I am coming upon the completion of my fourth year working with StudentReach. In December 2012 I had been volunteering with the team only for a few weeks. In the initial meeting, I told the executive director Jeff that I would be willing to help in any way including licking envelopes and scrubbing toilettes. In my mind, they were symbolic envelopes and toilettes. I was good with licking actual envelopes but I secretly hoped that I wouldn’t have to scrub toilettes. The first thing I did was help with their end of year mailer licking envelopes, luckily I still haven’t had to scrub any toilettes. Just a couple of weeks later I was telling my story at an assembly to a group of middle schoolers in Sacramento. I was nervous. Days before the assembly the StudentReach team helped me craft my five-minute segment. By “help” I mean they made me write out my story, practice on my own, then I came back and presented my story. They quickly took away my notes. At the end, they gave some good feedback, at least I think they did. All I could hear was that it was terrible. I went away to practice again and tried not to be overwhelmed by the emotions of reliving some of the most tragic moments in my life. I went back and the group thought it was to an acceptable level. I was very nervous as I told about my family’s struggles and how my mom was trafficked. The room became silent. It was an almost intoxicating feeling to have 200 listening ears. It felt good not just to share what my family had gone through, it felt good to share with a purpose of change in the life of the students we were presenting to. I also was very glad it was over. Today I am going back to where it all began. Just like my first trip with StudentReach as a “kind of” volunteer was an interesting one.
Just a few weeks later we went to the Super Bowl in New Orleans where we would by speaking to thousands of students about the issue of sex trafficking. There was a set group of speakers that were flying from all over the US. The plan was to do over 40 events presenting to over 20,000 students. In addition to all the presentations during the day we were also go to be doing night outreaches leading up to the Super Bowl raising awareness about sex trafficking. What made this crazy plan all that more important is that it was also Mardi Gras. Yes the age old party celebrating booze, extravagant floats and sex. It was a perfect storm for sex trafficking. There was a huge demand created by the increase of tourism. Experts at the FBI and local law enforcement estimated that 15,000 children would be brought in for the demand for the sex trade during the Super Bowl. That was a staggering number, it was a discouraging number. I was not supposed to speak. There was a slew of other speakers that were coming from all over the US, people who were way more experienced at speaking in front of students. Due to weather problems in Montana and Michigan the presenters that were scheduled couldn’t make it. So, I was up.
The school that we were at was called McDonough 35. McDonough 35’s administration at the time, told us that their school was on the list of the most dangerous schools in the United States! Just prior to me going out there the principle told us that most assembly speakers get chewed up and spit out. The video before it was my turn to speak was almost over and the unthinkable happened, the power was overloaded in the auditorium and the sound and video went out. It was my turn to speak and the sound went out, that means no mic. The over 1,000 kids in the auditorium had not been especially receptive to the other speakers and I was so nervous. I felt ill-equipped for the task ahead of me. I walked out and began to speak. As I began telling my story the rumbling crowd began to subside. I spoke about my family’s struggles. I told them how my mom was trafficked and my father was no father but was a john who beat up my mom. The room was silent. We went on to speak many more times that week telling the same story. In that experience I learned why it was important to share. It was important because my story is not rare, just rarely told. There were many students who identified with at least some, and sometimes even all my story. People need to hear that even though they have a terrible background they can still come out ok.
Fast forward to October 2016, now sharing my story hundreds of times in front of thousands of people, I find myself telling my story once again. I will always share my story, not because I want people to feel bad for me but because I want to end this evil by doing my part. The sex trade is growing and we need to do our part to stop it, and this is mine. Check out the Say Something Assembly by going here http://saysomethingassembly.com/about-us/