High school students work to bring awareness to human trafficking

Tucker High School students Nafekot Tadesse, left, and Leah Whitmoyer, right, speak to a crowd at the Students for Freedom Human Trafficking Awareness Forum at Mountain West Church in Stone Mountain Jan. 13. Photos by Derek Smith.


Two Tucker High School (THS) students have taken it upon themselves to raise awareness about human trafficking in Atlanta, throughout the United States and around the world.

Nafekot Tadesse, 17, and Leah Whitmoyer, 16, started the group Students for Freedom at THS last January after the pervasiveness of human trafficking was brought to their attention in their world literature class.

THS teacher Morgan Hutchinson introduced students to human trafficking in mid-December 2016 by showing them video of a presentation by humanitarian photographer Lisa Kristine.

Kristine’s talk, titled “Photos that bear witness to modern slavery,” chronicles her travels in developing countries and—tells the stories of several modern slaves and the conditions they face.

Tadesse and Whitmoyer said the video affected them so deeply, they spent all of winter break thinking about it before deciding to start a club to raise awareness of human trafficking.

“It was just really powerful to note that I was a full normal teenager. I didn’t know what I wanted in life, I had a family that loved me, friends that loved me,” Whitmoyer told The Champion. “But just to know that someone in a different situation at my same age could be trapped in such a horrible environment, I think that pushed both me and Nafekot to learn more and spread awareness about it because that’s how we’re gonna stop this.”

Upon returning from break, the two put together a presentation based on the video and went from class to class, through all grade levels at THS to try to make students aware of the reality of human trafficking.

“Even if they didn’t join the club, at least someone would know about it,” Whitmoyer said.

The two said they thought starting the club would help to get others their age involved.

“When your peers are telling you about something, it’s a lot different than when you hear it from your parents or on the news or something,” Tadesse said.

Students for Freedom built from there, recruiting THS teacher Troy Scarbrough as a sponsor.

Scarbrough told The Champion he was inclined to sponsor the group because he had already been following its cause. His church, Passion City, is involved in a movement to end human trafficking, and his mother is a member of Street Grace, an Atlanta-based non-profit also dedicated to ending human trafficking.

Scarbrough is just an administrative face though, more of a guide than a coordinator. He has played a minimal role in the operation as Tadesse and Whitmoyer have grown the club.

“They’re great leaders; they’re smart kids. They’re passionate about what they did,” Scarbrough said of Tadesse and Whitmoyer. “Everything, from start to finish, they’ve planned and organized the whole club.”

After getting Scarbrough on board, Students for Freedom developed a partnership with Free the Slaves, an international non-governmental organization established to campaign against modern slavery around the world.

They began holding meetings, regularly attended by at least 15 and sometimes up to 30 other THS students. Then it was on to fundraising. At THS’s annual Trunk or Treat event on Halloween, the group raised $340 with a bake sale of items made from ethically sourced goods to raise awareness about labor trafficking.

In December, they held a supply drive for Beloved Atlanta, a nonprofit that provides shelter and relief for human trafficking victims.

Their latest event was an informational forum Jan. 13 at Mountain West Church in Stone Mountain where DeKalb County Assistant District Attorney Destiny Harris Bryant spoke to a full room of students and area residents. Harris Bryant is a member of the DeKalb County District Attorney’s Sexual Exploitation and Crimes Against Children Unit where she prosecutes sex trafficking cases.

In the presentation, Harris Bryant said that a 2010 study of human trafficking in Georgia by the Schapiro Group revealed that 300 to 500 people each month were being trafficked in Georgia.

According to Harris Bryant, with Atlanta’s Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport and highway system, the city and metro-area have become a major hub for international human trafficking.
To Tadesse, the presentation served to highlight the importance of Students for Freedom and the need for expanded awareness.
“We sometimes direct our attention toward the wrong things,” she said. “Even here in DeKalb with sex trafficking, it’s like right under our noses. It just makes me feel like I need to do a better job at being a person and a citizen.”
But even with everything she’s learned through her involvement with the group, Tadesse is confident the problem isn’t a lost cause.
“There’s no issue we [humans] have created that we can’t solve,” she said. “What’s bad about us can be solved by what’s good about us.”


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