QUEENS — Today Carol Maraj, 56, is mostly known as the mother of Nicki Minaj, one the most successful female rappers in the country.
But for years Maraj's life was far from being glamorous. She lived in fear, fighting to protect herself and her three children from her abusive husband — a drug addict, who she said often beat and threatened to kill her.
Last week Maraj, who immigrated to South Jamaica, Queens, from Trinidad when her daughter Nicki was 5, returned to her old neighborhood to ask the community to take steps to prevent what she called the “epidemic” of domestic violence.
Jamaica is among the areas that have the most domestic violence incidents in the borough. In recent years, the city, desperate to address the problem, has began using a variety of innovative methods to reach out to the victims in the area, including distributing information at nail salons and train stations.
Maraj, who in 2012 founded the Carol Maraj Foundation for the Prevention of Domestic Violence Against Women, tries to tackle the issue on her own by visiting schools and shelters where she speaks about her experiences and tries to motivate women facing domestic violence.
Her organization also does “makeovers” to help women realize their beauty and build their self-esteem, she said.
“I always tell people when I go to the shelters that if I’m standing before you that tells you that there is hope,” she said. “I’m like a living testimony, so never give up, always keep pushing, keep fighting, that’s what I do.”
During her talk at the Jamaica Center for Arts and Learning, which was part of the annual New York Peace Week celebrations, Maraj recalled one incident when she “was dragged from a car and repeatedly punched in my face until I became numb.”
Years later, Maraj said, “when Nicki was to turn 16, she asked me: ‘Why would you let someone do this to you?’”
“I just didn’t have an answer for her,” Maraj said.
She said she later received a lot of support from church groups which made her stronger. The need to protect her children also motivated her.
“Your children are your hope, keep going ... and once you keep going for your children, your children in turn will grow up to be strong,” Maraj said. "Nicki didn’t see me give up, that’s why she is so strong right now.”
She said she believes it's important to protect the children from seeing violence at home, because that could later lead them to violent behavior.
Maraj, who 5 years ago moved to Baldwin, Long Island, also asked locals not to be indifferent when they see the problem in their family or at their neighbors' home. Instead, she said, people should get educated about the issue, its causes, various ways of preventing it and helping the victims.
“You can become a shoulder for her [victim] to lean on,” she said.
The change, she said, will come when people will start value “another human being.”
"It's about the mind," she said.