Saturday, May 06, 2006

Heroines in Advocacy - Andrea Conte

I've decided to begin a series of posts that will feature heroines in victims' rights advocacy. Some are survivors and some are not. Each are truly impassioned, courageous, and unstoppable in their commitment to end violence and are leading the fight against violence by speaking out about their personal stories, raising awareness, establishing foundations, changing legislation, developing programs, and inspiring others to act.

Andrea Conte, The First Lady of Tennessee. I lived in Nashville for over 10 years and although I've never met her, I got to witness her accomplishments as a member of the community. She truly has been a beacon of light and inspiration within the Nashville community and in the state of Tennessee and is loved by the citizens. Andrea is a survivor of violence. In the late 80s, Andrea was violently attacked by a man tried to kidnap her from the parking lot of the store she owned. She successfully fought him off and escaped with a broken cheekbone, hand, and bruises. A year later, the same attacker murdered a young woman in a local park. The attacker was caught, and is now serving a life sentence.

As a survivor, Andrea recognized that healing begins when crime survivors acknowledge that they cannot change the past but do have the power to make a difference in the future. During her husband's 8-year tenure as Mayor, she assisted in establishing a domestic violence response unit in the city's Metro Police Department, a model replicated in other police departments across the country and which has been credited with helping to drastically reduce Nashville's domestic murder rate. The unit was developed with an emphasis on domestic violence because, as opposed to random crime, crimes in which the victim and perpetrator have a relationship are more preventable through increased awareness and education. From the symptoms of abuse, threats, power misuse, and control issues to counseling, shelters, hotlines and other resources.

In 1993, she founded You Have the Power... Know How to Use It, a nonprofit corporation dedicated to raising awareness about crime and justice issues and is still operating today. The group continues to produce documentary videos and resource guidebooks on topics such as elder abuse, domestic violence and child sexual abuse. The videos are distributed nationwide to law enforcement agencies, schools, civic groups and therapists. You Have the Power also conducts numerous programs across Tennessee providing the public with information that can be used to prevent crime and victimization.

When her husband was elected to Governor in 2002, Andrea continued her work in advocacy and took it to a higher level. For the second year in a row, Andrea has led Andrea Walks for Tennessee's Children, an initiative featuring a series of walk events to raise awareness about child abuse prevention and funds for Child Advocacy Centers that provide support programs for child abuse victims and their families. In 2004 alone, she walked more than 600 miles between all of the Child Advocacy Centers across the state of Tennessee and raised approximately $1.4 million in cash and in-kind donations for these organizations.

Andrea, a resident of Tennessee for the last 30 years, was born in Massachusetts and attended public schools. She earned a bachelor's degree in nursing from University of Washington at Seattle, and an MBA from Tennessee State University in Nashville. She and Governor Phil Bredesen have one son. For more information about Andrea and Governor Bredesen, click here.