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“I’m not a victim”: Founder of South Dallas ministry uses her experiences to guide others

This story, originally published in The Dallas Morning News, is reprinted as part of a collaborative partnership between The Dallas Morning News and Texas Metro News. The partnership seeks to boost coverage of Dallas’ communities of color, particularly in southern Dallas.

Aelicia “Chocolate” Watson’s nonprofit Redeemed Women helps South Dallas women to lead independent lives.
Redeemed Women Founder Aelicia “Chocolate”
Redeemed Women Founder Aelicia “Chocolate” Watson in the South Dallas community she serves on Tuesday, November 16, 2021.(Lawrence Jenkins/Special Contributor) (Lawrence Jenkins / Special Contributor)

By Sriya Reddy

Aelicia Watson, affectionately known as Chocolate, says that there is no story she hears at her nonprofit Redeemed Women that she can’t understand Domestic abuse, generational poverty, teen pregnancy.

She’s been through it all herself.

Today, Watson is the founder and executive director of Redeemed Women, a ministry that focuses on women’s issues. She said that everything she’s been through has led her to this point.

She remembers living in cars as a child, changing the diaper of her little brother at 4 years old, and eating food straight from the can.

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“I grew up in what I like to call extreme absolute poverty,” Watson said. “I grew up on food stamps, in the housing projects, and government cheese. I saw all kinds of violence. I saw all kinds of generational poverty.”

Watson has these memories of absolute poverty more as a child than as an adult. She said that she remembers her mother selling the food in their home to feed the addiction.

“I was angry,” she said as her voice broke. “Yeah, I was so angry. I was angry because I was like, what kind of [expletive] mom would choose drugs over her kids? What kind of God says he loves me and lets me sit through this.”

At 10 years old she was diagnosed with bone cancer and moved back to Texas from Southern California because of the lack of medical care.

It was during that time that a close family member raped her.

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“And so after that happened, I ran away from home,” Watson said.

“Think about the women here, you know, there are so many women that get raped by their dads, uncles, cousins, even brothers,” she said. “A lot of people don’t talk about it. I just have the opportunity to be bold enough to talk about it.”

Eventually Watson came home to her grandparents where she had a support system for the first time in her life.

“I started being surrounded by people who loved me — the doctors at the hospital, my grandparents, who were very instrumental in my life since my parents didn’t raise me,” Watson said. “And you know, that brought a lot of hope into my life.”

Watson’s experiences meant that she has been able to identify with the women who come to her for help in South Dallas, where she’s lived for the last 10 years. At 14, Watson’s water broke in the middle of class. That’s when she learned that she was pregnant. A few years later, Watson graduated high school and married her high school sweetheart. Watson says the marriage ended after a friend from work noticed her black eye and offered her a place to stay.

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“I can identify with this neighborhood because I know what it is to go to school with dirty clothes on,” Watson said. “I know what it is to be sitting next to your mom who’s shooting up drugs next to you.”

She said she sees a little bit of herself in every woman that walks through her door. Her mission through Redeemed Women is to transform women to lead independent lives. As the founder of Redeemed Women, she serves about 30 women a month and about 300 to 400 women a year, a number that increased during the pandemic.

During the decade that Watson lived in South Dallas, she realized that there are no resources solely for women.

“When I asked women here what do you need, they said we need something just for us,” Watson said. “These women, they’re caregivers, they’re single parents, but they need a place to let their hair down. They need a place to breathe for themselves.”

That is what Watson set out to create.

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At Redeemed Women, Watson looks at the spiritual, vocational and physical needs of the women that come in. She offers Bible study, connections to other resources, and teaches classes — all while building relationships.

Through the work that she’s done, Watson is proud of not being a victim anymore, of breaking out of generational poverty, and leading others to do the same.

“I’m not a victim.” she said. “I’m victorious, and I’m fearfully, beautifully, wonderfully made. And even though I struggle with my own shame and insecurity sometimes, I do know that God has called me for such a time as this.”

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