Trenton, N.J. – On Jan. 20, Mercer County Community College’s Trenton Campus applied the messages and teachings of Martin Luther King Jr. to a modern-day form of slavery in a program entitled “Civil Rights for All: Combating Human Trafficking. The Martin Luther King birthday event, which drew a packed crowd to Kerney Hall, was a somber reminder that injustice – particularly that which is aimed at the young, vulnerable and impoverished – is far from eradicated.
According to Trenton Campus Provost Monica Weaver, the program was conceived to shed light on an issue that does not receive a lot of local coverage. The conversation with young people began two days earlier when 200 Youth College students learned about human trafficking from Assistant Mercer County Prosecutor Heather Headley, Esq., social worker Evelyn Mejil and Assemblywoman L. Grace Spencer, Esq. Based on the discussion, students wrote essays and poems reflecting their thoughts and opinions. (The Saturday event was sponsored by Trenton sororities Alpha Kappa Alpha, Zeta Phi Beta and Lambda Tau Omega.)
Aluxus Brown, Ambyr Ellis, Yvonne Ellis, Bianca Randolph, Tita Tucker and Raven White were selected to read their essays at the MLK celebration. Randolph was the essay winner and received tuition to take a course at the college.
Also participating in the event was Tracy Thompson, Assistant Attorney General for the State of New Jersey, who discussed the stark realities of human trafficking, especially in New Jersey and particularly in the lead-up to the Super Bowl, which typically creates a spike in trafficking activity.
“It’s the fastest growing criminal business,” Thompson said. “There is high profit and low risk, because victims don’t want to come forward.”
She noted that New Jersey has become a hub for trafficking activity, due to the state’s dense population, transient immigrant population and location along the I-95 corridor, where drugs and guns are routinely transported.
“This is the new abolitionist movement and we need help,” she declared. She noted that the first responders are health care workers, but that the community can play an important role as well.
Lowell Hochhalter, of FREE (Find, Rescue, Embrace, Empower) International, echoed Thompson’s plea for help. He spoke passionately about being part of a movement to fight back against trafficking and to rescue the victims. He and his team are focusing their efforts in New Jersey as the Super Bowl nears. In a campaign he described as “Blitz the Trafficker,” the FREE team is searching for victims and visiting schools to inform and educate students about the traffickers, who prey on young people.
“Awareness is our greatest weapon,” Hochhalter said.
"Martin Luther King empowered a nation," he continued. “We want to empower this generation. We want to give them a voice to fight back. It’s about a 13-year-old girl who did not make a choice; a choice was made for her.”
He advised community members to look for the warning signs. “Reach out your hand,” he pleaded.
Sex trafficking survivor Tekla Roberts told the dramatic tale of her experience “in the game,” noting that she was coerced at a young age by charismatic traffickers. When she became pregnant at the age of 27, she realized she wanted a different life for her daughter. Now she works at detention centers, counseling and guiding young women while raising her daughter.
Master of Ceremonies for the event was Professor of Communications Alvyn Haywood. Other participants included MCCC President Patricia C. Donohue, Executive Dean for Student Affairs Diane Campbell, Provost Weaver, and Terrance Tally, of FREE International. Community college student vocalist Kandace Banks concluded the ceremony with a wrenching Keke Wyatt song, "Peace on Earth," that poses the question: “How can we heal the wounds of the world if we cannot heal our own; where does peace on earth begin if not at home?”
Noting the day of service tradition that has evolved in Dr. King’s memory, Provost Weaver said that 16 Youth College students served as volunteers at the Trenton Area Soup Kitchen earlier on Monday.