Who is Brooke Axtell and what's she doing at the Grammys?

Survivor of domestic violence and sexual abuse Brooke Axtell performed a moving speech prior to Katy Perry's performance at the Grammys.

Mike Blake/Reuters
Domestic abuse activist Brooke Axtell poses in the press room at the 57th annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles, California.

Sunday night, the Grammys become a platform for social change as Katy Perry, Brooke Axtell, and President Barack Obama raised awareness for the issue of domestic violence and sexual abuse in America.

During a commercial break, Mr. Obama appeared in a PSA which called on artists to bring attention to the widespread problem of domestic violence in American society by supporting the It’s On Us campaign.  

“Artists have a unique power to change minds and attitudes, and get us thinking and talking about what matters,” Obama said. “All of us, in our own lives, have the power to set an example.”

First the Super Bowl. Now, the Grammys. Given that two of the most widely watched TV events of the year are also a platform for addressing domestic violence, may be an indication that American society getting more serious about this issue. Certainly, they're becoming more aware of it. During the Super Bowl, for the first time ever, an advertisement condemning domestic violence was aired. Given the high-profile problem facing the NFL, perhaps that's not too surprising. But the Grammys audience is a younger, more diverse one. 

The President’s message Sunday night set the stage for Brooke Axtell, a survivor of domestic abuse and sexual assault, and Director of Communications for Allies Against Slavery.  Axtell delivered a moving spoken word performance that detailed her personal experiences with abuse and urged those who may be in abusive relationships to seek help.

“Authentic love does not devalue a human being,” Axtell said. “If you’re in a relationship with someone who does not honor and respect you, I want you to know you are worthy of love. Please reach out for help; your voice will save you.”

Prior to her performance, Axtell tweeted about her upcoming appearance and shared the numbers of domestic violence hotlines and organizations. In her speech she talked about how her mother urged her to seek help at a local domestic violence shelter, a decision that ultimately saved her life.

Axtell’s speech was followed by a moving performance by Katy Perry of her song “By The Grace of God.”

Perry donned a white robe and, leaving the sharks behind, was joined by a projection of dancing shadows as she sang the slow ballad about her struggles with suicidal thoughts. It was a somber moment, but perhaps a necessary one. 

In 2009, singer Chris Brown was arrested for abusing his girlfriend and fellow R&B artist Rihanna just hours before the Grammy awards at which both were scheduled to perform. 

The reaction from the Grammy Awards drew criticism at the time. "Musicians are no different than anybody else. I'm not judging. I'm sorriest that they weren't there for their moments on stage," Recording Academy President Neil Portnow told E! "I'm hoping that [the awards are] the story and should not be eclipsed by this part of business," Portnow said. "I think the story is...the music that went on stage."

The Grammy Awards ceremony was again chided three years later when they included a performance by Brown.

If you or someone you know has been a victim of domestic violence, call the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-SAFE (7233).

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