Here’s what we need to know & what we can do to keep our kids safe.

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“How many of you have heard of Tamika Huston?” One person, out of an audience of about 40, raised her hand. “How many of you have heard of Natalee Holloway?” Almost every hand in the church fellowship hall raised. It was this disparity — between the lack of media coverage of the disappearance of young black woman in Spartanburg, SC and the media frenzy that ensued when a young white woman went missing in Aruba some time later — that led sisters-in-law Derrica and Natalie Wilson to start work that would become Black & Missing Foundation, Inc.(BAMFI).

Thursday evening, they joined concerned community members, advocates, and city officials who trudged through the rain to attend a community awareness and action forum entitled, “Missing Children. Missing Persons. Missing Voices,” presented by the Social Justice Ministry at Shiloh Baptist Church in Washington, D.C

Community members in attendance

Missing photo

“When our girls go missing they rarely get the attention and media attention that others get.” ~ Dr. Vanetta Rather, My Sister My Seed


A and D
Aniyah & Destiny

I sat at a table with two young women writers — one a college student and the other soon to be — who came to support and participate in the event. Among the intergenerational crowd that had gathered, Aniya and Destiny were two of the handful of young women present.

What if one of them — or someone they knew — went missing?


Aniyah Smith, the 2018 DC Youth Poet Laureate, shared a poem she wrote about it.


“How often we let black girls slip into the back of our minds, forget their faces, and swallow their narratives like they are the icing on the cake of our nightly news. Like the only time a black girl is palatable is when someone takes her for consumption; like the only time a black girl is worth a headline is when she ain’t around to hear it.” ~ Aniyah Smith


Akia Eggleston was eight months pregnant and on bed rest when she disappeared from Baltimore in May of last year. The 24-year-old mother of a toddler is still missing. Her family, who BAMFI worked with to try to help find her, is still waiting for answers.

40% of all missing people in the United States are people of color.


When Derrica and Natalie Wilson started Black and Missing Foundation, Inc., they say that number was 30%, the majority of which were male.

Chances are, you didn’t hear much about those cases. The reasons are what you would expect, according to Derrica, “these cases are not considered a priority” in a system where there already aren’t enough resources. So Derrica and Natalie decided to put their professional expertise in law enforcement and media relations — the two most critical components to finding missions persons — to good use.


This year, BAMFI celebrates its tenth year of helping families find missing people all over the country.

“We are a voice for the voiceless.” ~ Derrica Wilson


Human trafficking is modern-day slavery. The Department of Homeland Security defines it as involving “ the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act.”

“That’s not to say every youth that’s missing is being trafficked, but every time a youth is missing, they are at risk of being sexually exploited.” ~ Megan Aniton, an Assistant Attorney General in the Office of the Attorney General for the District of Columbia, who works in the Special Victims Unit.


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It was the image shared around the world, reporting that 14 black and Latinx girls had gone missing in DC in the span of 24 hours, one tweet asking how “it’s not a goddamn news story?!?” There was a public outcry that turned into a viral hashtag #MissingDCGirls that spurred the rallying cry #findourgirls. While the details in the post were later debunked, it helped shed light on an ugly truth, and was probably the most national attention ever paid to missing black girls. Our girls.

I always wondered what would happen after the town hall meetings so full that people were turned away at the door, after the Metropolitan Police Department and the DC mayor’s Facebook live videos, and public statements; after the furor died down, what, if anything, would change?

Turns out there have been some changes.

Assistant Attorneys General for D.C.’s OAG Megan Aniton (left) & Rashida Prioleau

In January of this year, DC launched Hope Court, a treatment court to help youth involved in sexual exploitation advocate for themselves while receiving specialized services designed to help them deal with their trauma and heal.

This month, DC’s Office of the Attorney General (OAG) launched a Special Victims Unit to prosecute crimes against some of the city’s most vulnerable people, including children at risk for human trafficking.

Human trafficking doesn’t only affect women and girls — boys also go missing. And it doesn’t only affect children — adults, including elders — go missing, too.

Human trafficking doesn’t only affect women and girls — boys also go missing. And it doesn’t only affect children — adults, including elders — go missing, too.

Duncan Bedlion, Commander of MPD’s Youth and Family Services Division

According to the DC’s Missing Persons website: a “critical missing person” is defined as any person under the age of 15 or over the age of 65, or anyone that, based on the specific circumstances is designated as such by the Patrol District’s Watch Commander.”

This year, 2,518 missing persons cases have been reported to the Metropolitan Police Department (MPD); 54 cases remain open.

What can we do?

  1. Be aware of the risks. We have to be proactive and not reactive.
  2. Check your child’s social media. “Sexual predators lure children on social media,” said Natalie Wilson, including gaming systems. Derrica put it a little more bluntly, “We have to stop being our children’s friends and be their parent.” They suggest going through their cell phones and even setting up a fake social media account and friending your child to see if they would share personal information.
  3. Be vigilant. Check the Sex Offender Registry where you live, where you work, and where your children go to school.
  4. Keep a routine. Speak to and check in on people on a regular basis, so that you will know when something is wrong.
  5. Have an up-to-date photo. Black and Missing Foundation has seen an uptick in the number of seniors who go missing. Many times their caregivers may need help as well. They recommend putting a chain or an alarm on the door that will sound when someone goes out. Having a current photo helps in the search for missing persons.
  6. Be present. Share information, talk to your neighbors, attend community events.
  7. Report. Make missing persons reports and report any instance of sexual exploitation.

Child & Family Services Hotline: (202) 671-SAFE is required to investigate ALL incidents of suspected trafficking.

DC TIPS: (202) 727–9099 is a 24-hour command information center where you can share tips about missing persons or trafficking.

TEXT the tip line: 50411
For more information of missing persons in DC, please visit

“It is all of our responsibility.”

Relisha Tenua Rudd was only 8 years old when she disappeared in March of 2014. She was last seen with a 51-year-old janitor who worked at the DC General homeless shelter where Relisha lived with her family. She has never been found.

DeNeen Brown, a staff writer at The Washington Post, spent months with Relisha Rudd’s mother, Shamika Young. “I wanted to know what happened in Shamika’s life that contributed to what happened in Relisha’s life.” I’m not sure what she found, but there were no shortage of failures in Relisha’s short life: people who failed to watch over her (parents, grandparents, teachers) and systems that failed to protect her (the city, shelter, community, school). Since Relisha’s disappearance, Brown spoke of hearing the term “other Relishas” used to describe children who are on the edge, but whose chance of falling is unpredictable.

“It is all of our responsibility.”

What would I do if my sister went missing ~ Aniyah Smith

IMG_20180927_201501Derrick Butler’s sister, Pamela Butler, did go missing, the day before Valentine’s Day in 2009.

Each year, the Butler family held a prayer vigil. “We had nine prayer vigils,” Derrick said. “At the last one, I didn’t have any more in me to do.” After that final vigil, they got a break in the case. Finally, last October, a suspect confessed to killing her. Derrick said that through it all, people encouraging his family to keep going is what helped.

“There’s nothing worse than not knowing.” ~ Derrica Wilson

teenage girl in Baltimore started talking to a man on social media. He used the information he learned about her to come to her school, take her away, and traffic her. She was later reunited with her family, but “what she experienced for four days, you can’t even imagine,” Derrica shares.

“When a person goes missing, the easiest thing is finding them. The hardest part is after that.” ~ Derrica Wilson

Phoenix Colden was last seen driving out of her parents’ driveway in Spanish Lake, Missouri in December of 2011. Hours later, the 23 year old’s car was found abandoned, about 25 minutes away in East St. Louis, running with the keys still in the ignition and the driver’s side door open. “No one wanted to cover this story,” Natalie Wilson said. Why?

“Black girls don’t make good enough news stories.” ~ Natalie Wilson

Phoenix is still missing. Her family continues to run a Facebook page about her disappearance.


Several times during the evening, we were reminded that we were in a church, as we prayed, as some presenters talked about their faith, or membership at Shiloh, and others referenced Bible verses. We were in a church, but it didn’t feel like a church service, which I think was the point.

“Churches are in the center of our communities,” Derrica Wilson said. “We have to go to where people are. We can come to the church.”

The faith-based community is especially well-placed to talk about social justice issues; something that not enough do, lamented Shiloh’s Senior Minister Rev. Wallace Charles Smith. People are missing — our people are missing — and we need to know how to help find them now and what we can do to protect others from disappearing.

Missing. We all know what it means, but I like the way Earl Yates, chair of Shiloh’s Social Justice Ministry explained it — “When a person who is usually inside your embrace is not and you are worried to death.”



Stories like this are hard. Writing about this is hard. For two days I’ve been trying to get the words right. Because this is too important not to get the words right. I went to the library today to focus — no distractions — when I saw another missing person — a girl (like me) and black (like we), and missing (like so many of us).


I stopped and felt many emotions, mostly sadness and helplessness. Like there’s nothing I can do. What can I do?

I realized then that getting the words out was more important than getting them right. I could always say things differently, or write better, but what matters the most is saying something. Since I don’t have any more profound insights in me, I’ll leave the last words to someone who does ~

“I guess it’s easier to go without a sound. Without a word. When you were never given a voice in the first place.” ~ Aniyah Smith