Celebrating our diverse disability lived experiences through the power of community

Diversability is an award-winning movement to rebrand disability through the power of community.

Guest Post: Selah Way Foundation Event Recap

By: Jeremy Dodson and William Gao

On February 1st, 2019, a crowd of champions and fans, artists and students stood together to hear Elizabeth Fisher, CEO & Co-Founder of the Selah Way Foundation, speak passionately on human trafficking at Northern Trust after 40 people were arrested in Atlanta ahead of the Super Bowl. Selah Freedom Ambassadors NFL Legend Tony Richardson and WNBA World Champion Asjha Jones also spoke with Fisher, moving the crowd with how Selah Freedom helps survivors find safe homes and works with law enforcement to bring justice for them.

The event kicked off at 3pm, with Fisher, Richardson, and Jones speaking 45 minutes later. After their speaking, open networking began and continued to the end, allowing fans and press alike to mingle with the other notable guests, including Super Bowl Champions Tyrone Keys and Matt Stover, NBA All-Stars Charles Oakley, WNBA Rushia Brown, American soccer player Mark Bloom, actor Nicholas Smoot, Miss Universe 2017 and Tim Tebow’s fiance Demi-Leigh Nel-Peters and Afro-merge artist Marenikae.

I was honored to attend on behalf of Diversability, and I felt inspired to share how I felt connected to this cause and how it relates to Diversability.

My story starts in the Fall of 2016 in the Grand Challenges program at Georgia Tech. I’m a student here at Tech, and coming into college I had no idea that Atlanta was facing such a big battle with human trafficking. As a freshman, I began to wonder more about this issue, as it had seemed so foreign and far away before. The Grand Challenges program that I am a part of here at school gives groups of first-year students an opportunity to work on global “grand challenges” that our society face today. With my then limited knowledge about human trafficking, I was able to do enough research to convince my team that this was a problem worth tackling. So a few ambitious and tech-savvy freshmen were off to somehow help combat human trafficking.

Over the last two and a half years we have come a long way. My group and I developed a platform that can be accessed by current and former victims of human trafficking and can quickly and accurately tell them where they need to go to receive the best help for them. We have learned so much in that time frame, have become close acquaintances to many anti-trafficking organizations in the Atlanta area, and have even been fortunate enough to meet and speak with survivors of this crime. We attended an event earlier this month where Elizabeth Fisher, CEO and Co-Founder of the Selah Way Foundation, spoke at a private event to raise awareness for trafficking in light of 40 arrests before the Superbowl in Atlanta. When interviewing her, she told us the Selah Way Foundation has been able to help 2,000 individuals with their prevention initiative and 1,800 with their protection initiative over the years. In their initiatives, they help survivors re-adjust to society in many ways, including assisting them in earning their GEDs and helping them find jobs in industries of their interests. This opportunity to learn about a great organization pushed me to reflect on what I’ve learned in my time working on this problem, sparking a realization on the stark similarities between disabilities and human trafficking.

Human trafficking, also termed “modern slavery”, generates huge profits for those who perpetrate this crime. Sex trafficking itself is a $32 billion organized crime industry in the United States. When terms like ‘modern day slavery’ are used in regard to human trafficking, it is easy to brush the issue off as foreign. But in reality, it can be taking place in your city, or even in your own neighborhood on the street. In fact, Atlanta has the largest sex trafficking industry in the United States. Yet, despite the magnitude and devastating human impact, human trafficking is often a sidelined issue. It’s an issue that no one seems to understand, an issue on the fringe of what’s acceptable to “talk about.”

As Tiffany poignantly conveys in the telling of her own story, disabilities is also a topic no one seems to understand, that no one talks about. Consequently, those who are affected by one can suffer from derision, judgment, and simple misunderstanding. Without an understanding ear, those with disabilities can sometimes only retreat into isolation, never getting the support and understanding they need. People seem to be uncomfortable with disabilities and when it comes to diversity, disabilities always seem to be left out of the conversation.

The same is with human trafficking. Victims of trafficking are extorted by pimps, who, in addition to using physical violence and threats, trick and shame their victims to “staying in the life.” Traffickers play on their victim’s fears, telling them that no one will understand them. The threat of force, coupled with a weighing feeling that no one understands or cares, causes victims to retreat into isolation. Drowning in immense fear and shame, they can lose hope in the belief that there are those who can and want to help.

Yet despite all this, these issues are connected by an even more important similarity --their solutions. The key to the solution for both these seemingly disparate issues is through open, meaningful communication and discussion. By shining a light on these issues and bringing them into the public eye, huge strides can be made. Diversability has been achieving and continues to achieve great strides in making the discussion about disabilities open, honest, and above all, safe. Organizations like the Selah Way Foundation and thousands of concerned individuals have helped make great strides in saving individuals and bringing awareness to human trafficking as well. And while there still is a long way to go for both these issues, the future looks bright for both of them indeed.

This post was written by Jeremy Dodson, with assistance from William Gao

About the Author:

Jeremy Dodson is a civil engineering student at Georgia Tech and is part of a student group that has developed a web platform to help combat human trafficking. In his free time he enjoys playing and watching sports and other tv shows.

William Gao is a student at Georgia Tech and works with Jeremy in developing the platform. He studies computer science and in his free time likes to read, play the saxophone, and contemplate life.