Typical of any fashion show, hair and makeup was meticulously applied backstage by the Bella Toccare salon team at last Saturday's Runway Freedom Multicultural Fashion Show- but honestly there was not a highlighter on the market that could match the natural glow of the ladies walking that runway!
The show was held at St John's Episcopal Church in Ohio City, the Gothic style building on 2600 Church Street that has it's own historical significance as the "Station of Hope", the last stop of the Underground Railroad and that has continued to work for social justice since 1836. The message was loud and clear: people have needed help getting on their feet for centuries due to many circumstances, but it doesn't make them any less human, and it doesn't mean that their contributions to our communities should go unnoticed.
While I was helping the ladies to get ready behind the scenes, the show opened with remarks from Ms. Renee Jones, the president and CEO of the Renee Jones Empowerment Center. For the last fourteen years, Ms. Jones has helped address the after effects of human trafficking by "providing life coaching and aftercare services to those with the courage to break the human trafficking cycle."
A flag ceremony followed with facts provided by two students at Case Western Reserve detailing the statistics of known human trafficking countries and the tier rankings which identifies whether or not their governments were attempting to do something about the problem. After the ceremony, Tamiko Jenkins, owner of Studio LL50 and the night's emcee introduced the first look as the ladies came out in their colorful native garments, then in their fancy gowns and the grand finale which featured them in show stopping dresses fit for royalty. There was also a choreographed dance number that two of the young ladies came up with that got the crowd going and one raced backstage to get dressed in her final look in record time. I was so impressed!
All the ladies looked amazing and so confident and sure of themselves strutting across that stage (helped out by runway coach Diondra Heard earlier this month) as Tamiko read off little tidbits about them. The dresses were donated by Rockin Frocks- a program that gifts gowns and formal attire to girls and women in need, allowing them a chance to shine and attend special occasion events. My good friend and designer Anton Zbarzh also lent out a beautiful gown for one of the ladies to wear.
The evening ended with all the ladies standing on stage and receiving their well deserved applause and then went out to mingle in the crowd in their gorgeous dresses. We snacked on authentic ethnic foods and my picky self hesitated before tasting a grape leaf but was pleasantly surprised! I also attempted to taste hummus again (still nope) tabbouleh, pita bread and some other something I can't remember that was very wet and had lots of...chopped green stuff in it lol. I mainly grazed the veggie and cheese platter lol.
"It was my first time (walking),' said Annette Mango, who successfully changed three seperate outfits, accessories, shoes and even hairpieces in a matter of minutes. Speaking of the experience she simply said, "I have no words for it, it was amazing!"
At the very beginning of the show, backstage there was an anxious/nervous energy, the young ladies waited and ran around frantically chatting each other up, popping the heck out of gum (which of course I made them spit out like an angry headmistress- NO GUM ON THE RUNWAY!) waiting on the moment to go out on to the stage. If they were nervous walking out the first time I could not tell and by the third time, you would have thought they were pros and the audience ate it up! It was beautiful to watch.
This show was unlike any fashion show I have ever been involved with because it was a vehicle to not only promote cultural diversity and beauty, but also used as an aid to spread awareness about our local and global human trafficking epidemic. I really had no idea that thousands of women and children from Northeast Ohio are kidnapped, sold and forced into involuntary servitude- slavery, where they are forced into commercial sex or forced labor. But I learned all that and more at the fundraising event held in collaboration with US TOGETHER, an organization that provides services for immigrants and refugees which help strengthen the communities we live in.
We know that fashion can sometimes be superficial with traces of vanity, but we should keep in mind that it is a great way to bring awareness to topics that are hard to discuss, that we might turn a blind eye to, or just don't know enough about. I learned so much and it made me want to do more. Did you know that young boys are being kidnapped and held captive just as much as young girls, if not more? Did you know that all new beauty school applicants are now required to go through training to learn how to spot a human trafficking victim? And that when events like the RNC come into a town where money and power are spread among wealthy men is a crucial time for human trafficking? I didn't know any of this and many other heartbreaking statistics until I volunteered with the center.
Guest and owner of Blow Salon, Tymeka said, "I learned all across the board. I did not know about the boys."
You will see many collaborations between me and the Renee Jones Empowerment Center starting with the 'It's a Girl Thing' 2016 Young Women's Conference on Saturday, August 27th from 11am-4pm where I will facilitate a Style Me F.L.Y Workshop for young ladies ages 13-19. The workshop is free but you do have to register here.
Do you want to help out at the Renee Jones Empowerment Center? They always need volunteers to offer their gifts, skills and talents to help arm these ladies with the tools and knowledge needed to maintain. If you don't have the time then how about money? Ms. Jones has been running the center for the last fourteen years alone by the grace of God and was blessed with a grant last year, but the center still needs a list of things as big as a brand new building to as small as water bottles cause it is super hot in the center without fans (also needed) or air conditioners.
Please give what you can, if you can, because human trafficking affects us all and is something that needs to be discussed in our communities and in our homes.
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