It was 25 years ago that a group of women at Preston Road Church of Christ decided to do more than acknowledge the sex trade industry. While it wasn’t as headline-making as other issues of the late 1990s, it was more than an eye-opening situation. It was a blight that needed to have light shone on how women and even children were being victimized by a multimillion-dollar business where vulnerable lives were being used like baseball cards benefiting behind-the-scenes perpetrators.
The ladies’ effort evolved from helping one woman escape the business into New Friends New Life that in 2022 empowered 357 women and girls to move on to better lives.
To celebrate its silver anniversary, New Friends New Life Executive Officer Bianca Davis and her team, along with Luncheon Co-Chairs Tracy Nash-Huntley and David Huntley and Elizabeth Carlock Phillips and Kevin Phillips, managed to land award-winning actress/advocate Kerry Washington as the keynote speaker.
But before the first guests took their places in the Dallas Hyatt Regency Landmark Ballroom for the sold-out fundraiser on Friday September 29, the VIP reception in the Coronado Room got underway with guests like Jennifer Sampson, Kathy and Larry Helm, Jane Rose, Katherine Wynne, Lynn McBee, Ron Kirk and Annika and Dennis Cail in attendance.
However, before the legions headed into the curtained set, there were heavy-hitters like the luncheon co-chairs plus Big Thought’s Byron Sanders who snuck in the back way for a quick photo with Kerry.
At the last moment KXAS anchor/NFNL Board Member Laura Harris arrived in the setup like a firecracker, thrilled to see Kerry. Immediately Laura had a cellphone in hand to take a selfie. Later Laura would ‘fess up to the crowd of 1,200 that when the announcement had been made to the board that the luncheon speaker would be Kerry Washington, the room went silent. But Laura broke the silence, saying, “Are you kidding me?”
Practically on cue, the general admission and VIP-ers like Karen Shuford, Lottye and Bobby Lyle, Rita Kirk, Sophia Johnson, Kezia W. Stegemoeller, Angela and Brad Cheves, Josh Kingcade, Nancy Halbreich, Honorary Co-Chair Nancy Ann Hunt and daughter Ashlee Kleinert and Honorary Co-Chairs Gail and Gerald Turner with their daughters Jessica Turner-Waugh and Angela Turner Wilson congregated into the ballroom for the day’s program.
Following presentation of the 2023 ProtectHer Awards to The Meadows Foundation for its transformative grant support, and most recently the establishment of the Liberty Street Garden, which offers the survivors of human trafficking a means to earn a living wage as they build a new life; and to Yulise Reaves Waters, Esq., for the work she’s done with the Lone Star Justice Alliance, a video was shown about NFNL’s Economic Empowerment Specialist Annette Bailey. It was Annette “who, over a decade ago, opted for treatment for her drug addiction rather than serving time in jail.” She had been enabled to make that choice thanks to the work of attorney Mike Howard. It was then a surprise to Mike when it was announced that a third ProtectHer Award was being presented to him.
Addressing the sold-out room of guests, Bianca said, “At New Friends New Life, we know that societal issues such as poverty, childhood sexual abuse, domestic violence, the foster care system, and the legal system must be addressed if we are going to move the needle on the issue of human trafficking. Through our legal advocacy clinic, our trauma informed clinical team, and most recently the opening of Liberty Street Garden, where survivors can earn work experience and income, we address poverty and the lack of skill as barriers to self-sufficiency. Next, we plan to hire a GED instructor to serve 30% of our women who didn’t finish high school, and we also have our eyes on housing to offer a safe environment for the 35% of our women and teen girls who are in homeless shelters. Collectively, collaboratively and in concert we can make a difference.”
Then it was time for the onstage conversation between Kerry and Laura, with the following highlights:
- “I always felt like my parents were keeping something from me,” Kerry said. “Five years ago, they sat me down to tell me my dad was not my biological father, and I was born with a sperm donor. My parents were renegades and innovators at that time. I’m now in my 40s! They wanted to have a child and took this risky venture.”
- “While listening to the conversation today during the luncheon, I reflected upon how much we all deserve to be loved and are lovable despite our past. It has been a journey with my family. They had so much shame in what they did and thought our relationship would suffer.”
- “We can be in truth and be loved. One of the gifts is that I learned this information after I was a parent myself, and I know how hard it is to be a parent. My parents were making the best choices with the toolbox they had, trying to protect me. I know their intentions were good. What I see as flawed is part of the miracle of why I’m here. We have to love people where they are.”
- “My parents had a fear of the truth. When you look at it from a 30,000 ft. perspective, you can see that the doctors gave them two options: you can either adopt or try this new experimental procedure.”
- “What I see as flawed – is actually part of the miracle of why I’m here. We have to love people where they are.”
- Laura then turned to the crowd and said, “In the end, many of us know we have come close to having a record. It’s true, just like Annette Bailey’s powerful story and that of her attorney, we don’t all come from the same place and have the same support.”
- “Annette Bailey spoke of generational pain. She didn’t have the support she needed to help her. My mother’s mother immigrated from Jamaica through Ellis Island. That strength of hers is what I lean into to break my generational trauma. I have alcoholism and abuse in my family. I want us to know we can tell the truth and be loved. We can find safe spaces where we can be loved. This is why New Friends New Life is so important.”
- “I want to choose what I pass on to my kids. Yes, you are strong, bold, innovative, and brilliant … take that with you. Take the secrets out of the bag.”
- “I feel blessed to have found performance and lucky to have found a career where I can use my talent to transform. I never want to tell stories demeaning to women. I won’t read a script that is not good for humanity. I don’t want to contribute to the problem.”
- “New Friends New Life teaches that you always have agency, and you must build the right support around you so you can stand in that agency.”
- “People always tell me what Olivia Pope [Kerry’s character on “Scandal”] gave to them. One of the things she taught me was how to be the lead character, and I feel like NFNL is teaching each of these women how to be the lead characters in their lives.”