My wife sent me a link to this video today and it "wowed" me. The more I write about modern slavery, the more I realize it's important to celebrate the beautiful things in life. With Thanksgiving happening tomorrow, this touched me and helped me remember the things I am thankful for. Enjoy and have a Happy Thanksgiving!
Here is the full story behind the random act of culture.
On Saturday, October 30, 2010, the Opera Company of Philadelphia brought together over 650 choristers from 28 participating organizations to perform one of the Knight Foundation's "Random Acts of Culture" at Macy's in Center City Philadelphia.
Accompanied by the Wanamaker Organ - the world's largest pipe organ - the OCP Chorus and throngs of singers from the community infiltrated the store as shoppers, and burst into a pop-up rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus from Handel's "Messiah" at 12 noon, to the delight of surprised shoppers.
This event is one of 1,000 "Random Acts of Culture" to be funded by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation over the next three years. The initiative transports the classical arts out of the concert halls and opera houses and into our communities to enrich our everyday lives.
To learn more about this program and view more events, visithttp://www.randomactsofculture.org. The Opera Company thanks Macy's and the Friends of the Wanamaker Organ (http://www.wanamakerorgan.com) for their partnership, as well as Organ Music Director Peter Conte and Fred Haas, accompanists; OCP Chorus Master Elizabeth Braden, conductor; and Sound Engineer James R. Stemke. For a complete list of participating choirs and more information, visit http://www.operaphila.org/RAC.This event was planned to coincide with the first day of National Opera Week.
Last week the Texas State Attorney General, Greg Abbott, announced he would be sending a dozen staff members from his human trafficking task force to assist local law enforcement in cracking down on human trafficking during the 2011 Super Bowl.
"The Super Bowl is one of the biggest human trafficking events in the United States," Abbott said.
During the 2009 Super Bowl in Tampa, Florida, the Florida State Department of Children and Families took in 24 minors who had been trafficked to the Tampa area as Sex Slaves for the Super Bowl. These were just the ones that were found.
In 2010. the Women's Funding Network found an increase of 80% in Craigslist sex ads during the Super Bowl. Craigslist recently shut down their "Adult Services" section after receiving over 10,000 petition signatures from the public and pressure from a number of State Attorney Generals.
Although no one knows exactly how many people will be trafficked to North Texas for the Super Bowl in February 2011, anti-trafficking organizations estimate it will be in the thousands.
This is partially due to the fact that the U.S. Department of Justice estimates that over 14,500 people are trafficked into the United States each year and 25% of all trafficked persons come through Texas.
According to a report by Shared Hope International, which investigates human trafficking in major cities, the Dallas Police Department, Child Exploitation/High Risk Victims & Trafficking Unit has created a unique and effective investigative tool to combat domestic minor sex trafficking. The Dallas Police Department, Child Exploitation/High Risk Victims & Trafficking Unit (CE/HRVTU) has developed an investigative tool to identify high risk victims (HRV) by flagging all minors who have run away from home four or more times in one year, as well as any minors that are repeat victims of sexual abuse or sexual exploitation. In 2007, CE/HRVTU identified 189 HRV cases 119 of which involved prostitution.
Of those High Risk Victims cases, 75% included felony charges specifically related to domestic minor sex trafficking.
A number of local organizations are joining in the effort to raise awareness and support ground work in recognizing and reporting human trafficking for the Super Bowl 2011. You can learn more about these groups and how you can help by clicking the links below.
Durban, South Africa is located on the South East coast of South Africa.
I received an email from a fellow abolitionist and friend in South Africa. She recently joined a group called theRed Light, to learn more about sex trafficking on the streets of Durban, South Africa. The letter below is from an email I received last night about her first Night Light visit. Her experience was so compelling, and true of sex trafficking around the world, that I asked her if I could republish her story to share with others. Kindly, Julie has agreed to let me republish her experience. Here is her story.
As I mentioned in my last email, I have joinedRed Lightfor what is called Night Lights… for those that were not able to open the attachment, Night Lights is a project facilitated by Red Light - an anti-Human Trafficking organization, whereby we go out onto the streets of Durban on every second Wednesday night and speak to the pimps, prostitutes and homeless people we encounter, and the basic aim is build up a relationship with them in order to gain their trust, should they ever wish to share any information with us, or if they themselves want to get off the streets.
I thought I would tell you about last night while it's all still fresh in my mind, and my emotions/feelings are still 'raw'.
I would be lying to you if I said I wasn't scared going out there, because our destination is the really dark and seedy side of town. For the locals who know the area, we went from Smith Street, down to Point Road, passed the Wheel, and then back up via the Esplanade.
A few minutes after we (a group of about 12 of us) set off, we encountered a group of Nigerian men sitting on the side of the road enjoying their dinner. Some of the people within our group are fairly well acquainted with these men, known pimps in the area. And we stopped to chat to them. After introductions were made for those of us who were new, I stepped into the background to watch the dynamics of this encounter. (LOL yeah, I am an observer! I don't go rushing in =P). What amazed me what how happy these guys were to sit and chat to us and tell us how things were going.
One gent was clearly the alpha male in the group and was quite chatty. but all the while, you can see them scanning the street with their eyes. They know where each of their girls are and what they are up to, and with a mere nod of the head in their direction, a girl who might be distracted or chatting to someone that is not going to help her earn her keep, is put back in line. And should a john stop to talk to the girls but not actually make use of her services, one of the gents would calmly excuse himself from our company and slowly start walking towards the girl and the john. This seems to be enough to make the girls move on very quickly. The entire time we were chatting to these men, they were nothing but charming and polite.
At one point one of our team-members, an amazing man we call Ant, asked Mr. Alpha-Male if he knew about God. And I can tell you now... that man knew more about God and the Bible than many Christians I know. Standing there listening to him talk about God's Love and how Jesus came to die for each and everyone, it was almost possible to forget what his chosen profession is… and to forget that with a mere look in her direction, he can make a girl standing across the road from us look like a cat on a hot tin roof. After we moved on, Ant, who actually lives in one of the nearby shelters and spends a lot of time on the street with these people, explained that many of the pimps in this area are not the bosses. They are merely a worker. And while he was explaining this to us, we passed a group of gents that he pointed out as the real bosses. And it was so obvious to see the difference, to see how the food chain worked in this area…
You have the girls, which look like a little mouse caught in the corner by a predator, either shaking in fear, or so far beyond fear that they look numb and frozen.
Then you have the pimps, which remind me of the jackals you see in these discovery channel documentaries. They seem to be cocky and arrogant, and chirping and bouncing about looking like the big shots. Making a lot of noise, but doing nothing themselves.
Then you have the bosses… these guys remind me of an alpha lion walking along the Serengeti. Majestic and powerful with confidence and arrogance that makes it obvious to see why they are king of the jungle… yet every movement is precise and calculated.
Apparently life on the streets is easier for the girls if they have a pimp, because they supposedly look out for 'your best interests', and this includes ensuring they get their next fix when they are too wasted to get it themselves. What amazed me about the whole experience was the blatant openness of it all. We encountered John’s (men who enlist these girls' services) who were quite happy to stand and chat to us, tell us who they are, where they are from and where they work etc. Others would high-tail it out of there when they saw us. It wasn't exactly as though we blended in with the surroundings; after all, we were the only white faces in a sea of black. That area of town is now referred to as 'Little Nigeria,' with brothels and chop shops all over the place.
I have been through that part of town plenty of times, but never like this, never actually looking at what is going on. Normally we are in our cars and speeding through with our doors locked in the hopes that the traffick lights don't stop us. I was a bit nervous as to how dangerous it would be walking out there, but was pleasantly surprised that most people were just curious about us. "What are a bunch of white people doing here?" was the question we were asked the most.
We encountered one young girl - Precious, who said she was 16yrs old, but if she was 13 or 14 that was a lot. She was completely high and drunk. But when she heard that I could speak basic Zulu, we were suddenly 'best friends' and she was telling me in rather flowery language what her daily routine entailed. She did not sleep in any of the nearby shelters because "they only want my bleep money…but bleep money is for bleep drink". So I asked her where she slept, and she promptly showed me… she dropped down on the curb at my feet and leant up against the wall. "Bleep everywhere is my bed". One of the ladies within our group asked her if she was not scared sleeping like that on the street and young Precious, said “Its good Misus (M'am). The men will bleep me and give me bleep money."
At this point Precious decided that she had had enough of our company and swaggered off to go talk to the wall across the road from us. It broke my heart to see someone so young so gone to the world and not being able to do anything about it. I wanted to wrap my arms around and her take her off the streets. But at the end of the day, we can't do anything unless they make an actual choice. We can take them to the shelters / safe houses, but unless they make the choice that this is what they want, our attempts are in vain as no sooner have we turned our backs than they have run off and are on the streets again.
It was definitely an interesting experience which I definitely will be repeating. I also find it fascinating to talk to the various people within the group (always different people. I only know 4 of them) and find out what their story is, why this is something they want to do, etc…
Last week I was privileged to attend the 2010 Freedom Awards in Los Angeles. This red carpet event, produced by Free the Slaves, brought out a number of celebrities to support and celebrate the cause of freedom.
There are an estimated 27 million slaves worldwide and over 300,000 slaves within the United States. The U.S. Department of Justice estimates over 14,500 people, 80% women and children, are trafficked into the U.S. each year.
I had a chance to interview celebrities and ask them about modern slavery and these startling statistics.
Actor Eric Balfour (Skyline, 24, Haven) was one of my favorite interviews of the night and he introduced me to a new organization, Falling Whistles. Here is my interview with Eric Balfour.
Q: How did you first learn about modern slavery?
A: For me it started with an organization I work with called Falling Whistles. Falling Whistles was founded by my friend Sean Carasso who was in the Democratic Republic of Congo. He saw children forced into the military and the ones who were so small that they couldn't pull the triggers on the gun, so they were given whistles. They used the whistle in case they saw they enemy coming and they could blow this whistle and let other soldiers know. Well they took this whistle and it became the symbol for this organization. The idea is to wear your protest and be a whistle blower for peace.
Q: How do you use your celebrity status to combat slavery?
A: To whatever degree you have as a celebrity or notoriety, there are people who see you as an opinion leader. You can use your opinions to sell underwear or alcohol, or you can use your opinion to sell positive change and to sell responsibility.
Q: Hearing these statistics and writing about these stories of slavery, especially about sex trafficking and child soldiers, can be depressing. How important is it to you to stay positive and how do you stay positive in the face of modern slavery?
A: My family is Native American and I was raised with Native American ceremonies. My Grandpa used to always talk about this. He used to say that man is inherently good, you know woman and man. I believed that and I still do. You know when we see people fighting, stealing, abusing, I don't believe it's because people are inherently evil. He believed that people are inherently good and that that goodness can come out if given the opportunity.
Sometimes it is hard to hear about all of the things going on, but we have to remember and celebrate the small things. It's not a revolution, but an evolution.
Q: How can people help and get involved?
A: You want to help, go to www.freetheslaves.net, go to www.fallingwhistles.com. Use the internet. The internet is an amazing tool. Talk about these things. Get on Twitter, get on Facebook, talk to your friends about it. The amazing thing about technology is that people have power. We are seeing it all the time in that innocuous people you would never know are having their voices heard because of this ability and technology we have.