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Jefferson Awards: Former Abuse Victim Empowers East Bay Women

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Jefferson Award winner Toshonna Ross (CBS)

Jefferson Award winner Toshonna Ross (CBS)

OAKLAND (CBS 5) – A group of women stood in pairs around the room in an Oakland meeting center.

“You are beautiful inside and out!” Toshonna Ross repeated, encouraging the others to join in. Ross helps build courage in women who’ve survived domestic violence, sexual assault, and homelessness.

“You are worthy of everything,” she told one woman, standing close and speaking directly. “And if you don’t see that in yourself, you are important to me. Do you hear that? I believe in you, I love you.”

Ross founded the nonprofit Courageous Women three years ago to empower women in need.

“For me, it’s about being able to save someone’s life through my own testimony,” she explained.

Ross herself lived through five years of domestic abuse, including attempted murder. She sunk into a depression and tried commit suicide more than once.

“There was a point in my life I couldn’t even speak. I was so broken because of what I’d endured with the abuse,” she remembered.

Ross journaled about how caring friends lifted her out of depression. Today, she gives women journals to mark their own milestones.

Her triumph inspires abuse survivors like Lawanza Bracy.

“It lets me know that I can also be a survivor. I am a survivor. I am courageous,” Bracy said. “It empowers me a lot to know I’m not alone.”

“That’s what brings me joy,” Ross said, her voice cracking. “To see they are coming out with a newfound confidence, with hope.”

Through Courageous Women, Ross organizes educational workshops and empowerment events with more than 60 homeless shelters. Janny Castillo helps coordinate some of the gatherings.

“Toshonna creates a space for women to meet other women, where women can be blessed by other women, where women can meet heroes,” said Castillo.

Once a year, hundreds of women in need get a free shopping and pampering day. Fedelies Roye, Courageous Women’s Executive Coordinator, says Ross goes all-out to make them feel like royalty.

“It’s gotta be right for her,” Roye explained. “It can’t be half. It’s gotta be whole. She doesn’t care if she spends the last dollar in her pocket, it’s gotta be right.”

“If I leave this world today, nothing else matters, but to know that they have hope again,” Ross said quietly.

So for giving women courage and hope surviving adversity, this week’s Jefferson Award in the Bay Area goes to Toshonna Ross.

Courageous Women doesn’t have its own office space and is looking for donations to find a place to call home. If you can help, use this link: http://site.courageouswomen.org/

(Copyright 2011 by CBS San Francisco. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.)

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