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ODU's In Support of Children Group to Host Seventh Annual Vigil Feb. 15

The issue of child abuse and neglect deaths in the United States has garnered more and more attention. Hampton Roads saw 16 children die from abuse and neglect in 2010, the highest for any region in the state.

In response to the crisis, the Old Dominion University student organization In Support of Children holds an annual vigil on campus for children killed as a result of child abuse and neglect. This year's vigil, featuring Asadah Kirkland, author of the book "Beating Black Kids," is scheduled for 6 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 15, in the North Mall of Webb Center.

This is the seventh annual Vigil for Children organized at ODU, the only school in Virginia offering an interdisciplinary minor in children's rights. Karen Polonko, University Professor of sociology and director of the interdisciplinary minor, said the death of 7-year-old Nixzmary Brown, an abused child in Brooklyn, N.Y., was the "last straw" that prompted the creation of ODU's Vigil for Children.

Brown endured torture from her stepfather and mother for years, although teachers from her school called Child Services repeatedly, as did neighbors who heard her screams. Brown was killed Jan. 11, 2006, in a spate of rage by her stepfather that began over a spilled cup of yogurt.

"Together with colleagues and students at ODU, we resolved that Nixzmary will not have died in vain," Polonko said. "We will do everything we can to make sure that the memory of Nixzmary - and all of the children murdered by parents and caretakers - will serve to save other children from abuse. We will never let these children be forgotten.

"Every year, In Support of Children, sponsors a vigil to honor the memory of Nixzmary and all the children who died at the hands of those who were supposed to protect them, to help prevent this from happening to other children, and to help eliminate the societal conditions that encourage child abuse by working to make all forms of violence against children illegal. I can't think of anything more important."

In addition to an address by Kirkland, the vigil program includes words by ODU student Alfreda Kelly, who was hit as a child, and will speak on breaking the cycle of abuse. There will also be a performance by the ODU gospel choir Ebony Impact, and an invocation, with the names read of children killed through abuse and neglect in Hampton Roads.

Other speakers include Katharine Kersey, professor of early childhood education in the Darden College of Education; Sam Fabian, community outreach director at Children's Hospital of The King's Daughters; and Betty Wade Coyle from Prevent Child Abuse Hampton Roads.