Guest Blogger: Carla Stephens

Why do I fight to eradicate human trafficking? I fight for the victims, the potential victims, and the survivors themselves. Additionally, its knowing and understanding that it could be me or one of my family members that fall prey to this horrific crime. I am compelled to fight for those that are victimized, the vulnerable, and those that are predisposed to being victimized.

The work that I do now is primarily awareness centered. Trafficking is a Global disease that has plagued our world for quite some time now. One of its many dangers is the fact that it is largely a hidden crime. An exceedingly small percentage of the victims are identified and some of this is contributed to victims not knowing they are victims of human trafficking.

My work is based on spreading awareness to those who are clueless about this crime in hopes that their awareness will lead to more financial support, identification of the crime and of course prevention.

Over the years I have started several initiatives to help raise awareness because awareness, in my opinion, can lead to exposure and exposure ultimately can help to identify victims, potential victims, and their traffickers.

My new initiative, Stop Trafficking Mission Funding, allows me to educate, collaborate, and raise funds to help survivors and organizations that have been in this fight long before me.

The powerful impact of black role models in the lives of black girls and boys is tremendous. There are many relevant studies that show the impact of students taught by black teachers who experienced increased testing scores and graduation rates. I could go on and on about the impact of having strong role models in the lives of our youth. I know firsthand and I am blessed to be the mother of two amazing young men, and I am grateful for the role model they have in their father and me. However, I cannot help but think about those who are in situations and circumstances where they do not have tangible or accessible role models.

I can remember being asked to be a guest speaker at my son’s middle school for the first time and the feelings of joy and anxiety at the opportunity. When I arrived to share my presentation there were a mixture of girls and boys in the room, but I could see a certain gleam in the eyes of the girls. As I began my presentation, I noticed how the girls were hanging on to my every word. Immediately after my presentation, the girls were the first ones to come up and to tell me how my message resonated with them and how happy they were to have someone like me at their school speaking to them.

It did not take long before several of the young ladies were asking me if I could mentor them. I was excited, yet overwhelmed, at what seemed like a lack of role models that were touchable and accessible for these girls. I knew exactly what they meant when the group of black girls gathered around me and specified what it meant to them to have someone like them in their school. I wanted to take on every girl in that circle because I knew the inspiration and motivation they were seeking. I understood what they were asking because I had been in their position at one point in time of my life. They wanted someone who was, in their eyes, successful to serve as a beacon of hope and possibility of what they could one day become. They wanted a tangible relationship that could be counted on when they needed questions answered or advice beyond their scope. More importantly they wanted someone they could use as a valuable resource to help them facilitate and obtain their personal goals.

That lack of touchable and accessible role models for the girls in that classroom on that day is, in part, one of the reasons for my continued journey in the fight for trafficking survivors. Girls who were in a school setting who seemingly had normal lives needed and desired role models that looked like them. How much more would a girl who had her innocence ripped away by a trafficker need a reference point of restoration or guidance to what life truly is supposed to be for her.

It is no secret that black girls and black boys are being victimized and there is a need for more rescuers from within their own community. While I have seen an increase in support in the fight from African Americans, there is still a large need for more of us in the rescue and restore process. I cannot stress enough how important it is to have role models who can model behaviors and relationships that are healthy. The sense of hope that is generated when the victimized see others who look like them fighting like hell for them is a much-needed anecdote in the fight to eradicate human trafficking in our community.

I know firsthand that it is not an easy task to face the trauma that some of these victim’s experience, but the good news is there are many ways to serve as a role model that do not necessarily involve years of trauma training or expertise. There are organizations that would love to have volunteers to come in and share career goals or to provide motivational speeches. There are opportunities for us to be more involved in the care aspects especially in providing financial support or maybe even sponsoring a survivor. If you are a business owner find out how your business can be of service to many of the organizations that are right in your community. In today's society, there are many local religious organizations providing support. Check with your local church to see what they are doing and ask how you can get involved. Lastly, just know the fight is being fought by some amazing people but, without you, it makes the journey much harder than it would be with you.

- Carla Stephens