Kelly Diane Galloway says she’s on a mission to bring greater awareness to the problem, or perhaps the continuing crisis, of human trafficking.

And while some may believe that human trafficking exists only in places far away from our hallowed shores here in America, evidence suggests otherwise.

However, the nuanced and unique perspective which Galloway brings to the conversation points to her contention that just as children in Taiwan or women in South Africa may be victims of human trafficking, African Americans during the period of legalized slavery in the U.S. and today, have been and continue to be victimized by these heinous crimes.

But Galloway has chosen to do more than write a letter to her congressman. Under the banner of “the Free Them Walk,” she and over a dozen other volunteers continue to walk the 902 miles of the Underground Railroad’s path. Their journey so far has taken them from the starting point in Lynch, Virginia in early May and will culminate on Saturday, June 19, in Buffalo, New York.

That’s the day known to many African Americans throughout the U.S. as “Juneteenth.”

She spoke with The Washington Informer’s publisher, Denise Rolark Barnes, on May 14 during the publication’s weekly WIN-TV show.

“Slavery still exists and we’re here to light the pathway to freedom,” Galloway said. “The idea of walking the path of the Underground Railroad came on Juneteenth 2018 after I had become frustrated because most anti-trafficking organizations in the U.S. had failed to acknowledge Juneteenth and its significance for our country.”

“As the descendants of those who were slaves, we are the children of those who were bought for the purpose of sex, free labor and entertainment. Their bodies were used as commodities. That hasn’t changed centuries later. The vast majority of African Americans fall into vulnerable populations, particularly those in foster care or who are runaways.”

Galloway points to the disproportionate number of Black and brown children who face such obstacles in their lives as substance abuse in their homes, poverty, inadequate education, redlining and other systemic issues.

“Our children are put in a more vulnerable space and place,” she said. “Even the judicial system sees them as criminals so they’re actually ‘double victims.’”

“In each city to which our Free Them Walkers travel, we are submitting a list of demands or calls to action to legislators which includes ending terminology like ‘child prostitute’ and the current practice of charging children as such. How can a minor who has no control over the actions of an adult be charged with such a crime? They are the victims of rape,” she said.

Human Trafficking in Simple Terms

Human trafficking involves the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. Every year, millions of men, women, and children are trafficked worldwide – including here in the U.S.

It can happen in any community and victims can be any age, race, gender, or nationality. Traffickers might use violence, manipulation, or false promises of well-paying jobs or romantic relationships to lure victims into trafficking situations.

Language barriers, fear of their traffickers, and/or fear of law enforcement frequently keep victims from seeking help, making human trafficking a hidden crime.

Traffickers use force, fraud, or coercion to lure their victims and force them into labor or commercial sexual exploitation. They look for people who are susceptible for a variety of reasons, including psychological or emotional vulnerability, economic hardship, lack of a social safety net, natural disasters, or political instability. The trauma caused by the traffickers can be so great that many may not identify themselves as victims or ask for help, even in highly public settings.

Many myths and misconceptions exist. Recognizing key indicators of human trafficking is the first step in identifying victims and can help save a life. Not all indicators listed are present in every human trafficking situation, and the presence or absence of any of the indicators is not necessarily proof of human trafficking. But remember, do not attempt to confront a suspected trafficker directly or alert a victim to any suspicions. It is up to law enforcement to investigate suspected cases of human trafficking.

The Final Leg of the Walk

Galloway believes that every day serves as a win for her and her fellow walkers.

“We have mothers, fathers and spouses walking – most of them, like me, are business owners,” she said. “We’re talking 40-plus days off from making money and running our businesses because we believe this is important.”

“Since human trafficking is modern-day slavery, this journey mimics the Underground Railroad with stops in nine cities to pay homage to the abolitionists who fought to end slavery generation ago.”

“Human trafficking is a $150 billion industry and since the global COVID-19 pandemic began, there has been an increase in the number of human trafficking cases in the U.S. So, we’re getting out the word and partnering with as many people and organizations as possible to put the spotlight on this problem.”

“We’ve gotten support from folks like Whoopi Goldberg and when we end the walk on Juneteenth, we will have the descendants of Frederick Douglass and Harriet Tubman with us. What’s even more important to me is the huge number of people who are sending us notes and acknowledging the importance of our mission.”

“We are today’s freedom seekers,” she said.

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D. Kevin McNeir – Senior Editor

Dominic Kevin McNeir is an award-winning journalist with more than 25 years of service for the Black Press (NNPA). Prior to moving East to assist his aging parents in their struggles with Alzheimer’s,...

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