The New Friends New Life luncheon has a reputation for featuring big-name keynote speakers, and the annual 2019 event was no exception. Nearly 1,000 guests packed into the Omni Dallas Hotel on October 11 to hear Jada Pinkett Smith — and she did not disappoint.
NBC 5’s Laura Harris interviewed Pinkett Smith, who shared personal stories and first-hand experiences while she was on the streets to learn more about sex trafficking. She was first introduced to this dark epidemic when her then 11-year-old daughter Willow came home from school talking about it. Pinkett Smith doubted the stories but quickly realized the truth when she began conducting her own research.
Since then, the Hollywood star has passionately advocated against human trafficking. She traveled to Atlanta, Georgia and went undercover with the local police departments, resulting in a documentary that she created with CNN Freedom Project called Children for Sale: The Fight to End Human Trafficking.
Pinkett Smith offered an emotional warning against this new age of slavery and noted that "A lot of girls don't make it."
Becoming a victim of sex trafficking can happen to anyone. “We are all vulnerable, and it’s a big mistake to think trafficking happens to certain type of girl,” she said.
She then went on to tell her own stories of close calls and what could've been. At 11 and 12, she ran the streets of Baltimore while her mother was at work. And later as a young woman visiting Italy, when a valet attendant invited her for a day on his boat, she almost agreed. Ultimately, she spoke to her mom, who told her not to go, and she listened.
Speakers throughout the luncheon stressed that this isn't simply a women's issue, and men must also stand against trafficking. Co-chair couples Christa and Ketric Sanford and Shelly Slater and Clayton Huffstutter teamed with honorary chairs Amy and Joe Crafton to demonstrate the importance of men and women working together.
Texas First Lady Cecilia Abbott and Methodist Health System were recipients of the 2019 ProtectHER Award in honor of their efforts against human trafficking.
Abbott recently partnered with the Texas Alcoholic Beverage Commission (TABC) to start an awareness campaign that makes the most common signs of trafficking in bars and restaurants known.
The medical staff of Methodist Dallas Medical Center’s emergency room and Sexual Assault Nurse Examiner (SANE) program have made huge strides in combatting human trafficking by identifying and helping patients who are victims. Last year, a nurse’s training helped lead to the prosecution of a large-scale trafficker, and consequently, 20 captive victims were saved.
New Friends New Life CEO Kim Robinson hoped to share the magnitude of this problem, saying there have been more than 1,400 drop-in visits to the nonprofit's Youth Resource Center, and 125 new women entered into its program in 2019. There is currently a waiting list of women who need help from the organization.
Included in the luncheon, a pop-up shop from designer Abi Ferrin featured scarves made from women who are in the New Friends New Life program. They are employed by the designer and use the fashion industry's leftover fabric scraps for their creations.
Among the notable guests in attendance were Katherine Wynne, Tom Thornton, Chip Murray, Bianca Jackson, Peter McGuire, June McGuire, Melissa Ice, Vanessa Bouché, Noel Bouché, Sarah Bowden, R. Gerald Turner, Gail Turner, Jessica Waugh, Eline de Bruijn, Samantha Davies, Dennis Moon, Janet Ryan, Wendy Messmann, Todd Westerburg, Debra Hunter Johnson, Libby Wright, and Donna Richardson-Joyne.
New Friends New Life restores and empowers formerly trafficked and sexually exploited women and children, and provides access to education, job training, interim financial assistance, mental health and spiritual support.