A Black teenage girl in a medical mask poses for a picture with a smiling Black woman in front of a table with pamphlets.
Alice Karim, youth member of EOYDC (left) and Okland's District 7 Councilmember Treva Reid. Credit: Courtesy of Selena Wilson

This story was first published by Oakland Voices, a journalism program led by the Maynard Institute for Journalism Education that trains Oakland residents to tell the stories of their neighborhoods. 

For decades, Oakland has grappled with the juxtaposition of having a rich history of Black empowerment, while also housing an underground economy fed by the exploitation of Black girls and women.

This year, the issue has gained more attention in the media since community members and organizations announced a “state of emergency” in Oakland for the attempted abductions and kidnappings of Black girls and women. The declaration was made in response to 10 attempted abductions that the coalition said had occurred within the span of a month between April and May. 

On June 1, the East Oakland Youth Development Center (EOYDC) hosted an Emergency Town Hall called “About that Action: Protect & Empower Our Black Girls & Women.” EOYDC CEO Selena Wilson shared that the center was chosen as a location for the town hall after one of their youth leaders was almost abducted while leaving her shift. She herself reflected on the experiences of navigating this issue as a young girl growing up in Oakland. 

“From the age of twelve, I would have grown men trying to talk to me… I felt safe because there were always houses around where I knew somebody,” Wilson told Oakland Voices. “Our kids nowadays, due to gentrification and the housing crisis, don’t usually get to live in the same spot for more than a couple of years. There’s instability and a lack of a sense of a village.”

list of safety tips was developed by anti-trafficking advocate Nola Brantley and 27 community organizations in Oakland following the call for a state of emergency. Brantley is the CEO of Nola Brantley Speaks and a survivor of trafficking. The collective of organizations has come together to host a series of gatherings and street outreach efforts in Oakland throughout the year (see events listed below).

In addition to Brantley and EOYDC staff, adult and youth representatives from organizations such as Survivors Healing, Advising, and Dedicated to Empowerment (S.H.A.D.E), and Vertical Skillz served as panelists and shared safety resources with attendees. Oakland Councilmember Treva Reid of District 7 was an organizer of the town hall and provided information about local and statewide initiatives.

Senate Bill 673 would establish an “Ebony Alert

Councilmember Reid’s office reported last month that of the 1,500 missing person cases in the city of Oakland, 400 are Black women. During the EOYDC Town Hall, Reid also shared that Black men and boys combined account for about 500 missing persons cases in Oakland.

It is uncertain as to how many of these cases are directly related to human trafficking; however, the state of California has one of the highest numbers of reported cases of human trafficking nationwide. A recent study found that Black women make up 40% of humans being trafficked in the United States. The study also found that in LA County, 92% of girls in the juvenile justice system who were identified as victims of sex trafficking are Black.

Black women make up 40% of humans being trafficked in the United States

Congressional Black Congress Foundation

Senator Steven Bradford introduced Senate Bill 673, which would create a new “Ebony Alert” system in the state of California for missing Black women and youth from ages 12-25 years old. The Ebony Alert was introduced to increase the response rates and level of awareness of missing Black people in the state of California. Black youth are often misclassified as “runaways”, which hinders them from receiving an Amber Alert, resulting in minimal to no coverage of their case. The Ebony Alert would authorize law enforcement and encourage the media to amplify the missing person’s case in an effort to bring them home safely. 

On May 30, 2023, the Oakland City Council unanimously voted to support SB 673, a resolution from Councilmember Reid to increase the chances of finding Black women and youth in Oakland. Reid is also a member of the newly-formed Mayor’s Advisory Council on Human Trafficking. 

Changing the narrative

Local nonprofit A Sista’s Touch will be hosting a 5k run at Oakland Tech this fall to raise awareness of human trafficking. Photo courtesy of Selena Wilson.

The EOYDC town hall panelists and audience members discussed ways to be safe while navigating the streets of Oakland. A young Black girl in the audience raised a question about what she should wear to “be safe but cute,” and avoid being a target for harassment and abduction. This sparked a larger conversation about Black girls being burdened with the responsibility of ensuring they are not preyed upon by older men. 

“The conversation needs to be with the boys,” Wilson, EOYDC CEO, told the audience. “We need you to talk to your brothers.” She further explained the need for more spaces where men and boys can come together to disrupt problematic ideologies pertaining to gender within the community.

A number of Black male leaders attended the town hall. Two community leaders in particular, Darren White and Darryel “Uncle D” Allums, got on the mic and shared their experiences as mentors and working with Black families in the community to find missing children. White is the founder and executive director of Realized Potential Inc., an organization dedicated to improving the lives of underserved youth. Allums is the Founder of Adamika Village, which provides violence prevention support to Black neighborhoods in Oakland.

Beyond the gender binary

As the town hall came to a close, an audience member inquired about the number of missing person cases for Black transgender girls and women. The panelists took this time to discuss the invisibility and lack of care for the queer and transgender community. 

Violence against Black transgender women and youth often goes unreported, making their cases virtually invisible. On June 6, 2023, the Human Rights Campaign declared a state of emergency due to the rise in anti-LGBTQ+ legislation across the country.

One of the youth panelists shared that her family member, who was a Black transgender woman, was killed and her case received little to no attention. Brantley, CEO of Nola Brantley Speaks, discussed how challenging it has been to find resources over the years for Black transgender women and that they are at the highest risk of harm and exploitation. 

Wilson called on adults in the audience for a moment of reflection. “One of the biggest tools in a predator’s chest is alienation…one of the reasons why trans and queer kids are more at risk to be abducted and manipulated into harmful practices is because they are often rejected by us.”  

“One of the reasons why trans and queer kids are more at risk to be abducted and manipulated into harmful practices is because they are often rejected by us.”   

Selena Wilson, CEO of the East Oakland Youth Development Center

Further, Wilson explained how Black queer and transgender youth can experience alienation by being misgendered and disowned by their families and community. “That literally can be deadly… you can save lives just by honoring their truth.” 

The topics addressed at the town hall highlighted the intersectional dynamics faced by all Black people. Moreover, the discussions challenged attendees to develop new ways of thinking and showing up as village members. 

The Oakland Unified School District provides an LGBTQ Resource Page for students and families to learn about terms, definitions, hotlines, and more. The Oakland LGBTQ Community Center offers resources and support groups for youth and adults. The center recently held a grand opening on June 16 for their Town Youth Club. 

Upcoming Events

  • On June 21, 2023, Brantley, Wilson, and Councilmember Reid will join other leaders in the community at the Homie’s Dinner and Panel Discussion hosted by Homies Empowerment. The event will address ways to build solidarity with with Black “womyn” who are under attack.
  • Reproductive Justice (RJ) Summer is offering free events and workshops to promote education on reproductive health in Oakland. Events will take place virtually and in person. 
  • A Sista’s Touch will be hosting “We Run Oakland 5k for Human Trafficking Awareness” on Saturday, Sept. 16, at Oakland Technical High School. 

As these gatherings continue to take place, community members are becoming more aware and informed about ways to establish and strengthen a village of protection for Black women and youth.