Back in March, we talked to Kelly Diane Galloway, founder of FreeTHEM Center at Project Mona’s House. At the time, Galloway was working on a project that would see her and her team embark upon a 902-mile walk, following the trail of the Underground Railroad. The effort was timed to coordinate with Juneteenth, now a federal holiday.
The purpose behind the The FreeTHEM Walk was to raise awareness concerning a modern day form of slavery – human trafficking. Upon returning to Buffalo (the Walk kicked off in Lynchburg, V.A.,) the participants were greeted in celebratory style by a host of WNY residents and dignitaries.
Among the wellwishers was author and speaker Cyntoia Brown-Long, who had been sentenced to 51 years in prison for killing a man who had bought her for sex when she was 16 years old (she was granted clemency after spending 15 years in prison). Today, Brown-Long gives talks about the need for criminal justice reform, while detailing her life’s story, which is published in her memoir – Free Cyntoia: My Search for Redemption in the American Prison System.
It is these types of real life stories (and tragedies) that inspired The FreeTHEM Walkers to make their long journey.
“My life-long commitment to rescuing victims of human trafficking was personal, and for years, I didn’t know why,” said Galloway. “My uncle sat with me at our family’s dining room table, and he told me what he knew about our family history. He said that people sold our relatives for labor, sex, and entertainment. They worked in fields in Virginia, and some helped build The White House. My commitment to rescuing victims of human trafficking is personal because my ancestors were also victims. Today over 40 million people are still victims. We all have to care to help stop this crime. I am very excited to return to Buffalo after walking 901-miles on the Underground Railroad to bring awareness to human trafficking. 13 FreeTHEM Walkers took this journey with me. Others walked parts of the way. Each of us is changed forever.”
Upon arrival to Buffalo, The FreeTHEM Walkers were greeted by Mayor Brown, as well as all-pro quarterback Josh Norman (at the steps of City Hall) – Norman walked the last one-mile leg of the journey, which passed through The Michigan Street African American Heritage Corridor.
New Orleans’ second line Grand Marshal Michelle Gibson led the march, along with a brass band and scores of other supporters, as they made their way along the last stop of the Underground Railroad in Buffalo.
Aside from raising awareness of the proliferating and relatively unchecked sex trafficking industry, Walkers also set out to raise crucial funding – to the tune of $1 million – to build “the nation’s largest human trafficking restoration home (Project Mona’s House) in Western New York.”
In a surprise gesture, NYS Assemblywoman Crystal People-Stokes presented the Walkers with a $20,000 check to amplify the $50,000+ that have already been accumulated via a GoFundMe crowdsourcing campaign.
If you or someone you know is a victim of human trafficking and looking for assistance, contact Project Mona’s House at 716-795-MONA. For more information or to donate to The FreeTHEM Walk, visit the web at www.thefreethemwalk.com.
Photos courtesy Dallas Taylor