My freshman year at Hope College, I came across an article on the internet that exposed the issue of sex trafficking. What really got me was that it specifically talked about sex trafficking in West Michigan. I just sat there and cried as it was the first time I had ever heard that it existed in the United States. I thought to myself, “How could I have been so naive to think this wouldn’t exist in America... let alone in Grand Rapids and Kalamazoo!"
The rest of that semester the issue just kept coming up through other people, my own research, and conversations. I came home that summer to my hometown of Kalamazoo, Michigan and had dinner with one of my best friends, Lauren Lancaster. She had just finished her freshman year at Michigan State and as I told her about the issue and what I had been learning, she looked at me excitedly and said she too had been learning about sex trafficking that same semester! Coincidence? I think not. I told her how I wanted to somehow use my music to fight this injustice and she said: “Let’s do a benefit concert!” That same night we drove to a small barn venue in our town and asked if we could book it for the end of August for a benefit concert. And thus, our journey began. We didn’t necessarily know what we were doing, but we were certain that we were being called to DO something.
Lauren and I quickly realized that first summer in doing more research on the problem and talking to several nonprofits that we were and will never be the experts. Sex trafficking is too complex and looks so different from city to city. So we thought, “Why re-invent the wheel of a nonprofit? What if there was a way we could host a benefit concert to raise awareness and funds for an already established nonprofit that is directly fighting on the front lines of this issue?”
It started with that first concert. We researched nonprofits around us and landed on "The Daughter Project,” who were in the process of building a safe house for girls ages 11-17 who had been through sex trafficking. They are located in Toledo, Ohio which is the third largest city for trafficking in the U.S. After many conversations back and forth, we decided this was who we wanted to raise the money for. At that first concert, we prayed for $1,000 to be raised for The Daughter Project and after three hours, $4,000 was raised! We also partnered with a local Women’s Life Chapter who also helped us run/host the concert. We decided to do one more concert the next summer and prayed for double the amount to be raised. And it was! From there we had so many people ask us how they could run a concert or be a part of Songs Against Slavery so we decided to look into becoming a nonprofit. We had one week left of summer before our Junior year and literally within that week, our dreams and prayers were answered. We had a lawyer who wanted to help us get our nonprofit started for free, a donation from a family to pay for the nonprofit filing fees and a board of directors. We became an official nonprofit in the fall of 2012.
Our heart behind these events is to engage the local community and educate them on how they can tangibly be a part of the fight because we believe the best solution is a local solution. At each event, we research and lift up a local nonprofit in the area that is directly fighting sex trafficking. We bring in a survivor or speaker to educate the audience on what trafficking is and have a call to donate for the selected nonprofit. We also allow that nonprofit and any other nonprofits in the area who are directly fighting this set up a booth in the back so that people can learn more about how to get involved if they so desire. Because it isn’t just about one specific nonprofit-it is about uniting nonprofits to work together so we can make a bigger impact. My favorite part of the entire event is the music. We usually bring in a local opener and then a more well-known headliner. The reality is that trafficking is a very dark and heavy topic to talk about. Lauren and I could so easily talk about the issue and how there is hope for these victims and survivors. But music allows people to feel this hope-it brings a lightness and a joy that every person in the audience can feel so they walk out of the event feeling empowered that they CAN be a part of the fight.
We have run 14 full benefit concerts since that first summer and helped raised over $30,000 for different nonprofits in Michigan, Indiana, Tennessee, and Ohio. We have worked with prevention projects, safe houses, restoration after care, rescue teams, awareness campaigns, etc. Like I said before we do not limit ourselves to just one start or one nonprofit. It has been so amazing to see how vital each aspect of these nonprofits are to fighting this issue. It really does take a community to rescue one victim and a community to help that one individual fully heal.
Our biggest goal is to be able to run SAS events in every state. Since my co-founder and I just graduated from college this past May, we are currently working towards putting us both on full-time staff by this upcoming fall. We actually just went on our first “SAS mini-tour” with a band called Judah and the Lion. We got to travel with them to different cities in Tennessee and then Chicago. At each show, we set up our booth and lifted up a local nonprofit in the area while the band talked about what we do from the stage. It was absolutely amazing see people's responses and to talk about trafficking to people that we would have otherwise not been able to reach.
We would love to tour with more bands and one day go on our own tour to visit different nonprofits across the country and help bring more awareness and exposure to this issue. We would love to build a bigger audience and bring in bigger artist to our events. The reality is that human trafficking brings in about $32 billion a year in profit worldwide. So while raising awareness is key and the first step to eradicating any injustice, to directly fight sex trafficking it takes a lot of money for nonprofits to give victims the proper care they need. So we know that the bigger concerts we can run and the more people we can educated, the more money we can bring in for these nonprofits and the bigger impact we can make.