The Domestic Abuse Intervention Services luncheon attracted a sold-out crowd of nearly 700 people -- around 200 more than last year.
Denise Brown and her sister, Nicole Brown Simpson, were best friends. Yet Denise didn't know about the domestic violence her sister was enduring until after Nicole's 1994 murder.
"That word [domestic violence] was never in our vocabulary," says Brown during a brief interview before she spoke to an audience of domestic violence intervention supporters. "We never knew anything about it until we read her notes and diaries after she was killed."
Brown shared her experiences Tuesday afternoon at the fifth annual Celebrate Independence luncheon hosted by Domestic Abuse Intervention Services. The group operates a domestic violence shelter and offers community education and prevention programs and support groups. Last week marked the 18th anniversary of the death of Nicole Brown Simpson; her estranged husband, former football star O.J. Simpson, was acquitted in 1995 of murdering her and her friend, Ronald Goldman, after a long, sensational trial. Brown said in an interview with Leigh Mills of WMTV that she still never utters his name.
The luncheon attracted a sold-out crowd of nearly 700 people -- around 200 more than last year. Donors, volunteers and supporters of Domestic Abuse Intervention Services gathered to raise awareness, but Brown is adamant that the people she needs to reach are the ones who weren't in attendance.
"There are those people out there that don't believe [domestic violence] is there, so we have to talk about it all the time," Brown said in her keynote speech.
Brown described the "cycle of domestic violence," which begins with verbal abuse, escalates to physical abuse and then moves to a honeymoon phase of "I'm sorry" and "I love you" before it repeats.
Brown was clear in her message: "If they hit you once, they'll hit you again, and if they ever threaten to kill you, eventually one day they will."
Denise said she and her sister grew up in a home where there parents never even raised their voices at each other; so what happened to Nicole is proof that domestic violence can happen to anyone. Denise said she once witnessed O.J. Simpson mistreating Nicole, but thought at the time it was an "isolated incident."
Brown has been traveling around the country to speak about domestic violence since March 1995, less than a year after Nicole's murder. However, she just started sharing her family's personal stories last year.
"I just always thought that personal stuff didn't have anything to do with the bigger picture," Brown says in an interview prior to her speech.
But her personal story resonated with the audience.
"I think you really felt the pain she and her sister went through," Jeanie Sieling said of Brown's speech.
"I think the central point is that silence can be deadly," added Assembly Rep. Kelda Helen Roys (D-Madison), a U.S. House candidate who was one of several elected officials to attend the luncheon. "We all have the responsibility to end that silence."
DAIS gave out three awards at the luncheon, recognizing individuals and groups who made a difference in the fight against domestic violence. Chris Woodard of WMTV was one such recipient, recognized with the "Excellence in Media Award." The reporter and weekend anchor says he was inspired by Brown's "powerful" speech.
"It puts a face to something you know is out there," Woodard says.
Brown's speech ended in a standing ovation after she pledged to continue advocating against "this monster called domestic violence."
"We can educate just one more person," she said. "We can save just one more life. That's what this is about -- saving lives."