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'It is a human issue' | Advocate looks to shed light on missing people of color, rid term 'runaway'

While race shouldn’t matter, it was highlighted in an HBO documentary titled ‘Black and Missing.'

ATLANTA — Dozens of kids are reporting missing every day across metro Atlanta, most often described as a ‘runaway.’ However, the Black and Missing Foundation is looking to change that explaining it’s dangerous and putting missing children at risk.

“We know that one in every three children that actually run away, they’re solicited for sex,” explained Derrica Wilson, co-founder and CEO of the Black and Missing Foundation. 

Wilson added, “Missing persons isn't a Black issue, it’s not a white issue but it is an American issue. It is a human issue.”

While race shouldn’t matter, it was highlighted in an HBO documentary titled "Black and Missing" featuring Wilson and her sister-in-law, Natalie Wilson, who is also co-founder of the foundation. 

The foundation is about to celebrate its 15th anniversary. Its mission statement reads, ‘The Black and Missing Foundation, Inc (BAMFI) is a non-profit 501(c)(3) organization whose mission is to bring awareness to missing persons of color; provide vital resources and tools to missing person's families and friends and to educate the minority community on personal safety.’

“We’re not hearing the cases of the Black and brown community garnering mainstream media,” Wilson explained, before pointing to a couple reasons for this issue. 

“One reason is because often times law enforcement classified those cases as runaways. Runaways are not receiving the Amber Alert. And really, there's no sense of urgency in finding them. And when it comes to missing adults, they often try to associate their disappearance with some sort of criminal activity and it really dehumanizes and desensitizes the fact that these are valuable members of our community, their mothers and fathers, their sons, daughters, sisters and brothers. And they deserve to be found," Wilson said.

When it comes to missing children, she explained the longer they’re on the streets, the higher their chance of becoming victimized. 

“We know that also in Atlanta, Georgia, that it is a hub for human trafficking. And so our children in the Black community, they are literally walking around with a target on their back. They are being preyed upon. And from a recent study that was done by the Urban Institute, they interviewed traffickers and they admitted to targeting children in the Black and brown community,” explained Wilson. 

Recent statistics show more than 1,000 children go missing daily. Some are found within hours, days and weeks but some are not. Wilson said that’s where kids can fall victim to predators. 

“They have to go into survivor mode. They can’t survive on their own. They’re doing something to survive and that is what is so scary,” she said.

Wilson said society also has to get more involved and figure out why these children are going missing in the first place. 

“We also know that there is a correlation between missing persons and domestic violence. So when you think about everyone being locked down and these children are locked in the homes with their abusers, they were not able to escape, to go to school, to have that safety net. They were desperate, you know, just to be in survival mode. And then mental health has played a huge impact on the disappearance. You know, there are so many children that are suffering trauma and they are turning to the World Wide Web and they're trusting those individuals that are hiding behind their monitors, their screens, their devices. They're putting all their trust in them. And, you know, someone that's promising these kids the absolute world, they fall prey to that,” explained Wilson 

She hopes that law enforcement will start removing ‘runaway’ from their description and call them describe them as what they truly are, ‘missing.’ 

“We need to dedicate the same amount of resources in finding them,” Wilson said. 

Her true hope is one day the Black and Missing Foundation will be able to dissolve itself and no longer needed but as of right now she said they still have a lot of work to do including finding the missing. 

“Name one person of color that has garnered mainstream media. Just one. It doesn't exist. It doesn't exist. And we want to even that playing field,” Wilson said.

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