By Wiley Henry
MEMPHIS, TN — It would be difficult to mistake the unmistakable voice of Michel’le Toussant in casual conversation. That’s because her seriously high-pitched, squeaky voice rings with familiarity.
Now if you’ve only heard Michel’le (pronounced MEESH-uh-lay) sing soul-stirring rhythm and blues songs, you wouldn’t believe she is the owner of that spirited, child-like voice.
The duality of Michel’le’s voice is her claim to fame. However, those who know the two sides of the Grammy-nominated vocalist and actress would also find it difficult to believe that she is a domestic violence survivor.
Michel’le will share her story when she keynotes the YWCA of Greater Memphis’ 20th benefit luncheon at the Holiday Inn – University of Memphis, 3700 Central Ave., on March 8 at 12 noon.
Proceeds will be used to provide services and shelter for women and children grappling with domestic violence. More than $100,000 has been raised so far since the benefit luncheon’s onset 20 years ago.
“We have a speaker each year and Michele’le has agreed to be our speaker this year,” said Pamela Williams Kelly, board member of the YWCA and benefit luncheon publicity chair.
“We wanted someone who could speak to the issues, challenges and opportunities of the women that we service each and every day,” said Jacquelyn Williams, YWCA’s executive director. “She can speak to a lot of things that our clients are going through every day.”
“As a doctor, I know that domestic abuse is more than a physical scar. It also affects the person emotionally,” said Dr. Sylvia Ritchie, board chair of YWCA of Greater Memphis.
Michel’le’s “scars” were more than she could handle, which literally forced her from the music scene after scoring such chart-toppers as “Turn off the Lights,” “Nticety” and “Something in My Heart.”
The songstress went missing from the limelight for a while and returned as a reality TV star on R&B Divas: LA from 2013 to 2015. The world would learn why Michel’le went missing in the October 2016 Lifetime made for TV movie “Surviving Compton: Dre, Suge and Michel’le.”
She tells the story of how she struggled with substance abuse, financial uncertainty, and physical abuse by the fathers of her children, N.W.A founder, Dr. Dre and Suge Knight, founder of DeathRow Records.
Michel’le once attempted suicide years after the physical abuse ended. She is not alone. There are countless women and men teetering on the edge of suicide in a desperate attempt to end the constant pain and abuse.
“By her coming and speaking to the audience, which should include some clients of ours as well, hopefully she can leave a message that they can take back and have their lives changed as a result,” said Williams.
Domestic violence is a scourge that affects tens of millions in the United States. Women suffer the most at the hands of their intimate partner (1.3 million each year). Men are victimized too.
A lot of victims are afraid to come forward, Kelly added.
One in three women and one in four men have been victims of some form of physical violence within their lifetime, the National Coalition Against Domestic Violence has reported.
“At the YWCA, we are aware that our clients need services that extend beyond medical care,” said Ritchie. “The community’s support of this luncheon helps us to meet those needs.”
Service programs at the YWCA include a Domestic Violence Crisis Line, Emergency Shelter, YWCA Memphis Family Shelter, Victim Advocacy, Immigrant Women’s Services, Job Training, Community Education, Racial Justice, and Childcare.
It has been a 97-year effort and commitment from the YWCA to eliminate racism, empower women and promote peace, justice, freedom and liberty for all. Ending domestic violence is the cornerstone of that commitment.
Luncheon tickets are $100 and can be purchased online at https://ywcamemphisluncheon2017.eventbrite.com. For more information, call (901) 210-6551 or (901) 320-6002.