Shelly Slater and Christa Sanford, co-chairs with their husbands of the 2019 Annual Luncheon for the New Friends New Life anti-sex-trafficking group, both were wearing colorful Abi Ferrin scarves when they took the stage at the Omni Dallas Hotel on Friday, October 11. Their fashion choices made sense, since Abi is employing formerly trafficked women — who are now being helped by NFNL — to make scarves using discarded fabric scraps.
That was just one example of the spirit infusing the luncheon, whose Honorary Co-chairs were Amy and Joe Crafton and which drew a crowd of nearly 1,000 guests. Among them were the likes of Wendy Messmann, Jim Johnston, Ashlee and Chris Kleinert, John Creuzot, Calvert Collins-Bratton and Cara French. Some had attended a dinner the night before at downtown Dallas’ Hunt Consolidated building, where New Friends New Life had presented its annual ProtectHER Awards to Methodist Health System and a representative for Texas First Lady Cecilia Abbott.
At the luncheon, videos explaining the ProtectHER award winners were shown, introduced by Shelly’s and Christa’s husbands, Clayton Huffstutter and Ketric Sanford, both members of the NFNL Men’s Advocacy Group. NFNL CEO Kim Robinson also spoke briefly, announcing a goal of raising $100,000 during the luncheon — plus the happy news that the Jensen Project had agreed to match $25,000 in donations after $50,000 had been reached. MAG member Clayton Oliphint then delivered the invocation, before attendees tucked into their lunch of Tomato Chipotle Soup, Herb Roasted Chicken Breast, and a Lemon Meringue Tart or a Chocolate Pot Du Creme Martini.
In a “moderated conversation” that followed with NBC 5 journalist Laura Harris, Hollywood actress/producer/director Jada Pinkett Smith said she was first alerted to the human trafficking issue by her daughter, Willow Smith. “Willow said, ‘Mommy, I want to be a voice for this subject,'” Jada recalled. “And I thought, ‘This doesn’t happen in the United States!’ I was really disgusted with myself that I didn’t know this was happening.”
The truth, Jada went on, is that “we’re all vulnerable” to the trafficking problem. Growing up in Baltimore, at the age of 11 or 12, she recalled, “I was running the streets — and those streets have a whole lot of wolves.” She pointed out that, since most trafficking victims are acquainted with the perpetrators, “how we love our children as parents is very important.”
Jada then described her involvement in a special CNN report, Children for Sale: The Fight to End Human Trafficking, for which she traveled to Atlanta, where trafficking was prevalent. The practice is “getting very sophisticated and changing all the time,” she said, pointing out that trafficking in “boys and transgenders” both are currently booming in the U.S.
Smith, who is married to the actor Will Smith, also described hosting her new Facebook Watch talk show called Red Table Talk alongside Willow as well as Jada’s mother, Adrienne Banfield-Norris. The show attempts to encourage dialogue and open discussion among women of all ages. “We have to create a new trust with our children,” Jada said. “We have to tone down those veils of judgment and mentor them. … Just talking with them, mentoring them — help them have understanding.”
“What can we do to help with the trafficking issue?” Laura asked toward the end of the conversation. “Help organizations like this one — that is the biggest help!” Jada replied without hesitation. Education is also important, she went on. “Keep your eyes open at hotels, clubs, bars, and sporting events. Donate clothing that can be re-purposed by young women and men who are trying to re-purpose their lives.
“You have to have an elastic heart, because there’s a lot of pain that comes with this work,” Jada concluded, her eyes welling with tears. But, “it’s a blessing to see those that make it. I’m proud to see so many people here today, because these young women need help.”
* Photo credit: Tamytha Cameron