A Different Sort of Contest

551197_337037406382696_1891785269_nOnly two more weeks until the Poetry For Their Freedom Contest closes. First prize is $100 and no entry fee.

Submit a poem on human trafficking and victims’ restoration of hope. Raise awareness and promote freedom for the 27 million enslaved around the world and in our own backyard.

Please consider sharing if you know any writers and poets. From some of the cover letters and background stories we’re getting, let me tell you, it confirms that human trafficking is way too alive and well in our country.

Help Fight The World’s Fastest Growing Crime

Are you a poet? A writer? Do you know one?

Human trafficking is the fastest growing crime in the world. Criminals buy, sell and trade human beings into the commercial sex industry and forced labor. Take up your pen to help combat this horrific form of modern-day slavery. Submit a poem to the Poetry For Their Freedom Contest.

Poetry For Their Freedom

First prize includes $100, a live reading at The A21 Campaign – U.S. East Coast office’s Be Their Freedom annual benefit to be held on Sept. 19th in Charleston, SC. Additionally, the winning poem will be printed in the Be Their Freedom event program and posted on The global A21 Campaign’s Instagram feed.

For submission guidelines and more information, please visit Poetry For Their Freedom at www.poetryfortheirfreedom.com

Please forward to any poet you think would be interested in becoming an active voice for freedom!


Undaunted“Why didn’t you come sooner?” A young girl once posed this question to Christine Caine—the co-founder of The A21 Campaign, which fights human trafficking. This girl had suffered unspeakable horror as a slave sold for sex many times a day. She’d stared at Christine with despair in her eyes. “Why didn’t you come sooner?”

In her excellent book, Undaunted, Christine Caine says she had an unassailable excuse, but couldn’t bring herself to use it. In truth, she hadn’t come because she simply hadn’t known. But that wasn’t good enough—not in the face of this girl’s urgency, her despair.

Have you ever temporarily lost your child in a crowd? Felt the searing rip of instantaneous fear? However shy your personality, you grip strangers’ arms, begging to know if they’ve seen your child. How can they even consider going about their day when something so absolutely desperate is happening? You’re frantic for a kind and friendly person to find your child and bring them back to you. You pray for the kindness of a stranger.

But what if that is not the type of person your child encounters?

What if your child’s eyes are darting from one unfamiliar face to another for rescue? But that rescue doesn’t come. Can you now blame the girl for asking, “Why didn’t you come sooner?”

“When you’re not lost—when you’re safe—it’s hard to understand the urgency of needing to be found, needing to be rescued.” Christine Caine

With that quote, I think you can already see how Undaunted is a book that hits hard. But it is simultaneously very inspiring. Christine Caine generously shares her own dramatic life story in the hopes it can help ours. She has gone through some really difficult things that could have left her bitter and stagnant…but instead, she has used them to make—not only herself—but others stronger. And she has developed a compassion that has shot past emotion into action.

In Undaunted, Christine talks about why we hold back—how we may want to help others, but common things stop us:

  • We don’t feel empowered
  • We think we lack the courage, the strength, the wisdom, the money, the experience, the education, the organization, the backing.
  • We feel unqualified. We feel daunted.

Personally, I’ve felt all those things, but this book helps remind me how to overcome them.

I’ve written for The A21 Campaign East Coast office for over a year now, but I’ve not met Christine Caine personally. I had the chance in June at our first (soon-to-be annual BE HER FREEDOM gala), but to be honest, it’s not that easy for me to just go up and talk to somebody—especially when that someone is a great and powerful speaker…and doer of so-many-things overwhelming. I guess you could say I was daunted. One time, hearing her speak, my husband leaned over to me and said, “She packs into a 40-minute lecture what it would take someone else an hour and a half to say.”

It’s true. Christine Caine is a slim 5’3” energetic powerhouse. While she travels all over the world, speaking inspirationally to thousands upon thousands, I sit in my office chair, oftentimes staring at my blinking cursor. Although our lives are very different, one of the blessings of her being so open about the difficulties in her own life is that they resonate. Suffering (unfortunately) is a connector for us all.

Like her, I, too, know exactly what it’s like to hear a doctor say, “I’m sorry. I can’t find a heartbeat.” Perhaps, pain is not always so similar in nature, but we have all suffered. We can understand loss. We feel compassion. What we do with it is the main difference. How we handle it is up to us.

Many former human trafficking victims are now huge advocates for the cause. Other activists, like myself, may have no personal tragedy to associate with the cause, but “Justice will not be served until those who are unaffected are as outraged as those who are.” -Benjamin Franklin. Human trafficking is not only a horrific crime; it’s also the fastest growing in the world. The trade of people now outsells the trafficking of arms. If we don’t fight this, it is not a stretch to consider a future where we will know someone who has fallen victim.

Christine has a wonderful prayer in her book, Undaunted. “God, help me not to close my eyes to other people’s horror or ignore injustice. Help me fight the injustices you hate. Help me value people and speak up for those who have been silenced.”

I know I’m quoting her a lot, but hey, she’s got a lot of good stuff to say. Here’s one last: in reference to the rows and rows of posters of the missing. “These photographs should be in beautiful frames on a mantle, or in the pages of a family photo album on a coffee table… They shouldn’t be plastered coldly here, taped across the peeling paint of an airport wall.”

The New Year is a great time to stand up. Don’t you think?

Key2Free Is Coming

October 18th is International Anti-Slavery Day. Yet, wasn’t slavery abolished? Sadly, it has simply twisted into a more shadowy and hidden form—human trafficking. People can be sold over and over again…unlike a drug.

In honor of anti-slavery day, The A21 Campaign is conducting its largest awareness campaign of the year: Key2Free. It’s an initiative to rally individuals, groups and businesses everywhere to join the fight and declare on October 18th that human trafficking is absolutely unacceptable.

People all over the world are coming up with unique (and funny) ways to use their business acumen, talents and creativity to help awaken our world to the fact this horrific crime is going on.

There are LOTS of fun ways to participate. You’re only limited by your imagination.

1. Wear the Key: On October 18, wear a key to symbolize freedom. 
Be prepared to explain what it represents.

2. Share the Key: Spread the word. Share human trafficking links on Facebook, YouTube, Twitter and Causes. If you host an event, post photos on the Key2Free Facebook page and tweet with the hashtag #KEY2FREE.

3. Raise the Key: Use your creativity and gather friends for a Key2Free event. Party with a purpose.

4. Be the Key: Join the fight and make a difference by becoming an A21 abolitionist. ‘Cause, yes, they are still needed.

Need some more ideas?

  1. Walk in her shoes: organize or participate in a sporting event to promote awareness and/or raise funds
  2. Smarten up your staff: Invite staff and friends for a showing of the documentary Nefarious or the film, Trade
  3. Donate a percentage: donate a percentage of sales proceeds or funds from a specific product/service
  4. Offer future in-kind resources: arrange to become an A21 resource for specific products/services
  5. Poster the city: Make and display Key2Free signs.
  6. Come up with something entirely different. Be creative.

As red and black are The A21 Campaign colors, a local salon (here in Charleston) decided they’re going to offer red and black hair extensions for $15 in the month of October. All profits (after expenses) will be donated to The A21 Campaign.

A local football team has decided to wear red socks along with their black uniform pants every time they take the field this fall.

Doesn’t take much to promote a little awareness. But, could have a huge impact for some 14-year-old girl. Actually, the average age for a victim is 12. Tell me that doesn’t scare you.

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?

4 Things You May Not Know About Independence Day

Hopefully, every American knows that the Declaration of Independence was adopted on July 4, 1776 and we celebrate it because it marks the legal separation of the original Thirteen American colonies from Great Britain.

Things you may or may not know:

1. Thomas Jefferson was the primary author of the Declaration of Independence. 

Can you imagine being the author of a document that would go on to serve as the bedrock of a nation?  . . .Hearing something like, “Hey Tom, think you could write up something about all this? And try to keep it down to a page, okay?”

2. John Adams originally thought the 2nd of July would be the big day.

He writes to his wife, Abigail (I can’t help picturing them as Paul Giamatti and Laura Linney since watching the John Adams min-series):

“The second day of July, 1776, will be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be commemorated as the day of deliverance, by solemn acts of devotion to God Almighty. It ought to be solemnized with pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations, from one end of this continent to the other, from this time forward forever more.”  (“Letter from John Adams to Abigail Adams, 3 July 1776, ‘Had a Declaration…’”. Adams Family Papers. Massachusetts Historical Society.) He got the momentous occasion right, just not the exact date.

3. Both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson died on the 4th of July in 1826—on the 50th anniversary of the Declaration of Independence.

These two men were the only signers of the Declaration of Independence to become President of the United States. They both died on the 4th of July—a day that obviously had very personal significance for each–and in the same year. Maybe they said, “Okay, got our country to 50. Now, it’s time to rest. I’ve done my bit.”

4. The second sentence of the Declaration of Independence is now considered to be a major statement on Human Rights cited the world over.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Inspiring words that we too often take for granted. Words that serve as a foundation for not only a country, but a way to live. Today, I want to really think about them.

Whether you’re American or not, I hope we all take the above words from the Declaration to heart. Happy 4th everybody.

Question: Which of the above four things did you know? Anything you want to add?

Thanks to Wikipedia for providing this great info on our nation’s foundation.

Down To The Wire

Why do weBe Her Freedom tend to wait? I’m asking myself this question as much as I’m asking you.

This past weekend, The A21 Campaign, which fights human trafficking, held its BE HER FREEDOM fundraising event and celebrated the opening of its first east coast office–located right here in Charleston, SC. I’m a volunteer for the organization and yet, when did I buy my tickets? Yep. The week prior. I knew I was going. I knew my plans. But my habit to register for things last-minute was not especially helpful for those trying to get a good head count. Food and such had to be ordered a lot earlier. Now, give me a task and I’m on it. But sign-ups and ticket purchases? I suddenly turn procrastinator. It’s true, being part of the volunteer core staff, it was known I was coming, but until that ticket’s bought, nothing’s absolutely certain. I think we’ve all experienced the frustration of people dropping out at the last minute.

Now, we were BEYOND blessed that BE HER FREEDOM sold out! Yay! But earlier that week, it wasn’t even close. A big percentage of the tickets were sold in the hours right up to the event. Why do we do this? Why do we make the planners sweat it out? Are we just that busy that we’re unwilling to commit until the last second or is it something else?

Anyone ever planned a wedding and wondered why it was so hard to get people to check a box and send back the RSVP that has already been stamped and addressed? I remember before my own wedding, thinking, “What do we need to do for you people? Have someone there to lick the envelope?” I swore from then on, when I got wedding invitations, I’d reply quickly. And, I do. But now, I realize I need to extend this courtesy to important fundraisers, too. They have enough stress in their lives, trying to make the world a better place.

Are you quick to sign up for things? (I applaud you, if you are.) What personal experiences have affected you enough to change YOUR habits in order to benefit others?  

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?