“I imagined a bunch of people in a little boat at midnight,” said Georgia Representative Mike Glanton as he recalled his first assumptions about human trafficking and his repulsion with the truth. Each month in Atlanta, 300-500 girls are bought or sold. Additionally, the median age at which children are abused is 9 years old. “What do you do with a 9-year-old baby?” he passionately asked a crowd of about 40 people, all of whom had come to Emory’s Cannon Chapel to generate awareness against trafficking and domestic violence — especially those which occur in and around Atlanta.
Human trafficking and abuse occur daily in Atlanta and all over the world, but generally fail to catch the attention of the public. In hopes of ameliorating these issues through raising awareness, Lady Dana Austin and Ms. Brenda Stanley held “Crowned Love: An Evening of the Art and Awareness Against Human Trafficking and Violence” on Saturday, Mar. 28. Austin and Stanley presented a variety of art; each piece shared a message of advocacy and each artist had a story to share. Whenever there’s a social issue, “the arts has often been an avenue through which to get the message across,” Austin said. Both Austin and Stanley share a belief in “integrating the arts with social issues,” exemplified through their successful and cohesive event.
After introductions, the program’s hostesses presented a video by trafficking survivor and nonprofit Girls Educational and Mentoring Services (GEMS) founder Rachel Lloyd. In her video, Lloyd shared her story and connected some of the dots between abuse, trafficking and rescue. She explained that many girls who become caught in “the life” are vulnerable or have experienced past abuse. As DeKalb County Chief Assistant District Attorney Dalia Racine elaborated, many girls act based on the seemingly rational mindset, “if I was a little bit more like [other girls], I could be a little bit less like me.” Racine went on to cite “Pretty Woman” as the film that is most damaging to the collective confidence of girls, causing some to feel unworthy of truly enjoying life.
Following the video presentation, Ayo Jones performed a rendition of “The Greatest Love,” accompanied by Darren Ellis on piano. Jones tightly grasped the microphone with both hands as she sang, “Let the children’s laughter remind us how we used to be.” She then sang an encore of the same song (I had no complaints), while volunteers in purple collected cash donations from the audience members. After Jones’ performance, the abundance of art presentations continued — Stanley presented her original confidence-sparking skit, “Sweet Sixteen,” and introduced visual artist Katherine Roundtree, whose work was on display downstairs. Austin and Stanley then presented a spoken word poem named after their organization “Crowned Love,” after which Deidre Pratt discussed her book Worth, filled with girls’ stories.
Westwood College’s Dr. Lester Mae Jackson then led a charge to further inspire the crowd:
[quote_colored name=”” icon_quote=”no”]
What do you see when you see a woman torn
walking down the streets from dusk to dawn
looking for a man to pimp or ride
giving up her dignity and her pride.[/quote_colored]
The presentations continued with a short video, “One Billion Rising,” which featured Tim Heintz and Tena Clark’s song “Break The Chain” and choreography originally performed by an anti-trafficking, anti-violence flash mob on Valentine’s Day of 2013. Coordinated by Lori Teague, Director and Associate Professor of Dance, students in Emory’s Dance Department had the opportunity to perform the choreography once again — for the Cannon Chapel audience. Involved with the Dance Department myself, I got to witness the chapel’s energy from the front of the crowd as we started to perform; the audience slowly began to move, clap or do anything that would confirm their presence. The several children in the audience ran to the front, jumping up and down to the music.
The multitude of art mediums and performances made for an effective program that, at the least, introduced a few more people to the severity of trafficking and abuse throughout Atlanta. Various performers and organizations brought faces to their names, including Out of the Darkness, an organization that directly interacts with trafficking victims at weekly events. One of these events is called “Princess Night,” during which volunteers travel to areas where trafficking and prostitution run heavily. On Princess Night, the organization and its volunteers aim to increase victims’ awareness of their options by bringing with them a prayer, a card, a lipgloss with the “Out Of The Darkness” hotline and a rose for the victims.
Although the overall situation is simultaneously uncertain and dire, all artists and organization representatives that participated in Saturday’s program maintained a certain optimism. Even Racine, who acknowledged that the smallest factors can yield catastrophic results (“Pretty Woman” and its effect on girls), is confident that law enforcement — and the public — have the “tools in [their] arsenal” to find and to stop those responsible for trafficking and violence.