January 8, 2012
Nineteenth century Russian novelist, Leo Tolstoy addressed societal disparities in his famous work titled “What Then Must We Do?” It is a question that most of us ask at some point in our lives. How do we make our world better? For Derrica Wilson and Natalie Wilson that question was raised when they discovered just how many Black people go missing each year without receiving any of the media attention given to the Laci Petersons of the world. The answer? Black and Missing Foundation, Incorporated. What began as a simple website featuring profiles of missing persons has become a calling for the two DC-area mothers, who work tirelessly to locate some of the 200,000 plus people of color who vanish each year. After Francie Comiskey profiled the foundation in the May 2011 issue of EBONY, Black and Missing has received the support of several high-profile African-American personalities and organizations, including Michael Baisden (who features a missing child of the week on his nationally syndicated The Michael Basiden Show) and Jacque Reid, who is Black and Missing’s national spokesperson. As Derrica and Natalie prepare for their organization’s debut on TV One’s “Find Our Missing”, they need your support in taking their efforts to the next level.
Where did this all begin for you two?
Natalie: This quest began when Derrica brought to my attention that a young lady by the name of Tamika Huston went missing in Spartanburg, North Carolina. We saw that Tamika’s family got very little publicity, even though her aunt worked in public relations and media. At the time, about thirty percent of those missing (in the U.S.) were people of color, and only a fraction of them would be shown in the media. And we can compare the disappearance of Tamika Huston to the disappearance of Natalie Holloway, which dominated the news. Since our inception, that percentage has increased to a little over forty percent.
Derrica: We saw one case receive all of the spotlight and the other fall into darkness. I am law enforcement by profession and Natalie works in public relations. So when we noted the lack of response from law enforcement and the lack of response from the media, that became the driving force for us to channel our professional work into helping our community.
Derrica, how has your work with Black and Missing affected your work in law enforcement and vice versa?
Derrica: Natalie and I have been really successful in really connecting to our community. There is a lack of trust in minority communities when it comes to police. We don’t always see our interests reflected in their actions. I’m a mother first, so I naturally have a nurturing spirit. The same goes for Natalie and we are able to connect with many on that level. Black and Missing is so much more than having profiles posted on our website. We are really involved in our community. We participate in searches. We’re hands on. We’re passing out flyers. We’re connecting to the media to ensure that these cases receive spotlight.
How does it feel to know that you have contributed to locating 65 missing people?
Derrica: We are very grateful that we have helped to find these people, but there are still so many more missing. There are many cases that haunt us. Lately we’ve heard so many horror stories about missing children, particularly young missing girls that make us wonder what is going on in our community. So, yes we’ve made some strides but we have a long way to go, and we can only do this with the help of our community.
How can we support Black and Missing?
Natalie: We urgently need sponsorship. The hardest part of the process is the recovery after the families are reunited. The medical care needed after reuniting, the counseling. For instance, we recently reunited a family and the parents have been unable to return to work because they are attempting to care for their daughter and they’re afraid of returning to work and having their daughter disappear again. They are undergoing a great deal of therapy to readjust and get back to normal. Another case involved someone who was found dead and the family needed burial assistance. Derrica and I came out of our own pockets to help with the burial. We have families that reach out to us to assist in printing flyers for their missing loved ones. There is so much work to be done.
I’m sure you must have thought going into this without realizing finding missing people is only the beginning. Your foundation primarily operates by donation…
Derrica: Honestly, we haven’t received very many donations from the outside. Natalie and I have essentially been funding this project out of our own pockets. But we are grateful for the small donations that we’ve received go towards the trainings, printing flyers, assisting families in locating resources for counseling, etc. Families come to us needing so much.
With all of your professional, emotional and monetary investments, how has working with the foundation impacted your personal lives?
Natalie: As a mother of teenagers, I can definitely say that I have become more observant. I watch more. I can quickly spot a child that has gotten away from his parent. I can honestly say that I have even become a bit paranoid, which annoys my kids, because I am always calling and asking “where are you”? The stories do that to you. I don’t speak to the families that often, I let Derrica handle that, but when I do I am in tears. I have to constantly pull myself back, realizing that I have to be professional and that these families don’t call us to hear us cry, but the stories are so heart-wrenching.
Derrica: I’ve been in law enforcement for ten years and it helps me to pull it together. I’m a mother, too. I have a two year old and an eight year old, and I have always been very cautious. But it can still be very heartbreaking.
What is your vision of the foundation’s future?
Derrica: We would like to have a central headquarters and satellite offices set up in other states. It’s so important for families to actually have a place to turn to when they need help. We want to be a clearinghouse in every state, sort of like the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children. We want to have those call centers in place. We are a national organization. We want to travel and have a national training and campaign tour.
Natalie: We want to continue to build on the platform that we have already begun to build on. We have so much more work to do and we realize that we can only do this work with help and participation from our community. We want community members to become more informed about those who have gone missing and become more active in the search to find them. That’s our greatest goal.
Photo credit: EBONY