This column originally appeared in the Tennessean newspaper on Sunday, Aug. 26
Shan Foster saw a lot of violence as a child and young man that left an indelible mark on him.
“I saw women who were victims,” he said. “I saw men who had bad role models. As a consequence, they in turn inflicted violence on others.”
Foster is known for being a record-breaking star basketball player for Vanderbilt University who also played professionally for the NBA.
Today, he lends his platform — as a man, as a celebrated athlete and as a citizen — to work to change the culture of violence that is pervasive in Tennessee.
As vice president of external affairs and AMEND Together for the YWCA of Nashville and Middle Tennessee, he is serving as a coach to help form and mold better men and boys.
That is essential because Tennessee remains one of the most dangerous states in the nation for women and girls.
Stopping domestic violence requires talking about it
The Volunteer State ranks fourth in the rate of women being killed by men in the United States.
Nearly 78,000 reports of domestic violence were made statewide in 2017. About a third of the calls happen in Nashville, ironically, now a top destination for bachelorette parties.
While men are the primary perpetrators of violence against women, they also can be the greatest allies to change the culture where 1 in 4 women will experience severe physical violence from a partner.
AMEND Together, formerly known as MEND, kicked off in 2014 and has worked with Metro Nashville Public Schools to mentor athletic coaches, young men and boys through relationships with other men.
It is an opportunity to create safe spaces to talk about behavior, attitudes and less comfortable topics like toxic masculinity — where men and boys use their masculinity to gain power or control over others.
That is a subject Foster discussed with me in a May 30 Facebook Live broadcast for the Civility Tennessee campaign. He persuaded me to become an AMEND ambassador.
Authenticity and vulnerability are essential for healthy boys and men
Foster explained that part of the problem is that many men and boys have never learned or felt comfortable to share their feelings and be authentic or vulnerable.
“We’re not expected to talk about how we feel; we’re expected to produce,” he said.
The Nashville Predators have been a key partner and champion for the YWCA in this effort.
However, domestic violence knows no boundaries, as shown plainly by the recent no-contest plea by Predators player Austin Watson on domestic violence charges.
And, that is precisely why the work of AMEND Together is so important.
“Every time a person — whether they have status or not — commits an act of violence against a woman or girl, it further pushes the reality that we have to do this work,” Foster said. “We must keep going further. Too often, we wait before something happens.”
On Sept. 13, the YWCA is hosting a breakfast to explain the AMEND Experience, featuring keynote speaker and Olympic gold medalist Scott Hamilton. It is free, but registration is required.
“We have the ability to change, if the good men of Nashville would join the efforts with women and girls,” Foster said.
Together we can make Nashville the safest city for women and girls in America.
David Plazas is the opinion and engagement director for the USA TODAY NETWORK – Tennessee and opinion and engagement editor for The Tennessean. Call him at 615-259-8063, email him at email@example.com or tweet to him at @davidplazas.
If you go
What: Third annual AMEND Experience gathering of community leaders committed to ending violence against women and girls. Free breakfast. Registration required. Register at https://www.ywcanashville.com/events/amend-experience/.
Who: Olympic gold medalist and Middle Tennessee resident Scott Hamilton is the featured speaker.
When: 7:30-9:30 a.m. Thursday, Sept. 13
Where: Omni Nashville Hotel, 250 Fifth Ave. S., downtown Nashville