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Archive for the ‘A Future. Not A Past.’ Category

Lobby Day 2014 Highlights!

By Lairalaine White, youthSpark Community Ambassador


Lobby Day Blog 1According to a recent study by the Urban Institute, the underground commercial sex economy’s worth across eight major US cities was $290 million. Since 2005, Atlanta’s pimps have been pulling in an average of $33,000 a week, compared to about $12,000 a week in Dallas and about $11,000 in San Francisco. All in my beloved hometown Atlanta and it has been a subject that has had my blood boiling ever since! Although DMST Lobby Day has been held for several years now, it was definitely a calling to consciousness, not just for me but for many who live in Atlanta, particularly those who work with children and young adults. We were all charged to rush to the website ( and take the pledge to mobilize into action, to advocate, to create awareness. And as a result of my motivation to advocate, I sought out organizations such as youthSpark, Wellspring Living and Street Grace to partner in the cause of creating awareness within state government on DMST Lobby Day 2014! And what a day it was! In the wake of this million dollar industry, some very active non-profits, along with some 300 volunteers and concerned citizens and other key players in law enforcement and government all gathered at the Capitol as a show of solidarity at the annual DMST Lobby Day. The atmosphere was fueled with a sense of urgency and passion for the cause as volunteers and representatives of the partnering organizations gathered early that morning to prepare for the days activities.

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Yes!  We were going to be about the business, through our activism, to motivate those who attended the day’s activities to hear the latest statistics, glean understanding from the array of dignitaries invited to speak, and the walk in solidarity across into the Georgia State Capitol to approach our legislators. Our state senators and representatives were urged to join the wave of awareness and activism by creating funding priorities in state budget services to benefit the victims as well as services that protect the vulnerable children who may become victims.  The partnering organizations armed each of us with materials, pamphlets and other information that help each of us add relevance and importance to this day and this issue.
Lobby Day Blog 3Several local, state, and federal officials were invited to speak about their efforts eradicating this form of modern day slavery.  Ministers and Rabbis were called upon to intercede on behalf of those who have given themselves to the service of advocating and fighting the cause through prayers and sermonettes.  Then, after all the horn tooting and banner waving was done and the last prayer was prayed, several of us present pulled out the letter provided to us in our registration kits, signed our names and the name of our legislators and made our way over to Georgia’s Gold Dome to pursue a conversation with lawmakers.

The Capitol was in the midst of its usual stir, a plethora of organizations, schools, grass root organizations and concerned individuals were in the number of people there that day.  But somehow it seemed that the number of persons wearing the distinctive all black attire with purple scarves seemed to be more prevalent to me.  Though the Governor’s office was filled with Girl Scout troops and Rotary Club members, I found purple scarves around the necks of those trailing in to meet with his honor as a symbol of the DMST presence in the political atmosphere of the day.

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Julianna McConnell, Lobbyist for Street Grace,  provided me with lots of insight and gave me valuable lessons on legislative protocol. As I sat and listened to her speak about her experiences, I felt a wonderful growth spurt about the process and how I could effectively advocate for the cause.After delivering my letters to my legislators and taking pictures with friends/politicians and making new acquaintances in the cause, I left the “gold dome” even more motivated to be a part in the season for change and reversal of the stigma that is attached to my beloved hometown.

I also began to reflect back on the spark that ignited this fire in me, I am moved mostly by the faces of the little girls I’ve encountered. Those who have given me testimonies of being put on a Greyhound bus and told they were going to stay with an uncle or aunt in Atlanta, only to find that they were being sold into prostitution for a few rocks of cocaine, or those 13, 14 and 15 year olds who went AWOL from the group homes I worked at back to parts of north Fulton County and Interstate 285 to be victimized further. I am stirred up in my spirit about the staggering statistics associated with my beloved city and the idea that the communities of metro Atlanta sit oblivious to this culture of modern day sex slavery and some view these girls as criminals and not victims! DMST Lobby Day is indeed very relevant, very effective and very necessary! Lobby Day Blog 4

As I start my volunteer work I am moved to engage a new frontier of activism for me. I am already speaking to persons, whoever will listen in my own community, creating awareness of this issue and placing it on the calendar for next year. I urge whoever reads this to go to the Attorney General’s website and take the pledge! Then, contact Allison Hood and Jennifer Swain at youthSpark and get involved by becoming an Ambassador!

If you want to help be a part of the movement, please reach out to these organizations, especially my friends Allison Hood and Jennifer Swain at youthSpark! Atlanta needs you, we need you, our children need you!

Calling All College Students!

No matter who you are, you have a role to play in the fight to end child sex trafficking. youthSpark volunteer and Spelman College student LaDarrien Gillette writes about what she is doing to make a difference on her college campus. 

By LaDarrien Gillette, youthSpark Volunteer

IMG_3732I first started working with youthSpark at the beginning of my sophomore year as an associate to Spelman’s Social Justice Program. I knew I wanted to work closely with a non-profit that provided help for girls who were at risk for being sex trafficked; I just didn’t know exactly how I could help. What could I possibly do as a 20 year old college student? I had so many ideas swirling in my head of what I wanted to do (most were ideas similar to the Taken movie, including busting down doors and rescuing victims), but I knew I wouldn’t be allowed to do this. So…I changed up my focus so that I was no longer constrained by the “savior complex” and instead I set out to learn more about this crime and the people affected by it. I had the opportunity at Spelman to start an organization called WOWpriceless under the Social Justice Program umbrella. We spent time coming up with ways to educate students on campus about this crime happening in our own backyard of Atlanta. One of my favorite things WOWpriceless did was the Priceless Road Home walk from Kings Chapel (Morehouse) to the Manley Patio (Spelman). I invited two other pioneers on this issue to come and speak and tell more about their fight to help end sex trafficking. It was a wonderful event that I hope to be able to do again. I am learning now that to educate more people on this issue you have to reach out to people and jar their interest. It takes some time but I am confident that educating individuals will be the main factor to helping end this type of modern day slavery.

Want to raise awareness about child sex trafficking on your college campus? Email

Human Trafficking Awareness Day

January 11th is Human Trafficking Awareness Day! Take our I AM AWARE Challenge and share this infographic with your friends and family via social media and tag youthSpark! Each One, Reach One!

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Start the Conversation!

Most parents dread having the big “sex talk” when their child turns 14 years old. Today, if you wait until that age, it’s likely that someone – or television – has beaten you to the punch. According to the 2010 Trafficking in Persons Report, as many as 300,000 children are at risk for sexual exploitation each year in the United States, and with the average age of entry into prostitution being 12 to 14 years old, now is the most crucial time to understand the power of prevention when it comes to this horrific crime. youthSpark, Inc. has created two short videos that can be used to start a conversation with your child around this issue.

Download our Official Question & Answer Discussion Guide.

While there are many public service announcements (PSAs) available on the topic of child sex trafficking and these can be shown to anyone, youthSpark’s PSAs are specifically geared towards educating children as young as 10 years old as well as targeting the “demand” side of trafficking. More and more parents want to have this conversation, but don’t know how as some of the videos out there may not be suitable for children who aren’t considered vulnerable. Our goal is that this video will serve as a starting point to introduce this important topic to your children. In addition, we have created an Official Question & Answer Discussion Guide that provides suggested talking points and Care Clinician Tips. We encourage all parents and youth-serving organizations to use these videos and discussion guide as an appropriate resource to educate young people on the risks of child sex trafficking.

These PSAs were made possible with special partnership and funding by the Junior League of Atlanta.

Interview with Adam Gregory

We were thrilled to have some fantastic members of the Atlanta acting community volunteer their time to be a part of our Prevention PSA. Adam Gregory shared with us how he got started with acting, and why being involved in your community is so important.

I decided to go back to school for theatre in 2007 because I had taken a few acting classes but had not performed. So I enrolled at the Community College of Philadelphia and had the pleasure of learning from Kirsten Quinn. Then I transferred to Temple University and just got a BA in Theatre / Art History in August 2013. During my time at Temple I was inspired by many actors/professors such as Lee Richardson, Marla Burkholder, Michael Friel, and Peter Reynolds, all who were working in theatre. I have had many mentors including Brian A. Wilson, and Mark Kochanowitz who are professional actors. Here in Atlanta I have trained with Alliance Theatre, Nick Conte, Terry Vaughn, and Dwayne Boyd, who I am interning with currently as his assistant in his acting for film class for children.

I got involved with community service in Philadelphia and worked with Student Government, Young Philadelphia Playwrights through Temple University, and with children in the Philadelphia public school through Spiral Q Puppetry Theatre Company. I also worked with Shakespeare in Clark Park and Ombelico Mask Ensemble. I feel that you can gain much from volunteering and that is why I thought youthSpark was a great organization as well.

I do believe actors and others should get involved with organizations like youthSpark because they care about the community and are there to provide services for our youth. I enjoyed playing this role because it will help inform children that a predator could be someone that looks innocent and harmless. And children should be wary of any stranger offering them a ride. I enjoy teaching children and I thought this would be a great opportunity to give back to the community. In fact, I would love to make additional films regarding bullying and other issues that affect children and young adults. As Actors, we can make a difference by showing through our art what or what not to do in certain situations. I think youthSpark is great and I look forward to volunteering in the future.

Thanks Adam! We appreciate you!

Interview with Wandreka Dubose

We were thrilled to have some fantastic members of the Atlanta acting community volunteer their time to be a part of our Prevention PSA. Wandreka Dubose spoke with me about why she cares about this issue and how everyone can get involved.

WDWhat made you want to get involved with the youthSpark PSA?

Once I found out what youthSpark was about and the goal behind the PSA, I knew that I wanted to help with bringing awareness to the severity of sex trafficking. I had no idea of the increasing rate of sex trafficking in just Atlanta alone. I feel I have been more educated on this serious matter and I hope that spreading awareness through this PSA is beneficial in more ways than one.

What was it like to play this role?

It was very different playing this role, being that it was one of my more serious roles played so far. There was so much vulnerability in the character I was portraying, to the point that it was very heartbreaking to know that what my character felt and experienced happens every single day in real life, to real girls. Really young girls. And I can only imagine that the damage of it all is not only physical, but emotional and psychological as well.

What are some other acting projects you have been a part of?

I’ve done some extra, featured, and stand-in work and I’ve worked on a couple of student films. The latest project that I’m a part of is a faith based web series titled Life With Hope, directed by David McNeill White. I play the role of Renae, who is the church secretary.

How did you get started with acting?

I originally wanted to get into modeling so I sought out representation. The wonderful agency that gave me a chance (who I am currently still signed with) primarily reps for acting, so I took that as a sign that God wanted me to branch out and try something new. The acting world has been growing on me ever since then. I’m always learning something new in this industry!

Why is this an issue the community should get behind?

It’s a very serious issue that seems to be growing by the day. I like that saying, “Treat others as you would have them treat you”. If you had a neighbor who had young kids who were in danger of becoming victims, they’d want to know how to protect their kids from this, and I’d be willing to bet that they’d welcome and appreciate any extra help, by you, their neighbor, with the prevention of this danger. After all, what if your kids were at risk? There are strength in numbers.

How can the acting community make a difference in the arena of child sex trafficking?

Bringing awareness in addition to effective prevention actions is important. More PSAs, plays, and films about sex trafficking would help to do that, and funds for those productions could be donated to organizations that are hard at work with successful prevention approaches.

Thanks Wandreka! We appreciate you!

Interview with Nysa Loudon

We were thrilled to have some fantastic members of the Atlanta acting community volunteer their time to be a part of our Prevention PSA. Nysa Loudon spoke with me about why she cares about this issue and how everyone can get involved.

What made you want to get involved with the youthSpark PSA?

The director of the PSA actually contacted me about acting for it because he needed another actress due to time concerns with another actress. So I was interested because it was a chance to act in front of a camera which I don’t get to do very often and it was about something that I really have strong feelings about. So those two together made me say yes to being in it.

What was it like to play this role?

Honestly, scary. I may not have actually been in danger, but I could feel my instinct to run kicking in. The lines that were said to my character felt demeaning, disgusting, and just scary. The only thing I could do to relieve the tension of those scenes was maybe make awkward or funny comments after cut was called or move around a little. I tried to laugh and smile and talk so that the part wouldn’t get to me. But the truth is, those situations are scary and I could feel it even though I was just acting and in a controlled environment.

What are some other acting projects you have been a part of?

I’ve mostly done a lot of stage productions. Recently I was in Theater Emory’s The Cherry Orchard by Anton Chekhov and Shakespeare Festival at Tulane’s Hamlet as Ophelia. So I’ve done a lot of classical stage roles. Film is a little bit of a new experience for me, I was just in Theater Emory’s film adaption of “The Joke”, an Anton Chekhov short story, and other smaller projects and extra work.

How did you get started with acting?

I got started with acting in late Elementary school when I saw my school’s drama troupe do a production and thought “hey I think I can do that.” I was extremely shy as a child and I think acting was a way that I knew I could push myself and plus, I wasn’t me on stage, I was a character. Everything just seems so much better when I’m in a role and being creative.

Why is this an issue the community should get behind?

Because women are not things, they are people. We should be able to feel safe when we’re walking on the street. This issue is coming out of much deeper lack of support that a community can give to its children. The education that they need to combat these issues and recognize a bad situation when they see one is not there or when it is, it isn’t enough. Sex education is severely lacking in public schools. They teach an abstinence only policy that doesn’t even scratch the surface of what is needed to have good relationships with people. Sex education isn’t just about the sex and condoms and not getting STDs, it should be about their body, being in control of their body. These girls have someone else telling them what to do and not to do with their body. These people fake concern over their victim and make them believe that they are the ones who can help them when really they are hurting them. Learning how to be kind to someone in a relationship, learning to respect yourself so that when some one is using you or taking advantage you can recognize it and get help, and learning to care of those who have been hurt by sexual, physical and emotional abuse instead of condemning them is what sex education is really about. It will make our children better at understanding the world around them, the people around them, and supporting their own community rather than hurting it.

How can the acting community make a difference in the arena of child sex trafficking?

Acting is so interactive and can be so moving that sometimes it can make a difference in someone’s life. Seeing that they’re not alone, that there is a story out there like theirs being told, can make a world of a difference to an adolescent. Theater is and always has been used to tell a story and to spark conversation. The theater community can help bring to light stories that had previously been in the dark. Film is often able to command an attention that parents and teachers can only wish for from their children and students. There is an opportunity here to make children think for themselves and to receive good, solid information from trustworthy sources. If schools can’t provide the education in respect, kindness, creativity, and sex education and awareness that kids absolutely need, then maybe film and theater can help to fill part of that gap. Those that have been through sex trafficking may find theater to be a good outlet for their pain. They will find that sort of control and creativity that they might have been lacking. Not only can theater be a source of discussion and spark action from communities and the government about the problem and exploitation in sex trafficking but it can also be used as a way to help those who have been trafficked by giving them a safe place for them to tell their stories and to take control of them and finding the creativity within themselves that will help them heal.

Thanks Nysa! We appreciate you!

Interview with Zachary Blake

We were thrilled to have some fantastic members of the Atlanta acting community volunteer their time to be a part of our Prevention PSA. I spoke with Zachary Blake about what it was like to play the john in this production and why we all have a part to play in fighting this injustice.

What made you want to get involved with the youthSpark PSA?

This hit home for me to be able to do this PSA in hopes that a young person can be saved from these types of predators. Young people are vulnerable and need guidance in their lives and should know that there are people out there that they can trust.

What was it like to play this role?

When I took on the emotions and the personality of this “John”, I also took on the predator mentality; feelings of being distanced from my subject; emotionally avoidant; a sense of superiority. To know there are people out there that are like this is scary and we need to do everything that we can to keep these young people safe.

What are some other acting projects you have been a part of?

My past experience has been working on television and in movies as an extra. I have worked on “Devious Maids, Halt and Catch Fire, Necessary Roughness” and movies such as “Anchor Man 2 and Endless Love” to name a few.

How did you get started with acting?

I have always wanted to be an actor and with big name movie studios now relocating to Georgia, it is the best time to fulfill my dreams.

Why is this issue something the community should get behind?

Young people need protection from many different dangers in life that affect them. Adults have many jobs to do and cannot offer their protection on a day-to-day basis. If the community can come together and create say, “safe houses” throughout all communities for young people to be able to go to for safety, needless violence could subside and our young people can be free from harm.

How can the acting community make a difference in the arena of child sex trafficking?

Famous actors have tremendous power! If these actors can take their influence and use it to persuade the communities to take part in this subject, it may not eliminate the problem of sex trafficking, but it can help reduce it.

Thanks Zachary! We appreciate you!

Atlanta Agencies Battle Child Sex Trafficking

By Tessa Szalkowski

Through glassy eyes and trembling lips, Pattie Harrelson recollects a heart-breaking memory.

Every Friday night, Out of Darkness, a religious organization combating child sex trafficking, ventures out into the rougher neighborhoods of Atlanta, just to complete one simple mission: give out roses to trafficked girls. Out of Darkness has researched where these girls are being sold, so they can target those neighborhoods. Recently, Harrelson, the director of communications, tagged along on this operation, which they call Princess Night.

“You pull up the van, and girls just flock to the van just for this single rose … they’re trying to get a rose while one leg is in a car going to service a guy at night. It’s just the craziest scene you’ve ever seen,” Harrelson said.

But one girl stood out to her in particular.

“She didn’t want to talk, she had to go. About a half hour later, she found our van. We were about a mile away from where she first met us. She was just weeping, and she said ‘Can I have another rose?’… Who knows? Maybe her pimp crushed it, but this rose meant something beautiful.”

Out of Darkness also runs a hotline for trafficked girls to call if they need help. Once the call is received, a rescue team will locate the girl and bring her back to their facilities to be provided care. Trafficked girls do not have glowing signs above their head; they can pass us by on the street without us ever realizing a pimp owns her.

Atlanta is one of the top 14 leading cities in Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children (CSEC), according to the FBI. About 200 girls are sold for sex each month in Georgia, and more than half of those girls are runaways.

Jennifer Swain is one of the program managers at youthSpark, an organization that provides help for girls at risk for being trafficked. Swain offered more insight on the prevalence of human trafficking.

“I tell people that [trafficking] is like a new car. Sometimes, you never see a grey Mustang with a black stripe on it, but when you buy one and drive off the lot, you see them everywhere,” Swain said. “It’s right there, but until you’re really educated about what it is, you don’t really know how bad it affects young girls and boys.”

Many at-risk girls start in the juvenile justice system— either having been picked up by the police for offenses, such as truancy or drug-related charges, or by being victims of child abuse or sexual abuse. These girls are normally then referred to youthSpark for counseling with medically and psychologically trained adults and girls who have escaped the trafficking system. Through youthSpark Voices, the girls are informed about how easy it is to be coerced by a pimp and then sold as a prostitute before they can even protest. They are then encouraged to go back to their parents and school. This program has reached 500 girls, ages 11 to 17 in the metro-Atlanta area, according to youthSpark’s website.

If a girl is already being trafficked, there are many resources that can help her escape from her pimp. A House Bill that went into effect July 1 required certain businesses, such as strip clubs, to post hotline numbers, so these children may obtain help. Rescue teams have also been assembled to search for girls who have been abducted by pimps. Camila Wright, the Senior District Attorney of Human Trafficking, not only puts the traffickers away but also has a special job that most prosecutors do not get to witness.

“[The Crimes Against Women and Children Unit] gets to work a little earlier. Sometimes we even go out on raids with law enforcement when they are looking for these girls, proactively searching for them instead of waiting until they come forward,” Wright said.

After these trafficked girls are liberated from their pimps, they are sent to a safe house, where they can receive therapy and continued education. Wellspring is a safe house that youthSpark has partnered with in Tyrone, Ga. Wellspring provides a residential home for children and adults who are survivors of sexual exploitation. The girls learn life skills, receive counseling and enter programs in which they can reunite with their family. Over the past six years, Wellspring Living had rehabilitated approximately 140 women and girls, according to Wellspring Living’s website.

These organizations are striving to spread the word about sex trafficking to teenagers around Atlanta and the surrounding areas. The youthSpark Igniters is a program that helps educate girls on the importance of staying in school and remaining safe. Boys also are informed about respect for women and how their actions as a pimp or a buyer could deeply impact the lives of young girls forever. If interested, these students may be trained to become Igniters and are equipped to spread the word about this issue to their school and community.

If you are interested in becoming an Igniter or want to learn more about the subject, visit for more information.


Summer 2013 Update

Start A SparkWant more information on what youthSpark is doing to end child sex trafficking?

Check out our most recent program update! It features programmatic and organizational highlights of success as well as our strategy for ending child sex trafficking.

Take a look at our website for more information on youthSpark programs!

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youthSpark is honored to be the beneficiary of funds raised from the Walk Against Trafficking that will take place during the Quadrennial Assembly.
Get more information about the event and how you can be involved here.

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