Interview and photos by Jan Osborn.
Looking back over two decades of volunteering with New Friends New Life (NFNL), I am honored to co-chair the 2021 Luncheon: A Conversation with Lupita Nyong’o. My co-chair, Trina Terrell-Andrews, and I are excited to co-chair alongside Tonya and Charlie McKinney, a couple who has long been committed to the youth of our community. We recently had the opportunity to visit with Bianca Davis, CEO of New Friends New Life, and would like to share a little about her experience in the nonprofit world, the upcoming luncheon, and the ProtectHER Awardees who will be honored on that day.
Tell us a bit about your family, where you grew up, and how early experiences shaped your current framework for nonprofit and cause-related work.
I was born and raised on a small island in The Bahamas but always felt like I would one day live in a big city. Although Dallas was never on my radar, in many ways, I’m not surprised that life has led me here.
I can recall sitting on my parents’ bed at about age 15 back in The Bahamas, watching the evening news out of Florida, where a man had beaten his 5-year-old son to death because he wet the bed. That story and that sweet little boy’s face haunted me, and I was inconsolable over his senseless murder. At that moment, I vowed that if I ever had an opportunity to be a voice for someone in need, to inspire other people to act, and to make life better for the marginalized and unloved, I would consider it my life’s work.
When did you first become familiar with New Friends New Life and its mission?
I learned about New Friends New Life when I entered the nonprofit world in 2011. At the time, I was the development director at Genesis Women’s Shelter & Support, learning the nonprofit landscape and, because there is such an intersection between sex trafficking and domestic violence (about 70% of the women we serve at NFNL have experienced DV), I became familiar with NFNL as the agency leading the charge in the anti-trafficking space.
Dallas Police have estimated that 400 young women are trafficked every night on the streets of Dallas. What surprised you most about the sex trafficking industry in Dallas? And how has the pandemic affected human trafficking in the past 18 months?
Like many people, I was most surprised that sex trafficking was such a lucrative and active criminal industry right here in our community. I think the subtlety and the manipulation that lures victims is very different from what we assume when we see people getting kidnapped and thrown into white vans in the movies. Yes, kidnapping does happen, but it is not representative of the main ways that the survivors we serve at NFNL have been trafficked. Knowing that a person can be trafficked without ever crossing a border or being driven to another state was new information for me, and it’s something that the community at large is still recognizing.
The pandemic has not stopped sex trafficking from happening. In fact, online pornography (which often includes women who are being trafficked and exploited), increased during the pandemic as more people were staying at home. Our members also felt the immediate economic impact of the pandemic, with many of them losing their jobs in the retail or service industries. Going back to “the life” once again became a real, albeit scary and dangerous option for some who were just beginning to find stability and safety free from exploitation. So, as a team, we had to meet our members where they were emotionally and mentally and help them find their footing again. I’m so proud of the way our members persevered and processed their feelings with our clinicians and fought against what looked like an easy way out.
How does NFNL help those who have been sex trafficked and what does recovery look like for a survivor?
NFNL works to restore and empower trafficked and exploited teen girls, women, and their children. Our adult members enroll in a four-phase women’s program that is very similar to enrolling in college. Each phase focuses on three areas: case management (for her critical basic needs of food, shelter, clothing), counseling (to address the emotional trauma of her experiences), and career readiness (to prepare her for conventional employment and economic stability). We celebrate her as she matriculates through the phases and, when completed, we host a graduation ceremony! Each woman moves through the phases at an individualized pace with the average time of completion being anywhere from 12 to 18 months.
For our teen girls, (female youth ages 12-22), our drop-in Youth Resource Center (YRC) is a place where girls can come for support and assistance with everything from her personal issues, basic needs of food and shelter, homework, and plans for her future. We create a community that helps to fortify her against the person who is going to show up one day and say, “I can fix this for you,” when he has every intention of selling her for a profit.
The upcoming New Friends New Life Luncheon is one of your biggest fundraisers and awareness events of the year. What are some of your goals for the event, especially with a message from Lupita Nyong’o?
This year has been a challenge trying to figure out the best path forward around our annual luncheon. Now that we are comfortable with the plan, we are excited to host a hybrid event that guests can enjoy in person or virtually. At this year’s luncheon, we will debut our Alumni Circle, celebrating the triumphant journeys of our members. Viewers will absolutely be touched and inspired by their stories. And, we have the absolute honor of listening in on a conversation with Academy Award-winning actress, Lupita Nyong’o, moderated by NBC5’s Laura Harris. Lupita has inspired women and girls all over the world, and her thoughtful outlook on life and purpose is the perfect complement to New Friends New Life’s message of restoration and empowerment.
Tell us about this year’s ProtectHER Award Recipients and the impact they have made in our community.
New Friends New Life is proud to celebrate our 2021 ProtectHER Awardees! The award was created in 2013 to recognize individuals, corporations and agencies who support her protection and value of women and girls.
This year, we are recognizing the legal team at American Airlines for providing pro bono legal services to help clear our members’ criminal records. Nearly 65% of the women we serve have criminal records as a direct result of being trafficked, and removing that barrier frees her to obtain housing and employment.
We are also proud to recognize Dr. Monique W. Morris, President and CEO of Grantmakers for Girls of Color. Through GFGC and her work as a social scholar, Dr. Morris works to identify and challenge the systems that marginalize girls of color. Because we know that sex trafficking disproportionately affects women and girls of color, we knew that Dr. Morris would be the perfect recipient of a ProtectHER award for being a transformative voice for these young survivors.
Why is it so important that companies and individuals learn the facts about human trafficking in North Texas and get involved with organizations like New Friends New Life?
It is important for individuals and corporations to know that human trafficking is happening right here in our own backyard. What is even more important to know is that this community is doing something about it. Through partnerships and programs, and with the support of faithful donors and supporters, New Friends New Life is helping to restore and empower nearly 350 survivors this year. And, that not only affects the survivors, but also their families, and in turn, our community. Everyone can take a stand for her, and once you know what is happening and how she ends up here, how could you possibly look away?
New Friends New Life restores and empowers trafficked and sexually exploited teen girls, women and their children, and drives awareness of the issue and its prevalence. By providing access to education, job training, interim financial assistance, mental health and spiritual support, New Friends New Life helps women and their children overcome backgrounds of abuse, addiction, poverty and limited opportunities.
To learn more about New Friends New Life, visit newfriendsnewlife.org.