A Sexual Assault Victim Turns the Nightmare Into a Purpose
By Herb Allen
People I have met.
Those are the words Ron Blake speaks when he is asked why he goes around metropolitan Phoenix with white poster boards sharing his story on how he was diagnosed with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. He’s also quick to let you know his ultimate goal is to share his experience with Stephen Colbert on The Late Night with Colbert show.
Before getting to why that’s Blake’s goal, you have to understand how it became his ambition. Blake was sleeping in the bedroom of his seventh-floor loft apartment in downtown Phoenix when three men burst into the room and started to sexually assault him. The experience devastated Blake. “I shut down for a long time, that’s how the PTSD started,” he says. “It just took over.”
For months Blake was lost. He says he shut out friends, completely disengaged from family and friends and even attempted suicide. The assault left him traumatized and unable to trust. He had nightmares and refused to open up and talk to people. No matter how many therapists or therapies he tried, Blake continued in a downward spiral. “What made it really hard for me was one of the men who sexually assaulted me was my domestic partner for eight years,” Blake says. “It was really difficult for me to process. He let the two other guys into the apartment. They were all drunk, and it was something that bothered me and took my trust away.”
The horrific act was not a secret around Phoenix. The assault was the talk of the city for a while, and many times Blake would be in conversations with people talking about the crime. “I would act as if he heard about it, too,” he says. “I never let them know they were talking about me.”
Dr. John Rigby-Patterson knew Blake well. The practicing physician treated Blake as a patient, and the two lived in the same building. At the time Blake had his own cleaning business, and Rigby-Patterson was a client. “When I first met Ron he was a very energetic, enthusiastic and determined person,” Rigby-Patterson says. “I got to know him very well. But when he went through that assault, he was just not the same. He was withdrawn and really not the open-minded jovial person I first met.”
People who knew Blake sensed something was off. But they didn’t know the depths to which Blake had fallen. He says a year after his ordeal he tried to take his own life. “I had a bad night, a nightmare and things got bad,” Blake says. “A week or two after that night I went on social media and told everybody I was sexually assaulted.”
Immediately, Blake says family and friends rushed in offering support. He started therapy and tried all the traditional routes to cope with being the victim of sexual assault. “He tried a lot of different things but the medical community was no help,” Rigby-Patterson says. Blake says after being diagnosed with PTSD, counseling, medicine and other treatments did not work for him. “What ended up working was something I found on my own,” he recalls.
Enter Colbert. Blake was up late one night watching the late-night comedian and all of a sudden he just started laughing. He doesn’t recall the skit or monologue, but he remembers the joyous feeling he had.
“The laughter from that show, that moment of laughter, I thought like an 8-year-old kid, it made me happy,” Blake says. “The first thing that came to my mind was I’m going to get on this show as a guest.” The moment ignited a thought in Blake’s mind. “I found PTSD is chaos, you have all these things going on,” he says. “That night all I did was focus on one positive thing, laughter from watching Late Night With Stephen Colbert.”
That sparked his goal to get on the show and became the focus of Blake’s life. He says ever since watching Colbert he gradually started to feel better. He eventually separated from his partner, giving him the apartment and the business. Found a new place to live along with peace, and life, again. From that moment on he focused on good things. His first decision was to drive to the local Staples and get a white poster board. “I was going to create a big petition,” Blake says. That was November 15, 2015. That white poster board has grown to become over 2,800 square feet and 328 yards. Since he started Blake estimates over 31,000 people have written their stories on over 480 boards. People have shared in 93 different languages in 27 different colors. “It’s really amazing when you think about it,” Rigby-Patterson says. “Ron goes out every day with a poster board and has people sign it. They hear his story and many times they open up to him and start telling him about their personal battles.”
Blake has become somewhat of a folk hero in the Phoenix area. He has a YouTube video, Blake Late Show. He was invited to do a TEDx talk. Although he has yet to receive an invitation from Colbert’s people, Blake gets a lot of requests from the local media. Several newspapers have chronicled his life story. Former Arizona Governor Jan Brewer even shared his story to inspire others during a statehouse address. “That was kind of hard, to have someone else tell what happened to me in such a wide forum,” Blake says. “It was surreal, but at the same time, I started a conversation and opened a necessary dialogue. My group therapy is sharing my story with people in the public. If I meet 10 people or get a hundred to share their stories with me, at the end of the day, I’m helping myself, and others. That makes me happy.”
If Blake’s learned anything from publicly sharing his night of torment, its people don’t realize how many civilians suffer from PTSD. “I would say 90 to 95 percent of the people I meet think I’m in the military. I always get asked, ‘What branch did you serve in?’ I think that’s another reason going on Colbert would be helpful because it would open up a dialogue and show people PTSD affects everyone. It will also show you can have positive outcomes.”