One Billion Rising promotes an end to domestic and sexual violence

BIG RAPIDS — Local men and women showed their support in ending domestic and sexual violence during Friday's One Billion Rising event hosted by Women’s Information Services, Inc.

The event, hosted at The Gate Entertainment Center, was decked out in red, pink and white to celebrate the occasion, and offered a dinner buffet. Patrons were able to enjoy each other's company and a selection of speeches by WISE guests and committee members.

Though inclement weather seemed to play a role in attendance, Tessa McNally, WISE administrative assistant and chair of the One Billion Rising Committee, was happy with the number of individuals coming through the door.

"I think all in all, the weather hindered a lot of people coming out, but with the support of those who were still able to make it we have a good turnout," McNally said.

As keynote speaker, Jennifer Jordan, chief administrative officer of Goodwill Industries of Greater Grand Rapids, discussed current gender inequality in the workforce, debunking common myths about women's education and qualifications that are reasons behind females receiving lower salaries. She related the problem to violence against women.

"This is relevant, because violence against women is the cause and effect of gender inequality," Jordan said. "It's a critical part of violence prevention."

She stated male business owners and employers need to want to see a change in inequality, and having women in the workforce promotes innovation, employee engagement and better talent acquisition. Jordan also encouraged the women in attendance to negotiate for higher pay, and support, mentor and connect with each other.

"We need to do this for ourselves because no one is going to do it for us," she added. "We're all in this together."

McNally was extremely pleased at Jordan's willingness to be a part of 2015's One Billion Rising event.

"She was a phenomenal keynote speaker," she said. "With Goodwill Industries, I knew I was choosing the right team of people to give a speech on empowering women."

The event also featured a moment of silence by candlelight, which provided a moment of meditation in honor of those survivors and victims of domestic and sexual violence.

Live performances, including The Secret Bellydancers of Muskegon, percussionist Eric Durkee and Crossroads Charter Academy students Jordan Paul and Shane Seppala, helped keep all attendees entertained and uplifted.

Big Rapids residents Torrey Newcombe and April Heilman were among about 100 who enjoyed the night's festivities. It was Newcombe's first time at One Billion Rising, and the event opened her eyes to the issues women face every day.

"When I came here, I realized it was a big thing," Newcombe said. "I learned the issue is getting better and people are working on it. I'm really happy I came here tonight and I'm definitely coming again."

Merchandise, including wrist bands, sky lanterns, T-shirts and more helped raise money to support WISE. For more information about the organization, visit