That was the message that IT’S GOING TO BE OKAY, INC. successfully delivered to every individual present at its Hope & Pearls Inaugural Gala, January 28, 2017 at the David H. Hitt Auditorium, Methodist Dallas Medical Center. Every seat in the building was occupied with men and women (310 in attendance)ready to be educated on how it will be okay and what they could contribute to make sure that promise is carried out to the girls and boys, women and men who are living in captivity today through trafficking.
The Inaugural Gala went above and beyond its expectations: beautiful gowns, spiffy suits, lights and cameras, elegant and classy; but most of all it was educational and informative.
Human trafficking is a subject that many individuals are convinced that only happens in far-away places – in other countries, but that could not be further from the truth. Victims of sex trafficking are right in our backyards— they are our next door neighbors. Tonya Stafford, Founder and CEO of IT’S GOING TO BE OK, INC. proved that to be true over and over again, as she shares her story of being sold for crack cocaine in her tender teen years by her mother. Her mother’s addiction to the drug caused her to become a victim of human trafficking and to live as a sex slave. Ms. Stafford shared her story of how the entire community failed her as a child and a victim. She was raped, sexually and physically abused by her trafficker and became pregnant not once, but twice. Her trafficker was the caretaker (in the eyes of the community). He took her to the hospital to give birth to her children. He took her to school. He also took her to church, where Tonya thought maybe she would be rescued and recognized as a victim, but that never happened. Tonya, in her words, became bitter at people in authority—especially the church – since she was taught to believe that church should be her refuge. Tonya’s hope in people was restored by a pastor and wife who were in attendance, who showed her how to believe in people again.
She said, “They showed me how to believe in people again. They showed me the difference between God folks and church folk!” The crowd erupted in laughter, because I believe that we all can relate to that difference. Like Tonya said, “We won’t get into that right now.”
Also in attendance was someone Tonya holds deep respect for in her heart was her elementary principal. Tonya’s laugh with a mixture of tears of relief and gratitude made it easy for us to visualize her relationship with him as a student. She doesn’t hesitate to say how that she knows he saw something in her that she didn’t see in herself, and that was part of what she needed to keep hope while in captivity.
It seems odd to keep referring to someone in captivity in this day and time. Although slavery was abolished many years ago, it has shown up in the past several years and known as human/sex trafficking.
Mr. Kennan Williams, the Master of Ceremony never had a ‘lost for words’ and shared his heart-felt story of how the choices that he made in life landed him in prison for six and a half years, but by making the right choice after serving six and a half years, he turned his life around. He is now giving back every opportunity he gets.
One of the most powerful stories Mr. Kennan Williams shared was about how his life was changed after spending six and a half years in incarceration. Woodard credits the man who was responsible for putting him in prison for that change. That man was Retired Grand Prairie Police Department Sgt. Alan T. Patton. Mr. Patton was brought to tears confirming the story that Mr. Woodard had told about him. Mr. Patton’s tearful moment allowed the audience an inside feel of what it’s like to be an officer who cares but also has a job to do. Mr. Patton confirmed Mr. Kennan Williams message about how he (Patton) had the intent to retire the same year that Mr. Kennan Williams visited him just to say “thank you for what you did”, was extended for several more years. What a difference a simple ‘thank you’ makes.
Mr. Jose A. Santana, Chief, Federal Bureau of Prisons along with Retired Sergeant Alan T. Patton of Grand Prairie Police Department gave eye-opening speeches that included staggering statistics of how heavily populated prisons are with convicted sex offenders. We live in a sex-driven world with individuals whom are willing to do whatever necessary to get it, buy and sell it.
The entertainment of the In the Pocket band kept the atmosphere lighthearted. Ms. Tami Rose delivered a song of praise that reminded us that we are not alone in this fight against human trafficking, and God is still in control. Ms. Therease Clayton (Writer/Speaker), recited a beautiful and powerful poem “Safe in His Arms.” It was a timely message, eloquently delivered.
The speaker of the hour, who many would say wasn’t supposed to be there, but when we are walking in ordered steps things are the way they are for a reason. Ms. Debra Mars the speaker of the night is definitely no stranger to speaking in front of hundreds of thousands of people around the world was asked to step in for the speaker, and she not only stepped in – she stepped out! On her way back to Los Angeles, California, still dressed in her outfit that she wore to Alvin Ailey’s Dance Performance, she captivated the audience with her message. She not only gave brought the message of the importance to supporting IGTBOK, Inc., but the importance of uniting together and making a change. Her brief but powerful message moved many to tears; and she end her message with a call to action – giving. Everybody can do something! Awesome message!
If everything hadn’t been great already, one of the most moving moments of the night was the presentation of “The Shaniya Davis Human Rights Award.” Mr. Bradley Lockhart, the father of little Shaniya Davis gave a heartbreaking, tearful speech about his daughter after watching a video of his daughter’s pictures scroll across the screen. The quiet tune of Sarah McLaughlin’s In the Arms of the Angel played in the background. A song that I love and definitely fitting for an angel that is in the arms of the angels in the presence of God. The Shaniya Davis Human Rights Award was presented to Mrs. Elba Garcia, Dallas County Commissioner (District 4). Mrs. Garcia serves in so many areas of Dallas and the surrounding areas as a true philanthropist and a giver of hope to those that are hopeless. She is a dentist by trade, but a woman who wears many hats when it comes to helping and serving her community. Well deserving award, Mrs. Garcia.
As the event came to a close, Tonya had finally been able to settle down long enough to take in the ambience and overwhelming experience of a room filled with people who were there to support a cause that she has fought for so long and so hard. Tonya sat with tear filled eyes at a table with her fiancé who has been her greatest supporter, and her children who are stronger than they will ever really know, and her granddaughter. Tonya’s humble presence was breathtaking as she stood out with her red, elegant, fish-tailed dress with a bold statement red and clear rhinestone attached halter neck with matching earrings. Her smile, her ability to love life, her children and to love people she hasn’t even met yet says it all about Tonya. Tonya ended her night with a plea for all to get involved with the education and eradication of human trafficking, because it is all of our duty.
“If you see something, say something” were the words she ended with after her final thanks to each and every person who made it possible for such and amazing event.