Photo by Rachel Larue
William Kellibrew IV addresses the attendees of the domestic violence awareness month commander and senior leader breakfast Oct. 3 in the Spates Community Club.
William Kellibrew strode confidently around Spates Community Club Oct. 3, his strong and melodic voice singing Josh Groban’s hit, "You Raise Me Up."
As the music faded, those in the audience at the Joint Base Myer-Henderson Hall domestic violence awareness month commander and senior leader breakfast/professional military education acknowledged Kellibrew’s strength and resiliency with a round of applause.
"I want people to take away that strength is possible and that recovery is possible," said the Washington, D.C. native, domestic violence survivor and international advocate for civil, human, women, children and victims’ rights, after his more than hour-long presentation.
When he was just six, Kellibrew was sexually abused by a neighbor. When he was 10, he watched as his mother’s boyfriend, Marshall Williams, shot her and his 12-year-old brother to death inside their home.
"I used to hate Marshall as a teenager," Kellibrew said. "He took from me something so valuable. He also didn’t give me the opportunity to question. He took his own life that day."
That day, July 2, 1984, would test Kellibrew for years to come.
It began when Kellibrew heard his mother, Jacqueline, screaming outside. He went to investigate and saw his older brother, Anthony Cephas, trying to get her away from Williams.
"Her boyfriend was dragging her," he recalled.
The trio found their way inside the family’s home, where Williams shot Jacqueline and Anthony before turning his gun toward Kellibrew, who begged for his life.
"For some reason he just pulled back, and he said to me, ‘you can leave. Go call the police,’" he said.
And that’s what Kellibrew did, running down the street to a neighbor’s house.
"It completely shut me down," he said of the murders. "I could not understand why it happened."
Things had begun well enough between Jacqueline and Marshall, Kellibrew said, but soon turned violent. He said his mother, like many others who suffer domestic violence, simply did not know how to get out of the relationship.
"In domestic violence relationships, there’s power and control," he explained. "In this relationship, she fought for control that morning. The problem is, one person got away and that morning it wasn’t my mom."
He credits his grandmother and countless others with helping him to cope with the survivor’s guilt and depression that plagued him in the wake of the tragedy and has been featured on the Oprah Winfrey Show and was recognized as a White House Champion of Change. Today, Kellibrew is a lead consultant with the National Association of State Mental Health Program Directors and is a faculty member with the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s National Center for Trauma-Informed Care.
Kellibrew, who has also spoken at military installations around the National Capital Region including Joint Base Andrews, the Henderson Hall portion of JBM-HH and Fort Meade, thanked audience members for their service to the nation.
"I’ve developed a great relationship with the military at this point," he said. "It’s so important that we address the issues of not just domestic violence, but some undergirding issues as well."
He urged those in attendance to speak up if they suspect someone is involved in a domestic violence situation and urged those who are involved or have been involved in domestic violence to reach out for help.
In his remarks at the end of the presention, JBM-HH Deputy Commander Marine Lt. Col. John Orille noted that when domestic violence is prevented, "we promote unity in our families, show respect for and dignity for our servicemembers, civilians and families."
Orille also stressed that incidents of domestic violence cannot be kept as private matters and that they impact the lives of more than just the couple who are involved.
"It puts stress on their children, their extended family, their friends and neighbors," he said.
Orille and JBM-HH Command Sgt. Major Earlene Y. Lavender presented Kellibrew with a plaque as a token of thanks.