Big Fish: Sharon love on relationship violence, her foundation to end it, and daughter yeardley

Originally published in, November 17, 2014

On May 3, 2010, Cockeysville resident Sharon Love was eagerly anticipating the graduation of her 22-year-old daughter, Yeardley, from the University of Virginia. But early that morning, she received a knock on her door. On the other side of the door were police officers, who informed her that her daughter had been found dead. Yeardley’s on-again, off-again boyfriend, George Huguely V, would soon be arrested, charged with beating her to death, and sentenced to 23 years in prison. The murder of her daughter could have handed Sharon Love a life-sentence of personal grief. But she had bigger, better plans.

Mere weeks after receiving this devastating news, Sharon Love and her eldest daughter Lexie founded in Yeardley’s memory the One Love Foundation. “One” represented the number that Yeardley proudly wore on her jersey as a member of UVA’s Varsity lacrosse team. What began primarily as an effort to raise money for a turf field at Notre Dame Preparatory, Yeardley’s alma mater, has evolved into something much bigger.

The One Love Foundation, which recently hired philanthropic innovator and women’s educator Katie Higgins Hood as its new CEO, is in the midst of a broad-reaching initiative to create awareness and education around relationship violence among young people ages 16 to 24. To that end, the organization has created—in conjunction with the Johns Hopkins University School of Nursing—a downloadable app, dubbed “Be 1 for Change,” which assesses users’ relationship risks and provides a corresponding action plan. The foundation also has developed a public service announcement and a feature film-based workshop currently being pilot-tested at a small number of universities around the country.

Recently, Sharon Love took a break from her work on behalf of the One Love Foundation to talk to us. She discussed why she founded her organization and how its mission has evolved, as well as what she’s learned since becoming an advocate for identifying and ceasing relationship violence. She also shared a bit about the inspiration behind the One Love Foundation: her daughter, Yeardley Love.

You launched the One Love Foundation just weeks after the tragic loss of your daughter Yeardley. How did you find the strength to create something positive that would also serve as a constant reminder of how you lost her?

I guess we had the choice of either going to bed and pulling the covers over our heads, or getting out there and trying to make a difference. In the long run, the hardest thing is always the best thing to do. It gave my daughter Lexie and me a purpose each day.

When you founded the One Love Foundation, what was your original goal, and has that aim changed or broadened at all?

In June of 2010, we started it initially by building a turf field at NDP. We had so much support, it spurred us on to take it beyond just the field. Since Yeardley loved lacrosse and the elderly, and I taught in Baltimore City, we wanted to do inner city lacrosse games, hopefully to be ambassadors of the One Love Foundation—to pay it forward, where lacrosse players would go into assisted living homes and teach the older people to use computers. But as time went on, relationship violence kept coming to our front door.

We couldn’t really speak about it without compromising the trial [in which Huguely was eventually convicted of killing Yeardley Love]. After two years, it gave us enough time to really think about relationship violence and decide that, yes, this is what we need to do. That was the birth of the campaign B1 for Change, the offshoot of the One Love Foundation that aims to combat relationship violence in the United States. Right now, that’s what the foundation is dedicated to, ending relationship violence.

The One Love Foundation recently announced a new campaign that focuses on a public service announcement about the signs of relationship violence. Talk a little about the campaign: its overriding message, target audience, and approach.

We have two campaigns, each targeting 16- to 24-year-olds. Shatter the Silence is our public service announcement. It depicts an argument in a dorm room between a college-age couple. Ultimately, it encourages young people to step up to the plate and do something about relationship violence. The other initiative, Escalation, is a 40-minute movie. It takes place at Towson University. It shows a euphoric beginning of a relationship and its gradual disintegration. All the signs of relationship violence are embedded in it. It ends tragically. The victim’s friends are brought into the police station. They flash back. They all realize that they’d all seen something [incriminating]. The realization is that when you see something, you don’t know what you’re seeing. We’re trying to make students understand that relationship violence is not just something that happens on college campuses. It can be lethal.

There is a direct link between the culture of binge drinking on college campuses and relationship violence. Does the One Love campaign, or other aspects of the foundation, address the connection?

We touch on that, but drinking doesn’t cause somebody to be violent. It might loosen their inhibitions, but that’s not the cause of their violence. It’s really not a reason for relationship violence. If it were, there would be so much more [relationship violence].

Statistics tell us that one in three women in the United States will be in a violent relationship. I think many people would find this number surprisingly high. I also think there’s probably a public misperception about who gets involved in a violent relationship. What are your thoughts on that?

I think I probably had the wrong perception at one time. My concept of relationship violence was that it usually happened to a mother with children who was dependent on the father for survival, and was stuck in that situation with no way out. The fact is that among 16 to 24 year olds, relationship violence is three times more prevalent than in any other age group. Never in a million years would I have thought that. And it’s rampant. When we go to college campuses, students always come up to us and share personal stories about it.

If you could share one message regarding relationship violence with every person between the ages of 16 and 24—both male and female—what would it be?

I would tell them to take our danger assessment at Answer the questions, be familiar with the symptoms and the signs of relationship violence, and stand up for your friends. It’s better to be safe than sorry.

What is your advice to those who may be involved in an abusive relationship?

I would say to get professional help immediately. It could escalate in a day and be tragic, or go on for a year or two. There isn’t a timeline where you can say you’re safe up to a certain point. You’re not.

Through the One Love Foundation, you are spreading the critically important message of awareness surrounding relationship violence. At the end of the day, when you’re alone with your thoughts, does knowing this bring you any peace?

It brings me comfort to know that Yeardley did not die in vain, and that a lot of good will come out of her tragedy.

Countless people have embraced the One Love Foundation and what it stands for—even people who didn’t know Yeardley. For those who never met your daughter, can you describe her?

Oh gosh, do you have all day?

(Sigh. Pause.) She was the perfect daughter. She lit up a room when she walked into it. She had an ease about her that made everybody feel comfortable. I always admired that about her, because I don’t have that. People were drawn to Yeardley. She was so kind and so interested in other people. And she was funny, and a lot of times the joke was on her. She had determination. She lived through her father’s death and she vowed to make him proud, and she did. She was strong, and determined, and willing to work hard to achieve her goals.