Tuesday, November 7, SEAD Gallery and Advent GX proudly partnered with Beauty for Freedom to host “Illuminate,” a curator talk, with Beauty for Freedom co-founders, Monica Watkins and Jerry Chu on the issue of human trafficking.
Beauty for Freedom is a non-profit organization based out of New York City, whose mission is to provide an innovative, sustainable platform for beauty, art, and fashion industries to raise awareness of human trafficking on a local and global scale. In doing so, Beauty for Freedom also offers these industries an opportunity to take an active role in fighting human trafficking by donating financially to charitable foundations who share this same goal.
Beauty for Freedom exists to empower survivors and and youth at risk of trafficking to be comfortable in their own skins by celebrating their communities and educating these youth through art and photography. “Illuminate” is a product of this initiative, which took root in Kolkata, India, and allowed trafficking survivors and at-risk youth to cultivate their hopes and dreams through photography that contrasted the intimate, everyday moments of home life and the horrific realities of sex trafficking, violence, and prostitution.
For this reason, Advent GX (AGX) is thrilled to have had the honor to interview Ms. Watkins (W), and to delve deeper into Beauty for Freedom as a labor of love, a venue for change, and a partner of survivor empowerment.
AGX: What was your inspiration for getting started that we cannot read online?
W: Our inspiration came from the fact that we saw a need in philanthropy to include creative arts as a means of raising awareness to and funds for this issue. We were involved with several organizations to combat human trafficking and wanted to use the concept of art therapy to bring the community together and inspire activism. This was a way for us to empower survivors, lift them up, help them transcend this issue, and fundraise to support their cause.
AGX: How did Beauty for Freedom come to be in Bryan, Texas, given it’s headquartered in New York? How is Texas receiving Beauty for Freedom’s message?
W: I’m actually originally from Huntsville! I went to Sam Houston, and I was always up and down the road visiting Bryan/College Station before I moved to New York. I decided to come back because Texas is one of the top four states for human trafficking, and I felt that the mission would be well received here. That is, to showcase survivors. We want to work so that these victims could be identified as something other than a victim.
People are ready to talk about slavery in this state. The University of Texas and the mayor of Houston, Sylvester Turner are very involved in the statistics associated with human trafficking. Houston actually has a special task force just for trafficking.
Like I said, people are ready to have this conversation and to receive the messaging that we have. We want to eradicate slavery and empower survivors. They need recovery and assistance in adapting to a normal life and living.
So far, we have worked with this initiative in New York, Boston, and Texas. I was pleasantly surprised by the positivity and support here. This subject can be overwhelming, but most people have been open to digesting the information and seeing how they can become change-makers. There is so much hope in the state of Texas, and we’re on a positive path here. There is lots of great work being done already in continuing and expanding the conversation, investigating, and even law reform. Texas may be one of the Top Four, but it takes an aggressive zero-tolerance approach to human trafficking.
AGX: Where do you see this project going? What are your long-term goals?
W: Our long-term goals are about expansion and sustainability, and our focus now is on these. We have worked with over 1,500 survivors and been able to donate to and sponsor them. We want to help more survivors through programming and making substantial donations to rescue and counseling.
Because we’re grassroots, we fundraise for all of our money, but we need to become more sustainable in order to expand. We’re self-funded, and we haven’t had any sponsorships or donations. More financial stability through corporate sponsorships and grant applications would afford us that sustainability so that we can find and serve more survivors.
AGX: How can people in Bryan/College Station help?
W: We have upcoming projects in Mumbai, New York City, Ghana, and the South Sudan, and we need sponsorships for some of our projects while we travel. Artists for teachers, volunteers, sponsorships, partnerships, and collaboration. Being able to help share our mission through our book project. We need to expand our teaching program. We need volunteers to come in and help create content for our campaigns. We need help on fundraising and marketing in the state of Texas. We need the labor to help fund things without struggling.
We’d also like to partner with more universities, so we would appreciate networking opportunities. We are constantly looking for donors, sponsors, volunteers, and people with expertise to help support survivors, because this is something unconscionable. You can’t understand the magnitude of it without experiencing it firsthand.
People always ask me, don’t you get tired? And when they ask me that, I think about these youth and the lives that they are living, and I am inspired by them. Nothing that I could do can compare to their journeys. I am inspired by the youth that we serve.
Advent GX was honored to speak with Ms. Watkins and bring awareness to this issue in our state, national, and international community, as well as the victims of human trafficking. We hope that our community will seek more information about Beauty for Freedom online or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can learn more about our partnership with Beauty for Freedom by watching this video.
Very special thanks to Monica Watkins and Jerry Chu for visiting Bryan to bring the BCS community together over this vital struggle. Your efforts have been invaluable!