Monday, September 3, 2012

Run to Free 5K

This morning I woke up to text from one of my friends from KU who was volunteering at the "Run to Free" 5k in Lawrence, KS. The event was to raise awareness and funds to fight human trafficking and the proceeds went two international and national organizations Justice Acts in South Africa and to Stop Child Trafficking Now in Kansas City. She said the ladies that organized the event came to the Governor Sam Brownback's speech  on human trafficking last year at KU and were inspired to do something to stop this horrible crime. For me there is nothing better than hearing this and that the legacy of fighting human trafficking is continuing in Lawrence even though I can't be there to participate! 

I am going to tell the story of how we were able to bring the governor to campus and inspire events such as these because it honestly was one of the top ten events in my life! In 2010 one of my advisers sent me an email saying that the governor wanted to have a human trafficking conference at KU and since I was researching that subject I should help in the planning. I knew that the governor was one of the original co-sponsors of the Trafficking Victims Protection Act in 2000 with the late Senator Paul Wellstone from my home state of MN but other than that and some video interviews with him that was basically all I knew about his interest in the subject. We had a couple of meetings with some staffers and university administrators and things kind of fizzled out because financing for the conference couldn't be secured. After that I was hired as a Human Trafficking Research Assistant at the Institute for Policy and Social Research at KU. I was able to co-author a paper which we presented at a political science conference with one of my advisers and learn a lot about human trafficking in Southern Africa. Then last Fall semester I knew I would be leaving Kansas to do my fieldwork in Eastern Europe this year so I decided that my goal was to bring the governor to campus before I left Kansas. I started emailing the governor's office asking him to give a talk on human trafficking. I never received a response. 

Then after talking to my newly assigned mentee in my department (incoming students are assigned mentors and since she was from Ukraine she was assigned to me), I realized that her husband worked in the governor's office and I had the in I needed! I emailed my mentee, she forwarded my message to her husband, and he emailed the governor's scheduler. Then I kept on emailing the governor's scheduler until we were able to arrange a tentative day in February right after human trafficking awareness month in January. I am the Graduate Student Representative at the Emily Taylor Women's Resource Center and they agreed to sponsor the event and we started working to organize the talk. We asked the Chancellor Bernadette Gray-Little to introduce him and then the Public Relations people at KU took over and made the event huge. We had over 200 people come and I was given a plaque by the chancellor for my efforts to change the world. Here is a picture of me receiving the plaque from the chancellor with the governor clapping the foreground.

During his speech the governor even said he wanted to establish a Center for Human Trafficking Research at KU. So right now people at KU are working on human trafficking conference in January 2013 that will bring experts from around the US to talk about human trafficking best practices. This conference will start a conversation and hopefully be the precursor to establishing this center at KU. Sadly, I will be in Ukraine conducting my fieldwork when the conference happens but events like this and the Run to Free 5K have demonstrated how much of an impact that one talk had on so many people. Plus it makes all the time planning the event and all the annoying emails I sent worth more than I could have ever imagined...because people not only at the university but the wider Lawrence community were inspired to help raise awareness to combat this modern form of slavery!

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