MLK Day

MLKMartin Luther King Day is the only federal holiday designated as a day of national service. I’ve heard it said that it is not meant to be ‘a day off’, but ‘a day on’.

The MLK Day of Service is 21 January 2013—a day when many Americans, from all over the country, focus on serving in their communities, turning their attention to the folks across the street or a few blocks down rather than doing their usual commute to work. Projects run the gamut: from playing bingo with the elderly, writing letters to soldiers overseas to initiatives long-planned and involving large teams and corporations.

Dr. King once said, “Life’s most persistent and urgent question is: ‘What are you doing for others?’” We each have to answer that in our own way. But I am happy to say that as I scan the general list of project idea areas provided on the official MLK Day website, I automatically picture people I know who are actively doing just those kinds of things. Keep it up, my friends!

Check out the list for yourself. Find a project or share your idea. You might just get yourself some volunteers. If you do a project on MLK day, the Corporation for National & Community Service would like to know about it. You can send them an e-report during the action or send in a story afterward to describe its impact.

“I have the audacity to believe that people everywhere can have three meals a day for their bodies, education and culture for their minds, and dignity, equality and freedom for their spirits.”

Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Nobel Prize acceptance speech

How to Help Stop Human Trafficking While You Go About Your Day


Pay Attention!

My previous post about the book, Undaunted, garnered questions (and some frustrations) about what a person can do once they are aware of the problem of human trafficking. In addition to signing up for the newsletters of anti-trafficking organizations and liking their Facebook pages, (which can lead you into all kinds of ways to get involved), you can help by simply knowing what to look for. Human trafficking happens right under our noses.

  • Learn to recognize the signs.
  • Pay attention.
    • Notice people.
    • Take a closer look. Human trafficking (sex and labor) can often occur in street prostitution, brothels, strip clubs and massage parlors, but also at truck stops and in domestic service, agriculture, manufacturing, in restaurants and other hospitality and service industries, janitorial services, construction, and health and elder care.
  • Don’t assume they are simply prostitutes of their own free will. Federal law defines the means used, to include not only force, but also fraud and coercion.
    • Many have been beaten and raped until their will to fight is broken. This is still involuntary servitude.
    • Many have received threats that loved ones will be hurt or killed if they don’t comply.
    • Many may display attitudes of disdain if questioned, but this often stems from fear and learned distrust of people’s intentions.
    • Many may not self-identify as victims because they do not know their rights and/or their traffickers have made them think they brought it on themselves, and that nobody cares.
  • Do they possess any identification or travel documentation?
    • Traffickers often take and maintain control of these documents to prevent escape.
  • Do they look underage?
    • Any minor engaged in commercial sex is a victim of human trafficking. Period. Unfortunately, they are often treated as criminals rather than victims.
  • If you work in the travel/tourism/hospitality industry, have you seen him or her more than once?
    • Do you recognize any men or women accompanying them or directing them? Do you recognize their vehicles?
  • Physical signs of trauma or fatigue?
    • Overall health? Bruises? Other injuries?
    • Any tattoos or branding?
      • Some traffickers brand their victims. Note specific markings.
  • Are individuals withdrawn or afraid to speak?
    • Does someone censor or speak for them?
    • Do their answers sound canned and rehearsed?
  • Does their movement seem restricted by another person?
  • Do they know where they are?
    • Victims are often moved so often, they may not know what city or state they are in right now.
  • Do they speak the language?
    • Foreign-born victims may understand only words and phrases associated with sex.

Example Questions For Potential Victims:

  • Is there anything I can do to help you?
  • Do you live here in town? How long?
  • Do you owe your boss money?
  • Does your boss take anything out of your pay?
  • Are you allowed to come and go freely?
  • Are you afraid to stop doing what you’re doing?

**Be extremely cautious if ever approaching a potential victim with these questions…their trafficker may be monitoring them.

IF YOU SUSPECT A CASE OF HUMAN TRAFFICKING:

  1. DO NOT approach or confront a suspected trafficker (for safety as well as judicial case building reasons)
  2. Call your local police. State you suspect a case of human trafficking. Provide as much detail as possible (ex. location, physical descriptions, scenario that played out to cause suspicion, vehicle make, model, plates)
  3. Call the U.S. National Human Trafficking Resource Center 1-888-3737-888

The above, of course, is not a definitive list. But it should get you thinking. Yes?

To learn more, you may want to read the article I was recently fortunate enough to have published in Relevant Magazine on The State of Modern Slavery.

R-A-K It Up

Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol. In Prose. ...

Charles Dickens: A Christmas Carol. In Prose. Being a Ghost Story of Christmas. With Illustrations by John Leech. London: Chapman & Hall, 1843. First edition. Title page. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Random Acts of Kindness. What better time than at Christmas to do a little surprise something for somebody? It’s a time, as Dickens said in the Christmas Carol, “…when want is keenly felt, and abundance rejoices.”

Why bother? Do it and you’ll see.

I imagine you’ll find that it’s not even necessary to stick around and see the person’s reaction. Trust me.

Slow down from the craziness of the season and pay attention to those around you. The woman who just ran over your foot with a cart and didn’t apologize may be fretting over her child who has to spend Christmas in the hospital. What about your garbage man who has to brush off the snow to even find your pile of trash? How ‘bout leaving him a note and thermos of hot chocolate? What can you do that would ease a person or bring a boost of encouragement?

It’s the small things. The unexpected. The unlooked for…that can make a big difference. Confirm that someone cares and notices them in this bustling world…that they’re not alone. If you’re a believer, also leave a note that says God loves them…in case they’ve forgotten.

Here’s a list of ideas to randomly act with kindness and make someone’s day. I take no credit for this list or the idea. I’m just passing it on. By no means is the list complete, but it should get the generous gears in your mind turning. This is a reminder for myself—as much as for you—not to get so preoccupied as to miss what’s important…what this holiday is really about.

I wish you a very Merry Christmas and Happy New Year. God bless us every one.Christmas in Germany

Punishment = Service

Photo by Sam Howzit

We live in a country where community service is a punishment for misdemeanors. Hmm? What does that say?

To me, it’s practical, but sad. Forced usefulness. I wonder how often this “punishment” results in a change of heart for the person. Did they find it an annoyance? An inconvenience to their busy lives? When finished, do they view it the same? What impact does it have on them? If anyone has some stories, I’d love to hear them.

I recently read that Russell Brand was sentenced to community service hours (apparently Brits have the same misdemeanor policy) for throwing a paparazzo’s iPhone, but that he said he considered it an “honor” and not a “punishment”. Good for him.

Photographer Expands Her Skill Set In A Big Way

Weddings must be fun to photograph—people clinking glasses, wearing fluttery silk, and holding hands. Most people will happily pose for the camera and grin, but plenty of beautiful flowers and candles are conveniently available to soften even the countenance of the grimmest great aunt.

But what about a different sort of assignment—when you’re asked to capture something hidden in the shadows that has nothing to do with a happy event?

One of my fellow A21 Campaigners found herself facing this challenge not long ago. Caroline Howard is a wedding photographer here in Charleston, SC, who recently created a photographic series for The A21 Campaign-East Coast’s: BE HER FREEDOM fundraising/human trafficking awareness event this past June. (She was also in charge of the entire design of the art installation used to portray a victim’s journey from darkness to light, but that I’ll save for a separate post.)

Her evocative series attempts to convey even a small portion of the despair and deep sense of isolation a human trafficking victim may suffer.

I decided to go interview style today.

Me: How difficult was it switching from photographing weddings to images representing the darkness of human trafficking? What kinds of challenges did you face?

Caroline: It was definitely a challenge to switch from shooting weddings to shooting a darker subject, not to mention that everything I knew about journalism was stripped away; I had to create those feelings of darkness, heaviness and oppression.

Me: Do you think this experience helped you grow as a photographer? In what ways?

Caroline: Before this series, I had never shot personal work. If I photographed someone that wasn’t a paying client, there was a work-driven motive behind it, typically to build my portfolio. Even though this was for a specific event, I had never (in almost six years of being in photography) shot something that was putting myself out there, my aesthetic, putting my vision into a medium of art. Shooting this series gave me the affirmation that it’s okay to produce work, produce art, without a motive. Although I’ve transitioned back into wedding mode with the approach of fall wedding season, I’m actually working on another project just because. It’s a nice feeling.

Me: Any particular words of wisdom or advice for other photographers out there who might be interested in volunteering their services for a cause? How to go about it?

Caroline: The biggest thing I’ve realized is to be proactive. There is a surprising amount of people who want to get involved, but we need people with specific ideas—people, and artists, who can step forward and say ‘Not only am I willing and interested in getting involved, but I have some ideas on how I could make it happen. This is an idea I have.’ Because when it comes down to it, organizations and groups are excited and willing to take on talented volunteers such as photographers because it’s something not everyone can do. But they may need some ideas on how best to utilize the talent of a skilled individual.

I am so thankful to Caroline for the interview and for the opportunity to show off her incredibly moving photographs. Please visit her photography website at CarolineRO to see more of Caroline’s amazing work. I’d also like to thank Meryl over at Recovery Thru My Lens for sparking the idea for this post by asking how a photographer might volunteer.

What unexpected opportunities have come your way via volunteering? What are some talents you might offer up? What might you present to a nonprofit?

The Games Makers of the Olympics

We don’t see them on the television. We don’t hear about the work they do. They are the 70,000 volunteers at the Olympics, who quietly make the games happen. The odd jobs they perform hold everything together.

Volunteers direct and welcome people to the right venue, so they don’t miss that key vault that wins the Women’s team gymnastics event, or the final stretch and wall touch for the heart pounding Men’s 4x100m freestyle relay in swimming. Volunteers transport athletes where they need to go, allowing them to focus on their sport rather than worry about where they need to be. They work with the tech teams to bring you as quick and accurate results as possible on your favorite events.

Does the Olympic planning committee in London comprehend the value of volunteers . . . take them seriously? I’d say yes, since they began recruitment back in September of 2010. Over 240,000 people applied to volunteer from the UK and around the globe. So, if you’re interested in volunteering at any of the future games, I suggest you apply early. I’d imagine language skills wouldn’t hurt, either.

They even have a “Young Games Makers” program for 16-18 year-olds (about 2,000 volunteers this Olympics) who get to do things like rake the sand on the beach volleyball courts. (Sounds very Zen.) Certainly couldn’t hurt the high school resume: volunteering for the Olympics and getting a chance to build team working and communications skills. It could also build your teen’s confidence to know they are worthwhile to take part in something like this.

I think it would be wonderful to go to the Olympics, but when you volunteer, you’re actually part of a team. We all want to be part of something greater than ourselves, don’t we? Participating in the Olympics in even a small way must be a heady experience. To be part of a team putting on the biggest sporting event in the world? Awesome.

Volunteers were first used in the Olympic Games held in London in 1948 and have been ever since. They’ve become an integral part of the Summer and Winter and Paralympic Games. And now, we’re back in London where it started.

Do you know anyone who has volunteered at the Olympics? I’d love to hear their/your experiences. And as an aside, what are your favorite events?

If you’ve ever planned a big event, you know the value of volunteers. How have volunteers helped make your important days and events turn out well? 

Be A Writer For A Few Minutes Every Day

Photo by JoJo Nicdao

Part of the job of a writer is to capture a moment or scene by utilizing the five senses. What’s wonderful about this, especially in our “chronically-overscheduled” lives (one of Nathan Bransford’s terms that I love), is it gives you license to slow down, take time and observe the world around you.

As I write this post while on my back patio, I purposely listen to the hard buzz of cicadas, variations on a song by a mockingbird and the soft whir of the fan overhead. There’s not a bit of a breeze through the woods around our house. The leaves are still. It’s a sunny morning, but the air’s so heavy, it settles on my skin and makes my hair frizz like a squirrel tail. (Yes, I live in the South.) My coffee’s unfortunately cold now. I forgot about it. And…there’s the whine of a mosquito. Hold on a sec. …Okay, one less of them in the world now.

See? Practicing being observant can be helpful. But seriously, next time you’re out and about, take notice of how many people are looking down at some hand-held device while sitting in a beautiful park with lots going on around them. How many are scrolling, typing with thumbs or chatting while walking nonchalantly right in front of your car or someone else’s? OR typing away while they’re driving?

Paying attention is therefore, obviously healthy for a multitude of reasons. It allows us to see the beauty and quirkiness in daily life, as well as the dangers.

Even in promoting awareness of a cause, we tend to read and share articles and posts via Facebook, Twitter and other social media sites. And this is wonderful; don’t get me wrong. But when we don’t look up, what are we missing?

Over the last few days, I’ve been working on a presentation to educate people on the signs of human trafficking while they’re going about their daily routine. So much is hidden in plain sight. It just takes notice. A second look. Trafficking victims aren’t just in brothels. They’re at bus depots and other transportation hubs. While you’re at a stoplight, sipping your coffee, they may be on the street corner or at a tourist attraction where you’re buying tickets for your family.

I know sometimes life can be so overwhelming; we actually don’t want to see. We’d rather just hunker down and get through our day. But in taking that second look, you may well give someone a chance at a future that is no longer bleak, or ever allowed to skid down a path of misery in the first place. Because of you, someone else might later observe that same person and be able to smile, warmed by the hopeful moment captured that otherwise might not have been.

What experience have you had, where taking a second look, made all the difference to you or someone you love? Or maybe even to a stranger?

If you’re interested, here’s the link for signs of human trafficking, via The A21 Campaign.

What Exactly is Human Trafficking? Slavery is Over, Isn’t it?

A couple of years ago, a real dynamo of a woman named Christine Caine came to speak at our church about human trafficking. Huh? Hadn’t heard of that. Yet, somehow, it has become the second largest, global organized crime today. At the time, I asked myself, “How did this happen and I didn’t know?” Had I been living under the proverbial rock?

Well, if you happened to be under the rock with me, human trafficking is basically—no, it IS modern-day slavery. And it takes mainly two forms: forced labor and sex slavery. Sex trafficking alone generates $27.8 billion USD worldwide for the bad guys, every year.

Scary stuff, my friends…scary stuff. And unfortunately, it’s stuff you need to know because it can happen to those you love. I wish I was kidding. I wish I was being overly-dramatic. Unfortunately, I’ve been called many things in my life, but “drama queen” is not one of them.

The official definition…(clearing my throat) “Human sex trafficking is commercial sex induced by force, fraud or coercion or if the person performing the act is not yet 18 years of age.” In reality…it’s someone’s daughter, sister or best friend…someone’s child—deceived by a trafficker, kidnapped, or even sold by a relative. Traffickers seek vulnerable people, who are alone or desperate. They seek the young…and innocent.

But, it can happen to anyone. Watch the video In Her Shoes.

It doesn’t happen just to girls with foreign accents. According to a recent FBI report, around 33% of those trafficked in the U.S. are Americans. A law enforcement agent I know, said traffickers lurk around parks, pools and malls (in addition to lots of other places). The average age most children are trafficked? Age 12-14.

Runaways are a particular target. A friend relayed a story to me about how a pimp (who got caught, fortunately) found his targets. He’d hang out in places he knew runaways frequented and go up to a girl and say, “You have beautiful eyes.” If she said, “thank you,” he’d leave her alone. If she looked down, embarrassed, and said, “No, I don’t,” that was the one he would target. Low self-esteem. Simple…cold…and as effective as that.

If you’ve read my blog for a while, you know I volunteer for The A21 Campaign, which was founded by Christine Caine—the woman I mentioned earlier. Christine Caine, herself, first became aware of the growing problem of human trafficking when traveling through an airport in Greece, she noticed numerous, heartbreaking posters of missing women and children. Confronted with staggering statistics, she knew “someone needed to do something”. In 2008, she and her husband founded The A21 Campaign.

The A21 Campaign is an international nongovernmental organization dedicated to Abolishing injustice in the 21st Century and combating human trafficking, which has ensnared an estimated 27 million people in the world, including children. That is more people in slavery than at any other time in history. 

I’m proud to be part of The A21 Campaign’s new east coast office here in the States. I intend to give them my time, sweat and whatever brain power I can offer to help shine light on a horrific and GROWING crime. No doubt, I’ll be posting more on this topic, but if you’d like to learn more about it, sooner than that, please visit The A21 Campaign’s website. It’s loaded with info.

If you live in the Charleston area, we are having a Be Her Freedom fundraising event on June 24th. Please check it out!

Yes, I know this has been soapbox day. But, THIS IS IMPORTANT STUFF. If you agree more people should know about human trafficking, please share this post with your friends and family.

I have to ask…before you read this post, had you heard of human trafficking? If you had, what was your impression or vision of it? Did you believe it only happened somewhere else?

Two Reasons Why We Raise Our Hands

Photo By Elmira College

For Loved ones. We’re going along on our merry way and then one day it hits. Someone we love is diagnosed with cancer or some other heartbreaking disease. Suddenly, finding that cure, being part of that cause, becomes important. It becomes personal.

Nancy Goodman Brinker promised her older sister she’d help end breast cancer. Her sister was Susan G. Komen, who later died from the disease at age 36. Nancy, through her grief and determination to fulfill her promise, founded the eponymous breast cancer foundation, now known as the Susan G. Komen for the Cure. Think she has made an impact? She is keeping her promise; keeping her sister’s memory alive; and helping prevent a mind-boggling number of others from going through what her sister did.

I think it’s important we’re sensitive to what particular causes matter to our friends and family…and more importantly, WHY. We’d want others to feel the same sense of urgency if we were in their shoes, wouldn’t we? **Oh…and for those involved in a cause, remember to thank the people who support you. There are so many good causes out there to choose from; these people didn’t have to pick yours, but they did. Be grateful.

When Disgusted and Compelled: Some things are so unjust and horrific, you feel like you have to do something about it, whether you know someone involved or not. For me, that happened after hearing Christine Caine speak at Seacoast on the issue of human trafficking. Human what? Until then, I had no idea human trafficking was such a huge problem. Modern-day slavery? Huh? Well, organized crime certainly knows what it is; it’s second only to their drug trafficking activity. 27,000,000 people forced into hard labor and sexual slavery worldwide. So now, I write for A21 Carolinas, an affiliate of the A21 Campaign to Abolish Injustice in the 21st Century.

These are only two of many many many reasons people raise their hands. What causes are important to you? And why do you volunteer for them?