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Black and Missing Foundation Shines Spotlight on Missing Persons and Their Families

NNPA NEWSWIRE — Derrica Wilson and her sister Natalie noticed what had become the norm for mainstream media when it comes to the plight of missing women and girls of color: there was little to no media coverage. As a result, in 2008, Derrica and Natalie founded the nonprofit Black and Missing Foundation with a mission to bring awareness to missing persons of color and to provide vital resources and tools to missing person’s families and friends.

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Derrica Wilson and Natalie Wilson founded the nonprofit Black and Missing Foundation to bring awareness and resources to missing persons of color and their families.

By Stacy M. Brown, NNPA Newswire Senior Correspondent
@StacyBrownMedia

The case of Tamika Huston, a 24-year-old black woman who went missing from her Spartanburg, South Carolina, home on May 27, 2004, captivated Derrica Wilson and her sister, Natalie.

Derrica and Natalie noticed how fiercely Huston’s aunt, Rebkah Howard, fought to find her.

Howard went to law enforcement, and then she pitched the story to television outlets and shows like “America’s Most Wanted,” and “Dateline NBC.”

She also pleaded with major newspapers like USA Today.

The media, however, focused its attention on the so-called “Runaway Bride” Jennifer Wilbanks, and Laci Peterson, whose husband Scott would eventually be charged and convicted of her murder.

The Wilson sisters noticed what had become the norm for mainstream media when it comes to the plight of missing women and girls of color: there was little to no media coverage.

Because of that, in 2008, Derrica and Natalie started the nonprofit Black and Missing Foundation with a mission to bring awareness to missing persons of color and to provide vital resources and tools to missing persons’ families and friends.

In addition, the foundation’s goal is to educate the minority community on personal safety.

“Derrica’s hometown is Spartanburg, and we both noticed how Tamika’s family struggled to get any media coverage,” Natalie Wilson stated. “A little while after Tamika went missing, there was Natalie Holloway, and everyone was saying her name,” Wilson said.

“Derrica was a law enforcement veteran, and I am in media and public relations, so we decided to join forces to try and make a difference. We did some research, and, at the time, we discovered that 30 percent of all people missing were individuals of color,” Wilson stated.

“Now, that number has grown to 40 percent.”

Of the approximately 600,000 individuals currently reported missing in the United States, more than 200,000 are women of color, Wilson said.

According to the FBI, approximately 64,000 black women and girls are missing, despite that specific demographic accounting for approximately 7 percent of the U.S. population.

Because of the efforts of the Wilson sisters over the past 12 years, the Black and Missing Foundation has helped to find or bring closure to more than 300 cases of missing persons of color.

“We have made some inroads,” Natalie Wilson stated. “When we first started, we saw that our community thought that sex trafficking and missing person cases only happened abroad. But people began to realize that it was happening in our community, so with awareness, people in the community have become more aware and vigilant.”

Wilson said she hopes law enforcement and mainstream media begin to take more serious and immediate looks at cases of missing women and girls of color.

“We find that when people of color — men and women — go missing, automatically it’s assumed that there’s some criminal activity involved or they’ve just run away. They are stereotyped and not taken seriously,” Wilson stated.

When authorities classify a case as a runaway, there’s no Amber Alert, and the media tends to ignore the matter, she said.

“Even if they are runaways, we have to find them within the first 48 hours because we need to understand why they ran away and realize that many are lured into sex trafficking,” Wilson stated.

The Black and Missing Foundation also helps families immediately after they report a missing loved one. “Many times, the families don’t know how to file a police report, and often when the file the report, an officer tells them that it could be a runaway situation or maybe drugs are involved,” Wilson said.

“We tell the families that they know their loved ones, and they know what’s not their behavior. So, we are there for the families to hold their hands or to listen.”

Wilson said the foundation is a voice for the families, and everyone should have a role in bringing awareness to the plight of missing persons of color.

“We have to help,” she said.

For more information about the Black and Missing Foundation, or to donate, visit www.blackandmissinginc.com.

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U.S. Business Leaders Step Up to Fight Inequities in the South

Even as the pandemic has laid bare societal inequities that have long eroded the foundation of our democracy, political leaders in Washington and in state capitols are mired in a level of rancor and partisanship not seen since the ideological struggles over the Vietnam War. 

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Dr. Benjamin F. Chavis Jr./ NNPA Newswire

Even as the pandemic has laid bare societal inequities that have long eroded the foundation of our democracy, political leaders in Washington and in state capitols are mired in a level of rancor and partisanship not seen since the ideological struggles over the Vietnam War. 

This toxic atmosphere has left them incapable of addressing pressing, yet ingrained issues like the racial wealth gap, the digital divide, and vast inequalities in everything from health care to home ownership.

With COVID-19 still an omnipresent concern and the country’s recovery still very much in jeopardy, individuals, families, and communities – particularly communities of color throughout the South – are struggling to deal with issues that have only been exacerbated by the pandemic.

From impediments to wealth creation opportunities and a dearth of education and workforce development to a lack of access to reliable broadband, substandard housing, and inadequate political representation, communities of color have suffered an outsized toll during the ongoing public health crisis.

Yet political leaders can’t even agree on basic facts that would allow the nation to implement a coherent national strategy for combatting a pandemic that appears to be entering a new wave amid the rise of the highly contagious Delta variant that is currently ravaging parts of the South.

Against that disillusioning backdrop, there is at least some reason for hope. Moving to fill the vacuum created by the inaction of our political class, a group of business leaders in the technology and investment sectors have embarked on a far-reaching – and perhaps unprecedented – campaign to address the social inequities and systemic racism that has historically plagued our country’s southern communities.

Known as the Southern Communities Initiative (SCI), the campaign was founded by financial technology company PayPal, the investment firm Vista Equity Partners (Vista), and the Boston Consulting Group (BCG).

SCI was formed to work with local elected officials and advocacy groups to tackle the ubiquitous problems of structural racism and inequalities facing communities of color in six communities throughout the South. SCI notes that these areas – Atlanta, Ga., Birmingham, Ala., Charlotte, N.C., Houston, Texas, Memphis, Tenn., and New Orleans, La., – were chosen in part because they are home to around 50% of the country’s Black population and are where some of the greatest disparities exist.

SCI is aiming to drive long-term change, as outlined by PayPal CEO Dan Schulman, Vista CEO Robert F. Smith and BCG CEO Rich Lesser. 

In Atlanta, for example, SCI is working to bridge the wealth gap that exists among the region’s African-American residents. While there is a strong Black business community in the city, and high levels of Black educational achievement thanks to the regional presence of several Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) and the voice of the Black press, there is still an extremely low level of Black entrepreneurship and business ownership with only 6% of employer firms being Black-owned.

To remedy this disparity, SCI is working with the Southern Economic Advancement Project to create entrepreneurship hubs and accelerator programs to increase the number of minority-owned businesses. The corporations behind SCI are also using their networks to help other companies work with minority-owned supply companies.

In Alabama, SCI is seeking to bridge the massive digital divide in an urban area where 450,000 households are without connection to the internet. In order to tackle the crisis, SCI is leveraging relationships with local schools and libraries to distribute laptops and service vouchers. Another tact SCI is taking is to partner with the owners of multi-unit buildings in low-income neighborhoods to install free public Wi-Fi for residents.

The lack of access to capital is another reason Black communities throughout the South have been traditionally underbanked. In Memphis, where 47% of Black households are underbanked, SCI is partnering with Grameen America to cover the $2 million per year per branch start-up cost to build brick-and-mortar banks in minority communities.

This alone will provide 20,000 women access to more than $250 million per year in financing.

Beyond these initiatives, SCI is partnering with groups like the Greater Houston Partnership and the Urban League of Louisiana to provide in-kind support to improve job outcomes for minority college students, expand access to home financing through partnerships with community development financial institutions, and harness the power of technology to expand health care access in underserved urban and rural neighborhoods.

The issues facing these communities throughout the South are not new nor will they be fixed overnight.

Fortunately, SCI is taking a long-term approach that is focused on getting to the root of structural racism in the United States and creating a more just and equitable country for every American.

A once-in-a-century pandemic and a social justice movement not seen since the 1960s were not enough to break the malaise and rancorous partisanship in Washington. Fortunately, corporate leaders are stepping up and partnering with local advocates and non-profit groups to fix the problem of systemic injustice in the U.S.

We, therefore, salute and welcome the transformative commitments of the Southern Communities Initiative (SCI). There is no time to delay, because as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. so accurately said, “The time is always right to do what is right.”

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NNPA – Black Press w/ Hendriks Video Interview

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Black Woman to Lead United States Park Police

 Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

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Pamela A. Smith

Pamela A. Smith, a 23-year veteran of the United States Park Police, will lead the nation’s oldest federal law enforcement agency.

Smith, who became the first African American woman to lead the 230-year-old agency, immediately remarked that she would establish a body-worn camera program for USPP within 90 days.

The program will initially begin in San Francisco and be implemented across the country by the end of the year, Smith said.

“Body-worn cameras are good for the public and good for our officers, which is why I am prioritizing implementing a body-worn camera program within my first 90 days,” Smith offered in a statement.

 “This is one of the many steps we must take to continue to build trust and credibility with the public we have been entrusted to serve.”

Smith earned a bachelor’s degree in Education from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff and graduated from the FBI National Academy. She is a member of the National Organization of Black Law Enforcement Executives and the International Association of Chiefs of Police.

During her law enforcement career, the proud Zeta Phi Beta Sorority sister has served as a patrol officer, field training officer, canine handler, and academy instructor at the Federal Law Enforcement Training Center.

 According to a news release, Smith also served as executive lieutenant to the chief of police, assistant commander of the San Francisco Field Office, commander of the New York Field Office, acting deputy chief of the Homeland Security Division, and deputy chief for the Field Operations Division.

Smith was the first woman to lead the New York Field Office as its Major.

At the USPP, she will lead a 560-member workforce that protects the public, parks, and the nation’s most iconic landmarks in Wash., D.C., New York City, and San Francisco metropolitan areas.

“Chief Smith’s commitment to policing as public service and her willingness to listen and collaborate make her the right person to lead the U.S. Park Police at this pivotal moment in our country,” Shawn Benge, deputy director exercising the delegated authority of the NPS director, noted in a statement.

 “Over the coming months, the leadership of the National Park Service will explore opportunities with Chief Smith designed to strengthen our organization’s commitment to transparency. Her personal and professional experience make her acutely aware of and ready to meet the challenges and responsibilities that face U.S. Park Police and law enforcement agencies across the nation.”

 Jennifer Flynn, the associate director for Visitor Resource Protection at the National Park Service added that she’s looking forward to Smith’s leadership.

“Chief Smith’s experience serving in leadership roles in every U.S. Park Police field office has provided her with an unmatched foundation to lead the diverse agency,” said Flynn, who oversees law enforcement programs at USPP.

 “As federal law enforcement officers, the U.S. Park Police officers have a new opportunity each day to give their best to the American people. Chief Smith exemplifies that approach as a colleague and mentor, and she will be instrumental in refining and shaping the future of the organization,” Flynn said.

Smith declared that she would lead by example and expects all officers to display integrity.

 “I have dedicated my career to the professionalism of law enforcement, and it is my highest honor and privilege to serve as chief of police,” Chief Smith declared. “Today’s officers face many challenges, and I firmly believe challenges present opportunities. I look forward to leading this exemplary team as we carry out our mission with honesty and integrity.”  

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