Published in the Rains County Leader on April 17, 2018:
I first wrote about For the Silent’s Nightwalk for Hope in May of 2015. Here is an excerpt from my original post:
Slavery was abolished in the United States in 1865, but did you know that, according to a story released by KLTV on August 24, 2013, a form of slavery called human trafficking is a growing problem – not in Africa or Asia or New York, but in East Texas. Human trafficking is defined as “the illegal movement of people, typically for the purposes of forced labor or commercial sexual exploitation.” Traffickers often target at-risk young people, sometimes twelve years old and younger, in order to sell their bodies for cash. A Tyler expert was quoted by KLTV as saying that, in Smith County, 33% of girls and 17% of boys will be sexually abused, some of them at the hand of traffickers, before the age of eighteen.
For the Silent is a non-profit organization based in Tyler and dedicated to bringing “hope to teens silenced by sex trafficking and exploitation in the United States through prevention, intervention and community mobilization programs.” Their second annual Nightwalk for Hope was scheduled for April 24 , but due to stormy weather, it was rescheduled for May 8. The event featured a two-mile walk through Rose Rudman Park with music and other activities planned at the finish line. During the walk, each participant would carry a lantern to symbolize hope and freedom for those silenced by human trafficking.
As it turned out, we didn’t walk that year. The skies had looked threatening all evening, and as we were checking in and picking up our event t-shirts, the heavens opened up. Everyone ran for cover to see if the rain would pass quickly, but instead, it worsened and added huge bolts of lightning followed by deafening claps of thunder. Metal framed canopies, strings of electric lights, and electrical music equipment seemed likely targets for the weather, so the event was cancelled. We had ridden to Tyler with Kent and Stella – Spike’s people – so Kent ran for the truck and David ran to drop our money in the donation box while Stella and I sought shelter under a covered picnic area.
Somehow, David and I missed the Walk the next two years, but a few weeks ago when Kent mentioned that it was coming up on April 14, I pre-registered on-line, and the four of us made plans to “double date” again. By Friday, the weather was predicted to be acceptable if not comfortable. Fifty degrees and windy with temperatures dropping after sundown is enough to make old bones want to stay inside – but we believe in the cause, so we pulled out long underwear, hoodies, gloves, and jackets, and piled into the truck.
The event had changed some since the last time David and I were there. This year people began to gather at 5:30 pm, and by the time we arrived at 7:00, we had to park much further away than we did in 2013. We had quite a warm-up stroll before the Nightwalk began. There were also several bounce houses that I didn’t remember from before, and music that had a great beat but is definitely not played on “60s on 6.” Instead of a small concession stand selling tacos, nachos, and soda, there were four food trucks selling gourmet coffee and ice cream sandwiches, all things cheese, and a large selection of Tex-Mex. There was still a donation box, but there was also a raffle for a bicycle that had been donated. We still received an event shirt, but there were other t-shirt, tote bags, and souvenirs for sale. I hope that everyone sold out since the proceeds went to For the Silent.
David and I had eaten dinner at home, so while Kent and Stella stood in line at the food trucks, we watched people. All generations were represented, from babies in strollers to couples who looked older than we think we look. Some people were conservatively dressed, and others sported wild hair colors and haircuts. Some shared their dinner with their four-legged family members and others danced, but everyone smiled and laughed. And when the sun went down, we all gathered on the walking path for the same purpose.
Before we set off, we were each given a battery-powered lantern but told not turn them on yet. Then, Kenny Rigsby, Founder and Executive Director of For the Silent took the microphone for a few minutes. He thanked us all for coming and told of the progress that is being made – the victims who are seeking help and the few brave ones who are testifying against their traffickers, the prevention programs that are growing, the education that is taking place in the community. Finally, it was time, and as hundreds of lanterns were turned one, he shouted, “There is hope in the darkness.”
Maybe you missed this year’s Nightwalk, but there will be another one next year. As long as there are organizations like For the Silent, there will always be hope. If you would like to learn more about For the Silent and how you can donate or get involved, go to www.ForTheSilent.org or call 903-747-8128.