Members of the Albuquerque community came together for A21’s “Walk for Freedom” event at Alameda Open Space on Saturday morning.
A21 is an international organization working to abolish slavery in the 21st century. The non-profit organization was formed in 2008 and works to eradicate human trafficking through awareness, intervention and aftercare, according to the organization’s website.
The A21’s “Walk for Freedom” is a global walk in 50 different countries with over 450 walks in total, all held on Oct. 20, said the event’s host Jessica Otero.
“The goal is for it to be local impact so we’re coming together globally, as a nation, but we want to help our city, so a local impact,” Otero said.
Supporters walked in silence in a single file line holding signs of statistics from Alameda Open Space to Corrales Road. Otero said supporters wore all black, to let people know that human trafficking is real and in Albuquerque.
“There’s still slavery in the world that people don’t know about,” Otero said. “There’s all sorts of types of human trafficking — there’s labor trafficking, sex trafficking, child, military soldiers — every type of trafficking we’re bringing awareness to.”
There were 14 local vendors who came out to support and sponsor the event.
“My goal this year was to have local businesses be apart of this and it was crazy to see how many local businesses actually supported this cause and wanted to bring light to it,” Otero said.
One sponsor of the event was New Mexico Dream Center. NMDC is a collaboration between three different programs that address human trafficking, provide aftercare for survivors, and offer resources. NMDC’s Executive Director, Shelley Repp, said the center works closely with law enforcement in Albuquerque.
“We’re here today because it’s so important for us to be able to get the word out about the human trafficking that is happening in our city and our state because by and large, people do not realize that it's happening,” Repp said.
Repp said being so close to the border and having two major highway interchanges, and because New Mexico does not have many resources, there is significant trafficking within the state.
“New Mexico is actually a haven for human trafficking right now because we have very loose state statutes, we have very little legislation addressing trafficking at all, either in providing support for victims or providing penalties for traffickers,” Repp said.
Also sponsoring the event was Family Life Radio, who also partners with NMDC for hygiene drives for survivors coming out of human trafficking.
“Our heart is to really love on women, to love on those that are coming out of human trafficking — it happens in our state believe it or not, that’s why we’re here,” said Elisa Meyer, the regional promotions coordinator at Family Life Radio.
Taking part in the walk was Noe Barnett, a volunteer for A21 and a recent graduate of fine arts from the University of New Mexico.
Barnett and a friend painted a mural off of Central Avenue to raise awareness about human trafficking.
“The mural was something I had in mind. me and a buddy, kind of had the same idea as far as something we wanted to do about the topic of human trafficking, we looked for a good location, happened to find one in Nob Hill and just made the image,” Barnett said.
The mural contains images of victims of human trafficking and various photos that evoke the idea of people being trafficked. It depicts a larger image of a girl, a product of human trafficking, and her mother, Barnett said.
“This stuff happens even in our own backyard, and I think so often you think that it’s a foreign issue or something that happens overseas or third-world countries, but it happens even in Albuquerque and New Mexico,” Barnett said.
Alyssa Bitsie is a freelance reporter with the Daily Lobo. She can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Albitsie.