Reflecting on Sydney Southerland, from a sexual assault survivor

In the wake of this tragedy, I found myself murmuring to myself one night. “What a waste.” I was taken aback. What did I mean by that?

Last week, Sydney Sutherland, a 25 year-old woman, went jogging near her home in rural Arkansas along State Highway 18 near Newport and Grubbs.

Two days later, her body was found north of her residence.

Two days after that, August 23, 2020, Quake Lewellyn was charged with capital murder, rape, and kidnapping.

In the wake of this tragedy, I found myself murmuring to myself one night. “What a waste.”

I was taken aback. What did I mean by that?

I realized I had said the same words to myself, and maybe aloud to others, many times in the light of untimely deaths. In the light of global catastrophes. In the light of major losses.

What a waste of a life is what I think I meant.

But I hated how that sounded. I hated how it felt.

25 years lived vivaciously, beautifully, in service to others after nursing school… how is that a waste of a life? It’s certainly not. Not in any way at all. Just because a deviant perpetrator targeted Sydney Sutherland and opted to terminate her life abruptly does not in any way indicate that her life was wasted.

I vowed to stop using those words and to find new words, even if only to mutter to myself. What would those words be?

I reflected on my own incidences of sexual assault.

As a survivor of multiple incidences of sexual assault by multiple perpetrators over my lifetime (thank God none ended in death), I recall that vivid sense of purposelessness. Uselessness. Depravity. Feeling devoid of the desire to continue. Lack of hope. This often occurs in sexual assault victims after trauma; it lasts for varying lengths of time, depending on whether the victim seeks help or not.

Thankfully, I sought help, but not right away.

For years, I coped on my own terms. You can imagine how well that worked for me. Self-medication, self-help books, and talking to all the wrong people who give all the wrong advice will get you to all the wrong places. I didn’t know what I didn’t know. I was scared to trust anyone at all with what hurt the most.

I finally found a cobbled path to healing through Christian counseling and a recovery program. It’s a continual journey. Post-traumatic stress disorder reminds me of getting divorced. It’s supposed to be final and over, but it’s never really over. I paid the money and moved the turd out of my house. But I’m still stuck with the residue, the financial effects of our marriage, and the reminders every time those stupid Facebook Memories pop up. “12 years ago today: ‘Can’t wait to watch Biggest Loser with X and eat banana splits at the same time!” Barfarama.

Over the past few months, I’ve found it interesting to observe this surge of interest related to #SaveTheChildren—all things related to sexual assault, child sexual abuse, and human trafficking. As a survivor who’s advocated, volunteered, and served in this realm for almost 20 years, I’m thrilled that the world suddenly cares.

I only hope it won’t stop at sharing posts and gory articles online. Let me reassure you if you’re only doing this much that there’s much more you can do to help save children’s lives, if that’s your genuine motive.

Locally, you can volunteer for the Rape Crisis Center operated under the umbrella of the Family Violence Prevention Center or for the Children’s Advocacy Center of Independence County.

If you’re interested in working to combat human trafficking, you can contact P.A.T.H. (Partners Against Trafficking Humans). In fact, you can attend their volunteer training for 20 hours to learn a wealth of information and then volunteer in numerous ways within their organization, too.

To support multiple global human trafficking organizations, select from a myriad of nonprofit organizations, some faith-based and others non-partisan, doing excellent work all over the world. You can volunteer remotely to manage social media, write articles, answer hotline calls, or perform a variety of other tasks. If you’re outspoken and comfortable with public speaking, many organizations need community representatives and educators. You can write a check if financial support is more your speed.

There are no limits to the ways these organizations need help—trust me. I personally align myself with two organizations—P.A.T.H. and The Asservo Project. I recently published a book and give $1 of each book’s proceeds to The Asservo Project. I’ll continue to look for ways—always—to support these organizations because the work they do changes lives, supports survivors, and brings perpetrators to justice.

Ultimately, we’re never doomed to sit around and feel sorry for ourselves, victims, or survivors unless we choose to. There’s plenty of work to be done. We just have to choose to take action.

The work of organizations (and volunteers) ensures that beautiful souls like Sydney Sutherland’s are honored, that tragedies like Sydney Sutherland’s assault and murder are redeemed.

Bethany Wallace owns a consulting business, Bethany Wallace Communications & Consulting, and partners with mission-minded organizations to build better workplaces through soft skills solutions.

Bethany presents research at conferences and contributes to major publications and recognized podcasts, including Glassdoor, College Recruiter, Zip Recruiter, Jobscan, Flex Jobs, the New York Daily News, Business Tech, Human Resources Online, Life After Teaching, Love Your Story, 10 Minute Mindset, Everyday People, and more. In June 2020, she also recently  published a collection of original poetry, “Hindsight 2020: A New and Selected Poems by Bethany Wallace.”

Bethany earned her Master of Arts degree in English Language and Literature at Arkansas Tech University and her Bachelor of Arts degree in English at Lyon College.

Author Rachel Kelley describes the long road to a published book

In her final version of her new book, Rachel Kelley chronicles several life events through the lens of faith — a life-threatening accident, an unexpected move from Tennessee to the hills of Mountain View, her path to raising 6 kids, seemingly impossible financial situations, and how the book itself would ultimately land in the hands of author John Grisham.   

On Saturday she will be presenting her book, Rachel’s Raft, a faith-based autobiography, to the public at a Christmas open house held annually by The Bread of Life bookstore here in Batesville.

But it took five years, and challenges she said she never expected to be so hard before getting to the final version.

Rachel Kelley wrote and wrote and wrote. She wrote for three years actually, grabbing any spare moment she could to churn out another page.

When she finally finished, she had a manuscript of about 150,000 words — more than 600 pages.

“It was huge,” she said of the first draft of her book. “It’s a snippet of my personal journey with the Lord through the last several years, and if it happened, it was in there.”

Kelley said the finished product was so overwhelming that she set it aside for two years, until someone suggested an editor, a local from Lyon College, who had assisted on other books.

Kelley said as they talked, the main story became clear: “How God led us [her family] through a process of whittling away more and more from our lives…and how God would give me small steps, and every step became increasingly harder.”

With her editor’s help, throughout the course of 4 months the book was gleaned down to a reasonable 50,000 words, she assures potential readers, but adds it was very hard to let go. “I just had to cut it and not look back.”

Her mom, an artist, designed the cover and then the whole thing was uploaded and self-published via Kindle Direct Publishing, which she says was the easiest part of the whole process.


“It’s so personal. It’s like releasing a diary to the general public,” she said of finally seeing her words in print.

The availability of self- publish options has motivated many unknown authors to share their work. The drawback to self publishing rather than going through the traditional channels is that it is up to the author then to promote and sell copies. But Kelley says she’s not going to stress about that.


“Unless the Lord builds the house, the laborers labor in vain,” she says of the next steps. “I feel like I was faithful in writing it, and that’s the main thing… People have been really positive and genuine in their responses, and so the feedback that I’ve gotten — that’s the way He’s blessing me.”

Kelley will be signing her book from 11:00 a.m. to 1:00 p.m. at the Bread of Life bookstore on Saturday. Those wishing to purchase a copy can do so there, or at amazon.com.

Local historian releases latest: A History of the Ozarks, Vol 2

Brooks Blevins, notable local historian and author, released the second volume in his three-part series A History of the Ozarks and I have been eager to pick up this book ever since.

Volume 2 is subtitled “The Conflicted Ozarks” and deals with the time period surrounding the Civil War. 

Blevins’s thesis: in the period before, during, and after the Civil War, the Ozarks existed as a unique region that simply cannot be defined.

The complexity of the people tucked into the nooks and crannies of the hill region made it a place unlike the rest of Arkansas, unlike the rest of the South, and unlike the rest of the country, Blevins explains in the book.

It was marked deeply by the myriad of immigrants and American Indians who had made the place home. It was a place that due to both geography and intentionality, existed separately from other defined cultures of the time. The only consistent narrative is that there is no consistent narrative. The only stereotype is the complete absence of a true stereotype.

People were diverse, as far as backgrounds, beliefs, ways of life. And in the context of the Civil War, allegiances too.

Blevins emphasized this reality with the introduction of a strange character named Elias Boudinot, who was the son of a Cherokee leader and a white woman. He was born in the Ozarks, raised with the Cherokee, educated in the Northeast, and published a “pro-slavery rag that not only lambasted abolitionists but championed education and industrialization.” The only thing typical about Boudinot and his mish-mash of allegiances was that, in the Ozarks during this time, there was little in the way of “typical”.


EXCERPT FROM THE BOOK 
"...the Ozark region was conflicted in the age of war and reconstruction. Occupying a liminal regional space, a cultural borderland, the Ozarks was part Southern, part Western, part Midwestern. Not completely at home in either the cultural South or the cultural North, the region fittingly and tragically found itself a literal borderland in 1861, straddling the line that demarcated the Confederacy from the Union but never neatly delineated secessionists from Unionists, thousands of each populating both sides of the old thirty-six-degree thirty-minute line as well as the hills of the Indian Territory. It was a blueprint for true civil warfare..."

The book does ask the reader to have a foundational knowledge of Arkansas history and geography. But it is still very much read-able and enjoyable even if you’re iffy about the strength of your local history chops. (This book will take you miles towards developing that understanding, to be sure.)

Brooks Blevins is a Lyon College alumnae, former Lyon College professor, and the Noel Boyd Professor of Ozarks Studies at Missouri State University. He is the author or editor of nine books, including A History of the Ozarks, Volume 1; Ghost of the Ozarks: Murder and Memory in the Upland South; and Arkansaw: How Bear Hunters, Hillbillies, and Good Ol’ Boys Defined a State.

A History of the Ozarks, Volume 2, is currently available for purchase at the Old Independence Regional Museum.

REVIEW: As usual, Blevins’s depth of research shows, and the author’s passion and experience with the subject matter is obvious. Overall, Brooks Blevins, as always, does the Ozarks proud as a representative native, and as one of the region’s current scholars. We are lucky to have both professional historians like him, and also the handful of amateur sleuths out there who have worked hard to preserve, understand, and tell others the real story of the Ozarks, one that exists beyond the hillbilly stereotypes imposed on the region.