Art for Abolitionists: How I Joined the Fight Against Human Trafficking
By Callen Buchanan
[Ms. Buchanan is a high school student in Vinton, VA who organized a charitable event to raise money to combat human trafficking. Her event received national attention when it was covered by both the Frederick Douglass Family Initiative and Huffington Post.]
A lot of people ask me where I got the motivation to join the fight against human trafficking, and as much as I would like to have an intriguing coming of age story, it’s really simple. During the first semester of my Junior year at William Byrd High School in Vinton, VA, the Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives came to my school with a curriculum program called Globalize 13. They preached the power of one, product awareness, and how to stay safe. Everyone was extremely excited, but as soon as the event was over, so was the hype. No one seemed to make any serious changes. We still sold slave labor chocolates in the vending machines, we tore down all the posters, and we forgot.
I got kind of annoyed, and just had a moment where I decided that if no one else was going to do something, I would. So I used what I knew: art! In December of 2014, I approached Richard Moon, the art director of Roanoke County schools with an idea for an art show that raised money and awareness about human trafficking. I attend a trade school part time for art called the Burton Center for Arts and Technology. In my few years there, I began to unknowingly network. Actually, without Burton, I would not be anywhere close to where I am today. Mr. Moon told me it was a good idea, and that he would try to help me, but I soon learned Mr. Moon is a really busy guy. It was hard to contact him, and I started to think this wasn’t going to work. Every time I told someone about my idea I could tell they thought it would be a complete flop. No one really took me seriously. I couldn’t find a venue, I couldn’t get anyone to email me back, and I was completely lost. What does a 17 year old know about running a charitable event? But for some reason, I just couldn’t let this go. I started to get annoyed not only by the fact that people didn’t think I could do it, but because people around me weren’t even trying to stop this problem. I kept pushing and pushing. I bothered artists until they blocked my emails, I made flyers, I talked to people, I made people listen to me, and I found a venue. Tanglewood Mall in Roanoake, VA was extremely supportive, and offered me the venue for free. Before I knew it, May was smack dab in my face and the event was here. We set up the show, and I remember being so mad at my friends because they kept goofing off. They didn’t seem to realize how serious this was to me. Looking back on it, I probably over reacted, but Art for Abolitionists is my baby, and at this point had begun to be one of the most important things in my life.
Artists donated art, and on the morning of the event, my boyfriend, who had been my number one supporter through it all, helped me pack everything we needed into the car. We got there two hours early, and we waited. I had a few friends bring me doughnuts to show support and love, and some friends from my art class came to help sell art. I was terrified. I mean, what if this failed? What if I didn’t make our goal? I had worked so hard and told everyone about this and I needed this to be successful. I felt like if I didn’t win at this, then I’d be letting all of those people that needed me down. Needless to say, we made our goal of $711, (The price Frederick Douglass’ friend’s paid for his freedom) and then some. We totaled out at $951 in one day. I was ecstatic! I have never been so excited to go to the post office.
After the event I felt like I could do anything, and I immediately started planning year two. The second installment of Art for Abolitionists will be May 21-22 and May 27-29, 2016. The show looks great! We had almost twice the art as last year, and thanks to Huffington Post and local news stations Art for Abolitionists has gotten a lot of publicity!
Needless to say, I’m excited. I cannot wait to start the show this weekend, and I hope we do well this year. Soon I will be moving to Richmond to attend Virginia Commonwealth University for occupational therapy, and will be working in general rehab at the VCU Medical Center. I’m looking for organizations to begin working with to become even better known in the community, and while I am attending school for OT, at this point that is a backup plan. I anticipate to find a fitting career in the realm of anti-human trafficking.