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!
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.
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."
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.