Singer David St. Romain has found a new way to use his voice.
You’ll still catch the well-known entertainer on local stages from time to time, but these days, St. Romain is more likely to be found in a classroom or some other spot before a roomful of children talking about staying safe.
It’s a presentation he’s been preparing for the past year as an integral part of the Baton Rouge Children Advocacy Center’s One Voice initiative. The center’s mission is to help children who have been the victims of abuse or violent crime and their families find a solid path to healing and justice.
For St. Romain, it’s the culmination of a journey 30 years in the making.
At age 10, St. Romain was sexually abused by a neighbor.
“He’s in jail in Florida now,” he says. “It’s taken me a long time to discuss my own experience.”
Last year, the 40-year-old St. Romain says he began opening up to the idea of talking about what had happened to him.
“It was like a calling,” he says. “I kept getting this feeling that I needed to step up and discuss my abuse to help others, not necessarily to help me … it’s not about me.”
He went public with his story at the Advocacy Center’s annual Celebrity Waiter event this past July.
“Toni (Bankston, BRCAC’s executive director) and I began talking about me speaking at Celebrity Waiters,” says St. Romain, who has participated in the annual fundraiser for several years. “We both felt this was the perfect place to share my experience and triumph. After Celebrity Waiters, people started reaching out as to how they could help, how to help me get involved.”
Many were surprised by the revelation.
They knew St. Romain mainly from his singing. He was 24 when he’d made it to the finals on USA Network’s “Nashville Star,” and, after a 40-city national tour with his fellow competitors, he’d cut his first album on his own label.
“It was all happening for me,” recalls St. Romain.
But, he says, his close friend, the late Paul Neal, kept telling him music wasn’t his final destination.
“He said, ‘I know this feels like the biggest thing you’ll ever do,’ ” says St. Romain, wiping away tears. “He was telling me what God was telling him.”
After Neal suffered a stroke, St. Romain says he told his friend he’d found his path.
“I don’t know where it will end,” he says, “where it will lead me.”
These days, it’s leading him into local classrooms and other locations to talk to youngsters about the importance of knowing who safe adults are, the difference between good and bad touching and what to do if they are abused or neglected.
And, while it gets a little easier every time he shares his story, he doesn’t want to get too comfortable with the telling.
“I don’t want to remove the genuine part of it,” says St. Romain. “That’s what reaches people. I want to give young people the opportunity to express if they’ve been hurt, to help them heal now as opposed to later. If I can make one person more comfortable so they share their story and begin to heal, I’ve done my job.”
St. Romain still plays music occasionally, but he closed his construction company to focus on his new mission working with BRCAC.
“A lot has been revealed to me this past year,” says St. Romain. “It’s a way for me to help build the future of CAC in Baton Rouge, and they have a bright future. They do incredible work. … They help control the chaos through protocols.”
He knows all about the chaos that results from childhood abuse. It made it hard for him to find healthy relationships.
“I didn’t even know what a healthy relationship was. I now have an amazing wife and partner (Anna) who has really stepped up and shown me how much she’s committed to me — to give me the space to heal.”
The two have three children — daughters ages 12 and 10, and a 3-year-old son “who’s nothing but energy.”
“As parents, I think you’re very protective of your children,” says St. Romain, adding, “I definitely am as a survivor.”
To report possible child abuse or neglect, call (855) 452-5437). Lines are always open.
Signs of Child Abuse or Neglect
In 2015, there were 12,631 victims of abuse or neglect in Louisiana, an increase 4.8 percent from 2014. Of these children, 85.4 percent were neglected, 15.5 percent were physically abused and 5.4 percent were sexually abused. In 2015, there were 39 child deaths resulting from abuse or neglect reported in Louisiana. — Child Welfare of America 2015 report
- Sudden changes in behavior or school performance
- Does not receive help for physical or medical problems brought to the parents’ attention
- Learning problems (or difficulty concentrating) that cannot be attributed to specific physical or psychological causes
- Always watchful, as if preparing for something bad to happen
- Lacks adult supervision
- Overly compliant, passive or withdrawn
- Comes to school or other activities early, stays late and does not want to go home
- Reluctant to be around a particular person
- Discloses maltreatment
— Louisiana Department of Family & Child Services