful, attractive, creative people. On so many levels this unfortunate incident is shattering the current thinking about who this happens to, where it happens and why. So, rather than be disappointed by the survey, I see it as a window of opportunity."

I have to concede her point.

"This is a topic that requires new thinking, new conversations. Almost everyone knows someone touched by this violence. But no one talks about it. And starting the conversation is where change can begin. So whether it's an event like this Liz Claiborne day or a Public Health Commission study, the point is that we have people's attention. And now that we do, we need to act."

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