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Cleveland kidnapping survivor Michelle Knight to speak in Cedar Rapids
CEDAR RAPIDS — Lily Rose Lee — formerly known as Michelle Knight, who was kidnapped and hidden for years in Ohio — will be speaking this month in Cedar Rapids to raise awareness and support for survivors of sexual assault.
Lee is one of three women who were kidnapped by Ariel Castro in Cleveland, Ohio between 2002 and 2004. The women were kept in Castro’s house until 2013 when they were rescued.
Since being freed, Lee has written multiple books about her experience and founded a nonprofit organization, Lily’s Ray of Hope, dedicated to helping survivors of emotional and physical abuse.
Lee will be speaking April 29 at the downtown Riverview Center’s annual Evening of Light. Tickets are $100 each, and proceeds go toward the Riverview Center, which provides free services to survivors of sexual violence.
A Gazette reporter recently spoke with Lee about the upcoming event and her life since escaping the house in Cleveland.
Q: Tell me about changing your name. What’s the significance of the name Lily Rose Lee?
A: The reason why I did that was, first of all, to have a new beginning. To take back what I felt was a rebirth.
The significance is, little pieces of me that have to do with my whole entire life. I love lilies. Lilies are love and peace at heart. Rose is for the woman that actually took care of me instead of my mom. She was my best friend's mother, and her name was Rose. Then my last name is my son's middle name. So, little pieces of me made up my name.
Q: Looking forward to the Riverview Evening of Light, what is the theme or main idea that you hope people can walk away with or that you plan to speak about?
A: Just having tremendous hope, strength and never giving up on anybody or themselves.
Q: Why that focus?
A: Because when I was in the house, I almost gave up hope. Knowing that my son was still out there, knowing that there was still people that actually really did care about me, but just didn't know I was missing. I knew they cared. So, I want people out there that are going through similar situations to know that no matter what kind of situation you are in, what obstacles stand in your way, never give up on yourself.
Q: Next year will be 10 years since you were rescued in Cleveland. How has your perspective on your life changed in that time?
A: It’s changed tremendously, from me being scared and panicking every time I walk out the door. I still get a little nervous but it's not as bad as it was before. I used to walk out the door and I used to be nervous just to take a step out. Now I can walk down the street with a little bit of peace of mind, but also still be cautious around the areas where I'm walking.
Q: What would you say to people who may still be going through that healing process or who may have recently escaped a situation of abuse?
A: I would say take one day at a time. That's all you need is one day at a time, and some people that are in your life that you know as a great support system. I would also tell them to never give up hope on yourself because you're strong regardless if you think it or not.
Q: Can you tell me a little bit about Lily's Ray of Hope and why you decided to start that organization?
A: The reason why I decided to start that organization is because when I got out of the house, I didn't have that type of help. I want young women and young guys that are going through similar situations, regardless of who they are, I want them to know that there is help out there, that there is a place where you can go to talk.
You can get health care, you can get education, you can get home economics, you can learn how to cook. For those that were taken when they were very young and might not know how to cook or know how to do certain things, we have those type of things in place for young women and men that don't have that. We also help them out with housing as well, and clothes, among other things that we do for them.
Q: How has your own experience healing from abuse fueled that work that you do to support other survivors?
A: It’s this tremendous fuel. It takes an extraordinary woman to do the things that I do every day. I wake up, I listen to stories that are, I would say, mind-blowing. Mine was mind-blowing, too, but how I see it is pain is pain. It comes from the same place. It doesn't matter what kind of story you tell or what kind of journey you went through. I always tell young ladies that sit there and say, ‘hey, my story is not as big and as traumatic as yours’ and I say ‘your story is of just as much importance as mine.’”
Q: What inspires you to continue telling your story, as traumatic as it is?
A: The young women that I see and I help every single day. The women and men that come up to me and say, ‘Hey, because of you I told my story, because of you I'm standing strong.’ That's what makes me do the things that I do every morning.“
If you go
What: Riverview Center’s Evening of Light
When: 5 p.m. April 29
Where: Eastbank Venue and Lounge at 97 Third Ave. SE, Cedar Rapids
Price: $100 per ticket. Tickets can be purchased online at riverviewcenter.org anytime up to April 25.
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