By Dylan Deprey
On the corner of 30th and Lisbon Ave., sits an abandoned restaurant in a normal north side neighborhood. Day and night, young women addicted to heroin use the alley behind the building as a bathroom and rest area between hopping in and out of cars. The young women sell their body at the mercy of heavy handed pimps, deeply rooted trauma, drug addiction and a never-ending market that forever circles the block creating a dark carousel.
The women hide razor blades under their tongues for protection, and avoid areas like the shadowy pathway below the bridge on Lisbon to avoid violent beatings and rapes. Even with a dollar store down the way, the women are left to the same clothes day in and day out. If they do have a pimp controlling their every move, they are treated worse than dogs and fed the bare minimum along with their fix for the night.
Across the street from the abandoned restaurant sits a boarded-up garage. Behind the wooden panels, bloody heroin needles, broken booze bottles, used feminine products and garbage litter the floor. Following the homeowner’s death, the vacant garage became a “prostitution drive-thru,” pushing out drugs and women faster than any fast food restaurant in the area.
“They were pimping, beating, prostituting, hooking, smoking, everything. A pimp could drop off and a trick could pick up right from that garage,” said Bianca Williams, A Cry for Help founder.
After seven weeks of making complaints to the City, she finally had the garage boarded up.
Williams is a veteran in the fight against human sex trafficking. She knows the strip, and she knows the abandoned garages and houses the woman sleep in. She has broken past the women’s protective shells, and built relationships with those trapped in the cycle of addiction and abuse. She invited activists, advocates, elected officials and clergyman to participate in A Cry for Help’s street ministry on Monday, Aug. 7, 2017.
Vaun Mayes, Program the Parks Initiative founder, made a call-to-action on his heavily followed Facebook page earlier in the day, and showed up to hand out water and promote awareness.
“It’s so bad that any time I see a girl walking between that block (N. 28th Street) and 33rd (Street), I think they are working,” Mayes said. “What pisses me off even more is that I’m having to swerve around these guys stopping in the middle of traffic to shout out to these girls.”
As a grassroots organizer himself, Mayes applauded Williams for her outstanding efforts on the block.
Into the Underbelly of a Traumatic Industry
“Have you been drinking water?” said Williams as she walked up to a girl in her mid-twenties. She gave her a hug and handed out a water bottle. She then pointed in the direction of some fresh clothes sitting on a car and said, “Go grab something honey.”
“Some of these girls have two or three different sexually transmitted diseases, so I have to remind them to drink water and eat because the pills are hard on their stomach,” Williams said.
Williams personally transports the women to and from the Keenan Health Center for consistent STD checkups. She also maintains relationships with the girls and regularly checks in on them to ensure they are taking their medicine.
“I’m not here 24/7, so I can leave out some water, but when they actually get some money they aren’t thinking about water,” Williams said.
Before Laura Johnson was passing out clothes, foods and water on the strip, she was a former human trafficking survivor, a crack cocaine addict and a prostitute working the exact same streets.
Johnson was trafficked from 14 to 17 years old. After making her way back to her mother’s last known address, she had found her sister addicted to crack and working the corner as a prostitute.
“I didn’t know you could stand on the corner and sell your body until after I was trafficked, and I was like, ‘You really stand on the corner?’ The first day I went out with my older sister. She would jump in, and when she got back, she got to keep the money, and that was the biggest thing,” Johnson said.
She said crack numbed the pain from the torturous years she had spent chained up, fed dog food and constantly beat. Many young girls fall into the hands of a smooth talking pimp and drug abuse following traumatic experiences or a rocky home life.
“When you get high, it takes away the pain, and it takes away the hurt and everything you don’t want to feel. So, you keep getting high so you don’t have to feel, but eventually you have to face it because either you’re going to be dead, jail or some mental institution,” Johnson said.
At 23-years-old she got pregnant and somehow found the will to turn her life around. Now, she is 31 and has her health, beauty and a drive to help others find the light at the end of the dark tunnel.
“I went through a lot, and I had to face that reality,” Johnson said. “I had to go to a therapist, and I had to tell people what happened to me, and it took a lot of courage.”
As Williams continued to work throughout the night, she said her biggest fear was for young girls and teens in the community. She said with school starting the upcoming week, girls were subject to soliciting johns and pimps.
“All these corners are school bus corners for kids, and you know 9 times out of 10 parents are running to get to work and drop the kids off at the bus stop or letting them walk to the bus stop,” Williams said.
Men Take a Stand in the Matter
Pastors, and program organizers posted up on the corner to notify the neighborhood that the glory days were over. From rust buckets to high performance racers, cars slowly circled the block, multiple times. The drivers were unfazed as they were greeted by local figures.
“We have to let these pimps and everybody else understand that they can’t come over here and walk all over our people,” said Homer Blow, WNOV on-air personality.
Blow added that it was important that women like Williams and Johnson were out connecting to women in need. He said it was also the men’s responsibility to make an effort to show they were ready to protect the women in their community.
“We can’t drop the ball, and then we hear about it and say, ‘Oh that’s crazy,’” Blow said.
Organizers and community members walked around the surrounding blocks along with the Freedom Fighters, who wanted to make their presence known in the neighborhood.
Todd Halbach is a minister at Parklawn Assembly Church of God in the Sherman Park neighborhood. He said following 16-year-old Emani Robinson’s death after being struck by a stray bullet in late June, he and a group of community members have doubled down on their efforts.
“We have a heart for the streets and want to help people out,” Halbach said. “There is a lot of stuff going on in the city with people getting shot, prostitution. When we come together we can achieve, and hope to improve the city.”
A Cry for Help is a Beacon of Hope
As the sun set, even more people came out. Martha Love, Human Trafficking Taskforce founder, pulled over to share her words of encouragement. Love said awareness and mobilization wee key in a a fight she has been fighting for a very long time.
“As a founder of the Human Trafficking Taskforce, it’s good to see things like this and Bianca’s leadership because these girls need to feel loved and protected,” Love said.
Sen. Lena Taylor also showed up with food and an open ear for anybody on the block. She said as a young girl, she had witnessed a girl named Jackie being prostituted while growing up at her around her parents’ restaurant.
“I watched her over the course of years’ work that corner, and now I understand human trafficking in a different way and she could have very easily been someone,” Taylor said. “I’m out here just trying to make a difference for the Jackie’s in the world because it could have been me, and that’s the thing that I remember every day.”
From the smiles and hugs to the smirks and cussing, Williams said she will continue to instill hope in the hopeless, and never let the fire behind A Cry for Help be extinguished.
For more information visit http://cryforhelpmke.org/