Hollywood Trailblazer and New Friends New Life Luncheon speaker Jada Pinkett Smith was first inspired to advocate for those impacted by sex trafficking in 2011 when her then pre-teen daughter Willow watched a documentary at school and told her there were children her age being sold for sex in the United States. Pinkett Smith did not believe it until completing her own research, making her an immediate advocate against the practice. Since then, she has remained passionate to fight what has become the “new age of slavery” and “an epidemic in our country.”
Interviewed on stage by NBC 5’s Laura Harris, Pinkett Smith captivated the New Friends New Life Annual Luncheon audience of nearly 1,000 on October 11 at the OMNI Dallas with personal stories, experiences on the streets with victims of sex trafficking, and advice on important ways to parent and educate our children.
Luncheon Co-Chair Couples Christa and Ketric Sanford and Shelly Slater and Clayton Huffstutter teamed with Honorary Chairs Amy and Joe Crafton as the leadership for this year’s event, demonstrating that sex trafficking is not a women’s issue, it’s a human issue that must be addressed by both men and women.
Texas First Lady Cecilia Abbott and Methodist Health System were honored as the 2019 ProtectHER Award Recipients for their leadership in the fight against human trafficking. Mrs. Abbott was recognized as for her leadership and advocacy for the victims of human trafficking. Most recently, she partnered with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) as the voice of a public service announcement building upon the statewide “Be the One” anti-human trafficking campaign. The goal is to educate viewers on the most common signs of trafficking found in TABC-licensed establishments such as bars and restaurants. Methodist Health System was honored for the outstanding efforts of the medical staff of Methodist Dallas Medical Center’s emergency room and Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program to combat human trafficking by recognizing and assisting patients who are victims. In April 2018, an emergency room triage nurse’s training and intuition led to the arrest and prosecution of a human trafficking ringleader and the rescue of approximately 20 trafficking victims held captive in a house just a few miles from the hospital.
During the luncheon, a special video highlighted the partnership of fashion designer Abi Ferrin, who is employing women from New Friends New Life to design and make scarves for her scarf project – using remnant products from the fashion industry. A pop-up shop at the luncheon provided an opportunity for guests to shop for scarves and support this new, successful endeavor.
“Investing in women unseen is the best thing you can do,” said Ferrin. “This project has given me more joy and inspiration than I’ve had in years.”
New Friends New Life CEO Kim Robinson shared, “While we may want to dismiss this as an issue that only happens in other countries, we know in fact that it’s happening right here in our own backyard. Today our economic empowerment initiative has a 90 percent enrollment increase, and there have been over 1,400 drop-in visits to our Youth Resource Center. Additionally, 125 new women were welcomed into the program this year. And now we have a waiting list of women who need our services.”
As Pinkett Smith took the stage, she told the audience, “I applaud each of you as this is a beautiful turnout for this important cause. New Friends New Life is doing phenomenal work. Trafficking is becoming a very sophisticated crime, so it is crucial to have conversations such as this.”
“We are all vulnerable, and it’s a big mistake to think trafficking happens to certain type of girl,” she continued. Pinkett Smith talked about being 11 or 12 and running the streets while her mother, a nurse, was working. She also recounted a trip she took to Italy at the age of 20 and the hotel valet trying to lure her to spend the day on a boat with him. Her instincts kicked in, she called her mother, and her mother told her not to go.
She stressed that parents need to keep their children close, mentor them in the ups and downs of growing up, educate them about the dangers of online conversations and use open communication.
“I am very open with my daughter and want her to know there is nothing she will experience that I haven’t already. There is no judgement here, and we can get through this together.” She added that how we love our children is very important. “Traffickers’ language isn’t really very different to what we use at home, and we must create a distinct difference in what love looks like.”
At one point during the conversation Pinkett Smith became emotional recounting conversations she has had with young girls on the streets and what they endure. “A lot of girls don’t make it,” added Pinkett Smith. “When I look out into this audience and see this many people, it fills me with joy. These young women need our help. We can heal our own souls by helping women have a second chance.”
Media sponsors were NBC5, PaperCity, and The Dallas Morning News.
Employment partnership program: www.newfriendsnewlife.org/partnership
About New Friends New Life:
New Friends New Life, founded in 1998, restores and empowers formerly trafficked and sexually exploited women, teen girls and children. By providing access to education, job training, interim financial assistance, mental health and spiritual support, New Friends New Life helps women, teenage girls and children overcome backgrounds of abuse, addiction, poverty and limited opportunities. For more information about New Friends New Life, visit www.newfriendsnewlife.org or call (214) 965-0935.
PHOTOS BY TAMYTHA CAMERON