Tamron Hall arrived at Tuesday’s Speaking of Women event at The Waterview in Monroe as the keynote speaker but, when the broadcast journalist took to the podium, she passed the title to another woman.

Before Hall shared her deeply personal connection to domestic violence at The Center for Family Justice fundraiser she hailed abuse survivor Lori Bennett. Bennett had earlier shared her story with the crowd of more than 400.  

“She is the true keynote speaker,” Hall said, embracing Bennett. “To walk up here and tell the most deep, painful experience of your life — we say courage but that doesn’t do it justice.”

Bennett, who became a supporter of The Center For Family Justice after attending a domestic violence vigil in Monroe last October, survived an abusive marriage 30 years ago. She was active duty in the U.S. Air Force at the time. Bennett shared how the lack of resources and the “stigma of a battered woman” made recovery an even harder road.

That stigma is something Hall could understand, as she discussed what she called her own deep “family secret.”

Hall’s sister Renate was murdered in 2004 and the crime remains officially unsolved. At the time, Hall says, her sister was in a relationship with a man they knew to be abusive. He was a person of interest in the crime, but never charged.

Hall’s feelings around her sister’s tragic death were wrapped up in what she describes as “overwhelming guilt and shame.”

“Three years before her death, I had kicked her out of my home for getting back together with that man,” Hall said.

Hall, a former anchor on NBC Today and host of Deadline: Crime with Tamron Hall, was working as an anchor in Chicago when her sister and the man she was dating came to visit.

One night, Hall heard a commotion, saw an injury on her sister’s head and kicked the man out.

“I called our dad and he said to call the police,” Hall said. I told him ‘I can’t call, I’m on TV. I don’t want them to know.’”

The next morning, she saw her sister had let him back in the house and they were in bed together.

“I kicked them both out,” Hall said. “My sister and I didn’t speak for a couple of months.”

While the two later reconciled, it was a reconciliation that never addressed the abuse.

“We never talked about it,” Hall said. “We pretended it never happened and my family pretended with him on Thanksgiving and Christmas.”

Following her sister’s death, Hall and her family never spoke about it. She finally decided to share her story after hearing young girls share stories of abuse at an event for an organization called Day One, aiming to prevent teen dating violence and domestic abuse. Since then, Hall has become an advocate for domestic violence awareness and prevention.

“When I look at organizations like yours — the work that Deb is doing,” Hall said of CFJ’s CEO and President Debra Greenwood, “this is critical.”

In addition to helping families leave abusive situations safely, Hall noted the educational component and the support for survivors that the Center for Family Justice offers.

“It’s teaching families like mine what to do,” Hall said. “And giving a path forward for these women and families.”

Hall said her goal in sharing the story is to motivate others to action and help erase the stigma.

“The only way I can be free and to help is to unchain this secret my family held,” Hall said.

Tuesday’s Speaking of Women fundraiser also highlighted programs and services provided by The Center for Family Justice in the past year.

Anthony Iannini of the CFJ Board of Directors noted the upcoming one-year anniversary of the #MeToo movement. More than ever,he said, men and women are coming forward to report abuse. He noted some staggering statistics around domestic and sexual abuse, including that between 2001 and 2012 6,488 American troops were killed in Afghanistan and Iraq and the number of American women who were murdered by current or former male partners during that time was 11,766.

“We can solve this together,” he said. “All change starts at the local level.”

The Speaking of Women event comes less than a week before CFJ’s Domestic Violence Awareness Month vigils, starting Oct. 2, and running throughout the month in communities served by CFJ. Since January 2017, Connecticut has had a total of 30 domestic violence-related homicides. The vigils will honor those who have been impacted by intimate partner violence; raise awareness and inspire hope that the cycles of violence can be broken. It also serves to remind local residents that domestic violence homicide is a problem in every demographic and community CFJ serves, according to organizers.

The nonprofit serves Bridgeport, Fairfield, Stratford, Trumbull, Easton and Monroe.

On Tuesday, CFJ President and CEO Debra Greenwood encouraged those who need help to reach out.

“When you come to an agency like ours, we believe you,” Greenwood said.

For more information on services and programs, visit CenterForFamilyJustice.org.

If you need help, call the Center for Family Justice 24-hour domestic violence hotline at 203-384-9559 or the sexual assault hotline at 203-333-2233.