By Ashley Young

The beating death of Sheryl Outerbridge by the hands of her poly lovers weighed heavy on my heart this season.  According to The New York Times, Sheryl, a 38-year-old mother of three, was murdered by her two poly, married lovers, Malik and Devonne Wilkerson. When police asked Ms. Wilkerson about the couple’s motive, she explained that Sheryl had broken a boundary in the relationship: she got a tattoo of Ms. Wilkerson’s pet name for her husband, “Bish Baby.”

Sheryl Outerbridge, left, with Malik and Devonnee Wilkerson

Sheryl Outerbridge, left, with Malik and Devonnee Wilkerson

As an open, poly practitioner, I was shocked to hear about the death of another black woman exploring multiple relationships but was even more shocked at the commentary from readers that it was the act of polyamory that caused Sheryl’s death.

People in poly relationships break established boundaries all the time.  Boundaries can be broken in any type of relationship, but the breaking of those boundaries are not to be settled with fists. They are explored through communication.  Unfortunately, if the person was not raised around relationships where communication was used to work through partnership issues, they have no example of how to communicate in their own.

Sheryl met the Wilkersons while she was in another abusive relationship.  Her cycles of abuse stemmed from witnessing violence as a child—her mother was a victim of spousal abuse with a drug and alcohol problem.  When Mr. Wilkerson confronted Sheryl’s abusive ex, she may have thought he and his wife where rescuing her from more heartache, unaware that she was only entering back into yet another cycle of abuse.

Sheryl Outerbridge

Sheryl Outerbridge

Sheryl experienced violence by the hands of Mr. Wilkerson before she lost her life.  Friends and neighbors said after the couple moved into her Manhattan apartment, the fights, the bruises and the broken bones came.  When the couple moved Sheryl to their home in Queens, the abuse only continued in the form of black eyes, busted lips and cigarette burns.  The night that Sheryl tried to flee the couple’s home, the Wilkersons found her and brought her back to their residence where they killed her.

This murder has less to do with polyamory and more so to do with jealousy and rage.  Ms. Wilkerson responded to the breaking of a poly boundary with anger and violence, an action she most likely experienced at the hands of her own husband.  And even if she did not directly experience the type of violence Mr. Wilkerson had previously inflicted on Sheryl Outerbridge, she lived with a man who encouraged violence.

I decided to become polyamorous to break violent relationship cycles.  Like Sheryl, I witnessed abuse as a child. My mother fled from my father’s abuse when I was only a toddler. I stood between the two of them fighting over child support, visitation and whatever else they could manage to dispute over.  By example, I entered my first abusive relationship at 15 and I consider myself lucky for getting out when I did, lucky that the guy I dated only yelled in my face instead of putting his hands on me.

I fight my own pathology every day.  Not only do I fight entering into violent relationships, I fight against inflicting violence on others in response to my own pain and I fight against inflicting pain on myself.

I imagine Sheryl was fighting her pathology as well, but it’s hard to run away from abusive relationships when you are in them, regardless of whether they take the form of monogamy or polyamory.  I thought of Sheryl throughout the holiday as I mustered up the courage to write this and what continues to feed my aching about this case is the fact that her three children celebrated Christmas without her and will do so for the rest of their lives.  I only hope her children can break the pathology and the cycles of abuse their mother fought and died for.

Ashley Young is a Black queer feminist writer and poet working as an editor in New York City. She received her B.A. from Hampshire College where she studied education and theater and is earning a certification in copyediting at New York University. She is a 2010 Voices of Our Nations Art Foundation Poetry Fellow and a 2011 Lambda Literary Foundation Creative Non-Fiction Fellow. Her feminist poetry and prose have been published in Rkvry Quarterly Literary Journal, Autostraddle, Her Circle Magazine and more. She authored a chapter in “Hot and Heavy: Fierce Fat Girls on Life, Love and Fashion” (Seal Press, 2012) and will appear in Wisconsin Press’ anthology “All About Skins: Short Fiction by Award Winning Women of Color” and Andrea Boston’s anthology “Oddflower.” She is working on her first novel, an Audre Lorde-inspired biomythography titled The Liberation of the Black Unicorn

7 Responses

  1. Jasmine

    Yeah I have no clue wth being with more than one person has to do with not being in an abusive relationship.

  2. Karla Duran-Lawson

    Hello my name is Karla, I was a a close friend of Sheryl. She was my first roommate and the Wilkersons were supposed to be my oldest son’s godparents. Crazy isn’t it. They were all friends of my family that’s how we all met. All I really wanted to confirm was that she wasn’t shot in the head. She was in fact beaten to death and left for dead on the floor….This has hurt me and my family both ways, for Sheryl and the Wilkersons. I appreciate you going out of your way for my dear friend Sheryl M. Outer bridge. Gone but never forgotten.


      Karla: Our deepest condolences. Thank you for pointing out correction. We have updated the story. Gone but never forgotten indeed. Rest in power, Sheryl.

  3. jriley

    “I decided to become polyamorous to break violent relationship cycles:” How does polyamory break the cycle? The paragraph, and the entire article, seem to work against this idea because it is not elaborated upon despite your article’s intent to correct –though it more generally addresses– the belief that polyamory caused a deadly act of violence. I’ve heard and read such declarations often, but the logic has never been explained, or perhaps it’s my limited raced and gendered hetero and subsequent-present homonormative socializing that prevents me from understanfing how polyamory discourages domestic violence. I’m willing to accept my limitations, but I don’t think that really what prevents me from comprehending this position; and I do sincerely want to understand. As a queer black woman, I understand the importance of being open to alternative lifestyles and their utilities and informing our ontological beings as we walk through the world,but this seems illogical. How are you deciphering whether it’s jealousy, anger, or otherwise from being influential factors in this case, or polyamorous relationships in general? Not to say that monogamous the better idea. I am simply trying to understand this line of logic that is so unclear I can’t even be called it ambiguous. How is polyamory break the cycle of violence it seems like it would encourage it more than anything, or it doesn’t seem like its anymore so I set the present and monogamous feels more like this position is just to be countrary, and that’s perfectly fine, but I would rather have read an article that proclaimed that position rather than falsely claimning to speak in desense of a certain things.

    • Ashley Young


      This article is from perspective and my experience alone. I’m not saying that polyamory discourages abuse, I’m saying in the poly communities I have experienced, communication was what was encouraged. I think the only thing that can discourage abuse in any type of relationship is un-learning violent behavior, seeking help and creating a partnership that is healthy for both parties. Practicing loving many has kept me from being in cycles of violence — I’ve learned to use my voice, to state boundaries with the people I trust, and to have multiple loves, without shame. That’s my experience and mine alone. I don’t think all poly relationships always encouraged that but my focus of the article was domestic abuse and how that, not polyamory, led to Sheryl Outerbridge’s death.

      • Curtis

        Hello and thank you very much for this article I read it multiple times and its just made a year since my Mother’s murder. This is the most accurate article I’ve read yet I’m so glad to know there’s people out there that cared about and look into this case. I just wish I could’ve avoided this. But my two younger sisters and I are doing fine I just want to thank you again for this.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.