Imagine sending your child to school like any other day but they never come home. Then you get the phone call. “Your child is missing.”
Those four words are a parent’s worst nightmare.
For Derrica and Natalie Wilson of Washington, D.C., hearing stories of missing African American children that didn’t get the same help and resources as other children inspired them to step up and create BAM FI; a foundation they say has helped find more than 200 missing people with the assistance of law enforcement, media, and the vigilance of communities.
In recognition of their efforts, the Wilson sisters-in-law received the Community Change Agent award at this year’s Black Girls Rock ceremony.
“We were grateful. Beverly Bond has been a supporter of BAMI for a very long time,” said Natalie Wilson. When the story broke about the D.C. missing girls this spring she was one of the first persons to call us and say how can I help. We are grateful for not only this award, but for Beverly wanting to help. She understands this issue and wants to use her platform to bring awareness to our missing girls and boys as well. We applaud her from reaching out to us and for helping us.”
Each year, roughly 2,000 children under the age of 18 are reported missing daily, according to the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. Of those 2,000 reported missing, many are Black.
In fact, statistics show that 35% of the total number of missing children are Black and 20% are Latino. Far too often missing children of color don’t receive an Amber Alert or news coverage that could help return them home safely.
Back in 2004, Tamika Huston, a 24-year-old African-American woman, disappeared from her apartment in Spartanburg, S.C., Her family put up flyers and called media outlets hoping to get coverage, but national media skipped the story. Eventually Huston’s body was found, and her ex-boyfriend was charged with murder.
Derrica is from Spartanburg as well. She was compelled to start the organization after discovering a few months after Huston was found Natalee Holloway, a Caucasian teen, went missing and the case received national headlines. So in 2008 she teamed up with sister-in-law, Natalie to start the Black and Missing Foundation Inc. (BAM FI) to provide an overlooked need in the Black community.
“It is necessary because each year hundreds of thousands of person’s of color go missing. It is an issue I don’t think our community is aware of,” Natalie Wilson told theGrio in an exclusive interview. “We have a large number of mothers, fathers, children, grandparents who are missing and to me its not accurately represented in the media. We don’t hear about these stories. We are an advocate for the voiceless.”
The D.C. duo are utilizing skills from their careers to help return missing people to their loved ones: Derrica is as a former cop and city agency investigator and Natalie is a communications specialist. She works with the police, media and families to bridge the gap in efforts to find missing people of color.
Information from various missing person organizations suggest that there are several ways a person can be categorized as missing such as: runaways, family abductions, lost or “thrown away,” and non-family abductions. Those labels often times determine how much effort is placed on finding those who are missing.
“Many times when our children go missing they are classified as a runaway and if you are classified as a runaway you do not get an Amber Alert or any type of media coverage at all,” says Natalie.“Also, our children and adults when they go missing are classified as being involved in some type of criminal activity, or a stereotype of their environment. These individuals become dehumanized and no one seems to care or at least the gatekeepers and powers-to-be don’t seem to care. It is looked at as a simply normalcy in that (African American) community or particular group.”
It is imperative that parents and loved ones are diligent in making sure they receive adequate help from law enforcement, media outlets, and other resources. The notion that organizations and people are automatically going to care and help you look for your relative is naive and could be problematic.
“We tell parents all the time you have to be vigilant and direct with law enforcement because you know your child or loved one better than anyone else. You know their behavior, and habits, so if you don’t feel they ran away then you have to make sure they don’t list your loved one or your child inappropriately,” says Natalie.
Community involvement is also crucial to reuniting missing people with loved ones. It is a fact that when people in the community recognize a missing person from a flyer or news coverage, they’re often able to provide tips to help law enforcement find them.
“We ask that you follow us on social media,” says Natalie. “We can’t wait for the 5 o’clock and other news cycles. We need to get these profiles out instantaneously. Someone may know something that can help.”
Congresswoman Maxine Waters, actresses Issa Rae and Yara Shahidi, singer Roberta Flack , and businesswoman Suzanne Shank are also celebrants in the grand event, hosted by Taraji P. Henson. Tune into the show tonight 8/7 central to catch all the #blackgirlmagic on your TV screen.
“For supporters who want to go a step further, ‘We ask the community to get involved by donating. Every single dollar that is donated or raised goes directly to the organization Derrica and I do not take a salary at all,” said Natalie. To learn more about how to #HelpUsFindUs, check out BAM FI’s website to get involved, visit http://www.blackandmissinginc.com/.”