The last time MadameNoire.com wrote about gospel singer James Fortune on their site, it was to speak about the instances of him assaulting his now ex-wife Cheryl Fortune. At the time of the incident, Fortune was concerned about the negative attention his abuse would bring to his family. These days, he sees it all differently. He’s accountable, in therapy and advising men and women across the country about the harmful effects domestic violence has on families around the world.
In their interview, Fortune spoke about his healing, how church culture has warped submission, and what he would say to women considering going back to a man who has been abusive in the past.
MN: MadameNoire is a Black women’s lifestyle site, so we’ve written about your domestic violence cases in the news. I believe there was a child abuse case and there was an incident with your wife. So, I just wanted to know where do you think that type of behavior, the violence or reacting with violence came from? Was it something you witnessed growing up?
James Fortune: Just as far as the child abuse, it was child neglect in that situation. I took responsibility for not watching my child the way I should have, which is how the accident happened. I went through the probation and took some parenting classes and was reunited with my step son.
Now, with the domestic violence, I learned through therapy, not only individual therapy but group therapy with other men who encountered domestic violence in their relationships, it’s more of a power and control thing for me. It’s one partner trying to control the other. And physical violence—of the 16 types of abuse I studied, physical abuse is actually the last one. Because when the emotional abuse, the verbal abuse, psychological abuse doesn’t work any longer, when that begins to wear off over time, now I have to control you by putting my hands on you. For me, I learned that domestic violence is not a mistake, it’s a decision. A lot of women need to understand that. A lot of times they feel like he just made a mistake, he really loves me but he wasn’t thinking right. Or maybe it’s something I did that caused him to do this. But when you have that power and control dynamic in your relationship, it’s not about what any person does, it’s more about the person trying to control you in some form or another. So I had to do the hard work. I had to not make excuses. I had to not look at my partner but totally look at James and ask where did this start, how did this become a part of my life? It wasn’t anything I experienced as a child. It wasn’t anything I saw growing up as a child. But I became someone who did this. And I took responsibility and it was the hardest thing for me. My therapist said, ‘James, have you forgiven yourself?’ And I said, ‘I’m not really concerned about forgiving myself. I’m more concerned about my wife at the time, getting forgiveness from her.’ She [my therapist] was explaining to me, you can’t control other people forgiving you. You’ve got to forgive yourself. Because when you hate yourself, when you’re mad at yourself, when you have resentment towards yourself, that’s what makes the cycle continue. Hurt people hurt other people in different forms. So you have to forgive yourself to be able to move past it. And I think that was the hardest thing for me. It did effect not only my ex-wife but my children, my family and everybody who really loved James Fortune as a person or as an artist.
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MN: I did want to ask you—and I don’t know how much you want to go into this because it is very personal —but what effect did the violence have on your family?
James Fortune: The violence, my kids weren’t witness to that. But they were witness to some of the verbal abuse, some of the manipulation. If you ask 200 women in a study, the psychological, verbal and mental abuse was worse than the physical abuse they suffered. Getting over it and the trauma that comes with that—because if you can change a person’s perspective of who they are, you can actually change who they are. That’s detrimental and traumatizing for many people but for my kids, the divorce, the media, the news, they’re 13, 14, and 16 so they were in school. Their classmates were coming up to them in school so it was a lot they had to go through, not just with their dad in the home and their mom dealing with that she was dealing with, but what they were dealing with as well. It was something that everybody knew about.
MN: You spoke about your therapist telling you to forgive yourself so after you have a violent incident how would you feel afterward?
James: It’s a cycle of abuse. So after abuse happens, then there’s regret, there’s remorse, there’s apology and then the women usually forgives. Then there’s a honeymoon period. And now, I speak to men and women now about domestic violence. If you won’t get the real help, it may be a year or two where nothing really happens but it’s going to come back around. Because if a person is not able to see themselves, and that this is a problem and this is how I need to get help, to get out of this power and control cycle. I was going through that cycle. Physical violence wasn’t a part of our relationship. [But most of the men I spoke about in the group] said ‘I never thought I would put my hands on a woman.’ One guy that was 71-years-old said, ‘I never thought I would pull my wife out of the room by her hair. But because I was abusive in other ways, it was only a matter of time before the physical violence happened.’
Read more from the interview at MadameNoire.com.
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