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ER-UM ABUSE




In the fall of 2015, I was in my home town of Garrett, Indiana, making a public gift of my Mother’s house and surrounding land to the Garrett High School Building Grades program (and reading “Surrender” from Heavy Metal, which was all I really cared about) and getting a tour of ye olde high school. When we went through the auditorium/performing center, I noticed a subtly placed sign which led me to believe the Superintendent was hopeful that, with my performance background, I would make a gift to the Performance Center next.


At the time, I was Mom’s Trustee, which meant in effect I could do anything with her money that I wanted to. Cash was accumulating rapidly in her accounts at the local bank, and I had thought now and then about doing some other Garrett gifting. The Music department was looking to purchase a new digital sound and lighting package, cost of which was around $40,000.00. Sounds easy, right? Except that it wasn’t. The local bank determined that the high school was an educational institution, not a non-profit, so I couldn’t get the tax deduction. Rather than let it go, I decided to transfer the necessary amount from Mom’s account to my donor fund at the Chicago Community Trust, so at least one of us would get the deduction! A little extra complexity, and I worked it out, but I stopped speaking to a few of Mom’s friends at the bank.


The Music department was thrilled and suggested a concert to celebrate the gift. Boy, that was a good idea. I had never gotten the lead in any of the high school musicals I’d appeared in, and during my senior year when I would have been able to use my senior privileges to edge out any contenders, they canceled the musical completely. In those days nothing got funded at my school except athletic programs. After my tour, I saw that things were VERY different now, and hey, who was going to tell me I couldn’t sing at my own celebration concert?


I was working with my vocal coach Heather Aranyi of the Chicago Lyric Opera in those days, and I chose a song from “Oliver,” the first high school musical I’d appeared in. As one of Fagin’s boys, and a member of the London chorus. A double role! I chose one of the London chorus songs, “Who Will Buy?”


It was my vision that the high school would locate and find other past performers to appear in the concert. A great idea, but apparently I was the only one who thought so. When I arrived in Garrett, with my own accompanist in tow, I learned that only current high schoolers would be on the stage with me. They were also supposed to back up my song.


Nothing went well, during rehearsal or during the performance. I sounded fine, I think, but my chorus never got the song right, and I was looking forward to the little speech I’d prepared for the end as my final chance to say what I wanted to say that night. It was a great speech, too. I’d worked it all out – some history about the show, then linking the song lyrics to the need to acknowledge and celebrate the arts in our daily lives, and even a little plug for my work combatting childhood sexual abuse. I had the perfect lead-in, since everyone who has ever seen OLIVER! has figured out what Fagin was up to with all those little boys.


When I read the article in the paper afterwards, I saw that someone had seen fit to change “sexual abuse” to domestic abuse. Because, I guess, you couldn’t say “sex” in the local paper.


I was furious, and didn’t let it go until after I’d spoken to the reporter and told her in no uncertain terms I was aware she had edited my words and I was not happy at all about that. And just in case anyone thinks this was just small-town nerves, I would like to share that when I was introduced as a speaker at a program sponsored by the Chicago Community Trust, I was introduced by the then-Executive Director as “Jean Cozier, whose mission is the prevention of ‘er-um abuse.’”


Thank you, Terry. Thank you, Garrett Clipper and your staff reporter. I don’t need to be reminded of why I do what I do, but just in case I ever forget, I’m sure I could count on you both to remind me.




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