When Mt. Juliet resident Keith Edmonds was 14 months old, an abuser held his face to an electric heater, resulting in third-degree burns and scarring to his face.
He had numerous surgeries on his face. He endured the abuse and the taunting of schoolmates, and as a result turned to substances and alcohol to cope.
That changed six years ago when he decided enough was enough.
“In 2010, I had a conversation with a God I didn’t know existed or not,” he said. “I didn’t know if he loved me or not. I was a functioning alcoholic. I decided I was going to put it into the hands of a God I didn’t know was there. Since then, I haven’t touched alcohol. It was on my 35th birthday that I quit drinking.”
Two out of three people who abuse substances were abused as a child, he said.
“When I read those statistics, it rang true,” Edmonds said. “In 2012, when I decided I was going to come out with my story, I looked at the statistics and fit into those categories.“
He said his abuse made him angry that abuse across the nation is getting worse.
“In the 1980s there were 1 million cases of child abuse,” he said. “In the 1990s, it was up to 2 million, and in the 2000s, it was 3 million. Now, we’re pushing 4 million. Coming out with my story, I was able to tell the courage and strength that it takes to go from victim to survivor.”
He’s spoken at different organization’s conferences and recently formed his own nonprofit, the Keith Edmonds Foundation. The purpose of the organization is to empower victims in Wilson County.
“Tennessee ranked 365th in the country in child well being,” he said. “There were 66,000 cases of child abuse reported in 2015. Some of those cases were incorrectly reported. If we look at those numbers and divide them by the number of counties in Tennessee, that means there were 700 cases in Wilson County in 2015. That’s almost two cases a day. If you look across the nation, there are cases reported every 10 seconds.”
He said there’s “definitely a need for someone to speak out and bring awareness to the issue. One of the first things we did with the foundation is put our feet to the ground and start awareness. April is Child Abuse Prevention and Awareness Month and with that, we wanted to raise as much awareness as we could.”
He started making videos with area businesses, just talking about abuse to make people aware. Now he’s up to more than 100 businesses involved.
“If you’re involved in the child abuse community, have been a victim or someone in your family has been affected by it, you believe that child abuse awareness and prevention is not just a 30-day month,” he said. “It’s a 365-day-per-year situation. We hope to collect as many videos as we can and hopefully make awareness every day. Child abuse is taboo, and no one wants to talk about it, but I’m here to make everyone talk about it.”
He plans various fundraisers to raise money for his foundation. He also collects private donations to help fund his efforts.
“We could always collect more donations and support and prayers,” Edmonds said. “The whole of idea of the foundation is to empower victims through forgiveness. We have to transition their timeframe from victim to survivor. It took me 35 years to change. If we can shorten the transitional period, that is great.”
Next year, he plans to take victims to a Nashville Predators game, “buy them a Coke and a hot dog and just spend time with them. We want them to know they’re not alone. There’s no abuse for victims of child abuse. When you turn to drugs and alcohol, you’re in a community. So why not have a community for the victims of child abuse, when they’re in their informative years. I would be a better person if I was around like-minded people who were focused on my well being, instead of me try to deal with it on my own with drugs and alcohol.”
For more information or to donate, visit keithedmondsfoundation.org.