October is National Domestic Violence Awareness Month, and Lucila Matos has chosen to share her story with the public.

First the victim of tragedy, Matos has been an anti-domestic violence activist for more than eight years. She organizes Rochester’s annual Walk Against Domestic Violence and is highly involved at the Willow Domestic Violence Centre as well as Out of the Darkness, an organization that provides transitional housing and support for women leaving incarceration.

In 2011, Matos published “My Life Was Guarded For Christ,” a book on her experience as a victim of domestic violence. Her book was adapted into a play that was showcased at the Legacy Drama House this weekend. 

Matos said her mission is to help victims “to speak up to domestic violence freely” and raise   awareness on the subject. There have been times where she has thought about quitting her activism, but Matos believes that she lived for God and that He pushes her to continue and to help others who are like her. “I could’ve died many times,” she said, “[but] God guarded me [and] took care of me.” 

Although Matos was not involved in producing the play, she hopes that the audience can recognize some of the signs of domestic violence and “not be afraid […] to look for help.” 

Cynthia Paoli, a Call Center Representative at the URMC, was cast as Matos in the play. Paoli said she thought that “God [was] leading [them] to [tell] the story”. Five minutes after she talking to a victim at work, she was offered Matos’ role by play director Katherine McGil. Paoli says she has encountered many victims and that “there’s been a lot of women in [her] family who have been in [..] domestic violence situations.” 

Statistically, this makes sense. Monroe County is a hotspot for domestic violence with significantly higher domestic violence rates (1.8x) than the state’s average. In 2018, there were almosts 46,000 911 calls on domestic disputes, and more than 5,500 reports on domestic violence in Monroe County. Out of these reports, 59 percent were from Rochester.

Since Matos’ story was complex, the adapted play focused on the important highlights and her growth. Though the story was weighty, there were moments of humor interspersed throughout the play. Paoli explained, “It’s such a deep story, we don’t want people to be sorry the whole time […] so we do have a little bit of humor in there.”

Matos’ story leaves people with a sense that there is light to be found even in one’s darkest moments in life. The decision to forgive is always hard, but Matos’ story emphasizes the importance of letting go of hate and allowing oneself to find meaning in tragedy by moving on.

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