The Day I Taped My Mouth Shut
For a good cause
I woke up knowing it wasn’t an ordinary Saturday. The dress code was all black so I threw on my black leggings, black OGCJ tee and black vest, tied my black sneakers that have a pop of neon color and loaded my mini book bag with essential items for a long city day. Before heading out of my apartment door I debated wether or not to grab my light faux leather jacket or not. I chose not to. Down the 5 flight of stairs and out my apartment door building I went en route to the train.
On my walk to the train I didn’t listen to music. Instead pondered on my thoughts of what might be in store for today. It was a bit chilly. Darn, should have brought my jacket. I also thought will I be seeing any of my friends there? and if not, who would I talk to? Shortly after that I realized all of those things don’t matter as today is a different day and the last thing it’s about, is me.
I hopped on the train and in 6 quick stops (Saturday morning commutes are such a breeze) arrived at my destination, 23rd Street. We were to meet at Madison Square Park. Like usual after I got out of the subway station I started walking the complete opposite way of the park and realized it about 5 minutes later. Once realizing it I stopped, turned around and headed to the park, in the right direction.
After redirecting and walking a couple of blocks I turned the corner and saw a bunch of people wearing all black. Yes, I made it and with 40 minutes to spare. It’s great to be early I thought to myself. Spotted my friend who was volunteering so we chatted for a bit then she pointed me to the area where people were lining up. I went in that direction and luckily there was a bench so I made myself comfortable.
That nervous feeling in your stomach before you do anything new is alive and present. I’m also feeling excited. After observing my surroundings for a bit I realized mostly everyone around me had a friend and was talking to someone. The more time passed the more crowded and louder it seemed to get. I decided to embrace some conversation with the girl next to me which happened to be from South Africa. Her and her 3 friends we’re really nice.
Shortly after a girl started passing out black tape. She mentioned that if anyone on the street asked us any questions to not talk to them (they have people that will be there specifically for that). We we’re not to talk at all. We then all lined up in a single file line. The line went as far as I could see in front and behind. I stood behind the girl from South Africa and her friends. I wasn’t thinking much at this point, just ready to go. I put the black piece of tape over my mouth, adjusted it a bit and before we knew it the line started to move and we were off.
In the first 10 minutes something profound and wrenching struck me. My eyes started filling up with tears as I started picturing myself being an actual human slave.
What a thought to have. It came and gone many times throughout the next 2 hours. But this isn’t just a thought for over 27 million people, this is reality.
The only thing I have known previously about human trafficking is from the movie “Taken” and from reading the book “Half the Sky” by Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl Wudunn. That’s about as extensive as my knowledge went. Throughout the walk I read the signs that my fellow walkers we’re holding up so I was able to educate myself along the way. This ultimately added more layers of heartbreak.
As we walked up The Avenue of Americas I had more thoughts of what it might feel like to be in the footsteps of a slave. I kept thinking of me being far away from my family. Feeling lonely, scared, hungry, handcuffed, abused, worried with no direction or easy escape. The worst was how this “transaction” this “situation,” strips you from every single right you have as a human.
Every. single. right.
I don’t know if it would be possible to even feel like a human anymore. After having that thought my eyes started shedding some tears and I felt like my heart was going to beat out of my chest. Completely and utterly heartbroken I was, to say the least. I kept thinking too that even if the people trapped in slavery could speak… could anyone hear them? Did anyone around them who are influencing or banking off of this situation even care? And if not, how is that possible?
I remember reading once in the book “Half the Sky” about a girl who was being held as a sex slave in this horrible place (not sure which country). They drugged her, gave her very little of everything, just enough to live, but one day she escaped. She was free. But she was in another country and she didn’t speak the language. Nobody helped her and she ended up going back to being a slave because by then it was all she knew.
When I started getting overwhelmed I tried to take deep breathes and think of the mission here and the hopes of raising awareness that strikes the people on the streets of NYC. Also, this wasn’t just me, and this group in New York City it was thousands of men and women all over the world! In total there was 270 walks in 40 countries all in 24 hours*. How powerful it is knowing that.
It took us 2 hours to walk 36 blocks. There was a lot of stop and go. A lot of pedestrians took pictures and videos. Lots of people were looking at the signs that the walkers were holding. There was a few people clapping and cheering us on saying motivational things, which was extremely helpful. It was great to hear people conversing to one another about it too. Like everything else, there were a few people I heard that wasn’t very supportive. Like this one guy that kept saying “take the tape off, they need a voice.”
Even though it was a “silent” march it represented just a fraction of the people who can’t speak for themselves, I don’t believe it really was silent at all. It was quiet yes, but it radiated energy and layers of depth. Of truth. Of expression. Human trafficking is something we can no longer whisper or ignore. It should be our civil duty to do what we can to stop this.
Human trafficking could happen to anyone. I thought about that while walking as well. I saw so many parents with their kids thinking this could happen to anyone one of them. I saw young women, thinking the same thing. Sold, to the highest bidder. How is this real life?
Slavery is not a choice. Just the morning alone I made so many choices. To bring my jacket or not (it ended up being a good decision not to btw), to listen to music or not, what to eat for breakfast, to have a cup of coffee, will I see my friends?, every single question or thought arose I had a choice. The humans that are suffering in human trafficking do not have a choice of anything. Nothing. Zip, zero, nada. Fully stripped of all choices. Could you imagine?
I was looking forward to the end of the walk because I was honestly mentally exhausted. We finished the walk in Columbus Circle. I briefly chatted with the South African girl and friends and we all shared our experiences. We then held hands and prayed. It was deep, it was profound, and ironically beautiful, just like the walk.
I called my mom as I started to walk home through Central Park. I summed up in a nut shell what I just experienced of course, once again, shedding a few tears. What I just couldn’t wrap my head around was how this wasn’t like apes from “Planet of the Apes” selling humans. It was humans doing this to other humans. It just blows my mind completely. At the end of this day though it wasn’t about me or my thoughts about it, and imagining walking in their shoes, it’s about raising awareness and spreading knowledge to others.
This could happen to you, me, your sister, brother, daughter, son, this could happen to anyone. Hopefully us humans from all races, continents, backgrounds can come together like we did today to end this horrific, unimaginable, inhumane thing we call human trafficking.
There will be a walk again October 14, 2017 I will be there, will you?
For more information -> *A21 website http://www.a21.org/
All pictures were taken by me in New York City on October 15, 2016. The Human Trafficking facts are images taken from the A21 Website.