Every month we highlight another organization engaging in the work to fight human trafficking. Historically, we have partnered with organizations focusing specifically on anti-trafficking focused organizations. As we have continued to expand our knowledge and experience around the issue of human trafficking, we recognized that we must focus on contributing factors just as much as aftercare efforts if we hope to eliminate human trafficking in our city. So, this April we highlighted ImagiNoir/BLMHTX, an organization working to build a more equitable community in Houston. A 2nd Cup Executive Director, Erica Raggett, speaks with Secunda Joseph, Director of Smart Media and Community Organizing at ImagiNoir/BLMHTX to share more about the work they do.
Erica: Hi, I’m Erica Raggett, Founder and Executive Director of A 2nd Cup.
One of our priorities as an organization is to collaborate and support partners in this work to end human trafficking. One of the ways we do that is by choosing an organization each month to highlight and support financially with proceeds from our Split Shot drink of the month. This April we have chosen ImagiNoir/BLMHTX.
This organization is doing some really great work here in Houston and it has been an honor to get to highlight their efforts. So, I’m here today with Secunda Joseph. She is the Director of Smart Media and Community Organizing at ImagiNoir/BLMHTX. Thank you so much for being here with me today.
Secunda: Thank you for having me and just thank you for the work that you all are doing. Not only reaching out to us and choosing us this month but just what you’ve done for many organizations who are, trying to make this city a better place to be.
Erica: Well, I would love to have you start by sharing a little bit about the work that ImagiNoir/BLMHTX does here in Houston.
Secunda: Well, ImagiNoir/BLMHTX is a local group that basically we focus on like how can we make black lives matter in this city. We are a collective of activists and artists and academics and even you know ministers and community organizers who just believe all of these things. You know, all of our talents can be put to good use. Originally, most of our work was really around symposiums with education and empowerment, and of course, coalitions in our work. But
Really was around, uh, symposiums with education and empowerment and, of course coalitions in our work. But symposiums and just like criminal justice reform. But given the issues and the things that happen in the city, we transition to doing a lot of… I think Harvey pushed us to doing like direct assistance in a way that was much different and really showed us the need for, like abolitionist work, because so much of those things work together.
So that’s sort of what we are, and you know that looks like, you know when people need food, how do we get them good quality food and allow them to have a choice of what food they would purchase. When people with housing are being evicted, how can we ensure not only with our dollars, but by building relationships with you know, people who are landlords at least, and then also advocate, or sometimes getting the lawyers and making sure that they can stay in their place. Bailing people out of jail and not giving the money to the bail company. We’re giving straight to the County to sort of push back against this debtors’ prison that we have. So, it looks differently depending on what that need is.
Erica: Yeah, I actually really love getting to watch you guys do that. You see the need and you figure out how to make it happen. So your organization kind of just adapts to like what you see on the ground in front of you and you guys are so hands on. And I mean, I feel like in Houston we are like, every where we turn, there’s another crisis you know. It’s a hurricane now, it’s a freeze now, it’s like you know and I just you know I like watch you guys jumping into action and really serving the community. And so, I I’ve just been really impressed by that kind of work that you do.
What are some of the biggest challenges faced by the communities that you’re working with?
Secunda: I think I would say race. Unfortunately we live in a country that – not that they have the wrong race, but that racism is the systemic issue and it determines whether or not people are going to be able to provide for themselves. Whether or not, you know, people get good educations and really can have a job where they earn enough for them to care for themselves. Whether or not they have a criminal justice of a criminal history so that they can even find a decent place to live.
Even for people who we see who are college educated and who may invest and have a business but barely making it because race affects how much investment you get from the banks in your business. But one of the direct things I think is that Houston is the number 2 space in eviction in the country. So, of course black and brown people are going to be the most evicted, right? It also has the largest criminal justice system – jail, in the nation. I think it is number two as well. And that system is the largest mental health facility in the nation.
So, I think when you think in terms of how are people being affected? It’s health. It’s with really things that should be a human right. People have housing. People have medical care. You know, those are the sort of things that are the biggest issues and people being able to be free, not locked up in jail for things that you shouldn’t be in jail for. Like throwing people away. I think those are the largest problems.
Erica: So traditionally, at A 2nd Cup, our Split Shot partners have all been organizations who primarily focus on anti trafficking efforts. But over this past year we decided to kind of expand our vision and include partnerships to include organizations that are working in fields that kind of like intersect with or contribute to human trafficking, and so I would love to hear your thoughts around the intersectionality between racial injustice and human trafficking.
Secunda: Oh, it’s it’s huge.
We had the opportunities year before last to begin our work. There was a national program that was bailing black women out of jail. And by and large, a lot of the women that…We didn’t bail the women out of jail. Of course we didn’t give the money to the bail bonds. So, the person had a jail sentence like bail out, it was like $10,000, so no. But it opened us up to, you know, people started passing out our number in the jail, right? So, then people start calling and we started building relationships and connecting with other organizations who can assist, who could represent women. And a lot of women, you know, were sex workers, right, to survive. They were being harassed and jailed over and over again. I think, one woman in particular, who I think about. Mother passed away, right? Had a mental health condition. So, whereas at one time she had a family who cared for her. She had a mental health condition and she got arrested, mother passed away, she got out of jail and had no source of income. Nothing. It took forever for her to get just her basic medication and stuff. And then it took forever…I think just receiving her check again and it’s been more than a year. Just because she had been in jail. She had been re-arrested with no other source of income. And that’s just one story of a human being and it happens to many people every day. To me, when I think about people who are caged, women who are caged for trying to survive. There’s no place for them to get out, there’s no source for them to…there’s no other source for them to survive. What are they supposed to do?
That is one of the ways that our work sort of intersects and I don’t know, unfortunately we…sometimes folks call because they don’t have a place to stay. They’ve been put out of a hotel room, right because they’ve had company, because they’re trying to survive. That’s the way that our work intersects and it’s our job is to work to get you a place. You know, what do you need? Where are you comfortable? All that sort of thing. It wasn’t like it was intentional, it wasn’t like we were like, oh, we’re going to make sure that we support sex workers. Or you know, help people who are being trafficked. Some are being trafficked, some are not, right? But because everything works together, right, like our systems. And a lot of times if you have no home, you are going to be connected in some kind of way with the criminal justice system, the police, right, and it’s just a cycle.
Erica: No, I think it’s such a complicated issue. Because you’re right, like everything, everything is connected. It’s all interconnected. So, you know, sometimes I feel like in this anti trafficking field we talk about human trafficking like it happens in a vacuum. And the fact is, it doesn’t. There are so many things that are playing in. And unfortunately, a lot of those vulnerability factors are shouldered disproportionately by black and brown communities.
And so in my mind we cannot even begin to talk about effectively ending human trafficking without also talking about the systems of injustice and oppression that contribute to them.
Secunda: Yeah, I would just add to that it is a justice issue. It is a justice issue and if people had what they needed. You know, you hear a lot of people talking about abolitionists and people being afraid when people say things like defund the police. But what people are really saying is let’s create things that keep people safe. You know, what does safety look like? What can we pour in to care for people? That is really what the conversation is about. It’s about justice.
Erica: Yeah. And like thinking outside of the box and creatively about, you know – the world can look different. And so yeah, I love that you guys are kind of this like collaboration of so many different fields like artists and activists and ministers and all those things coming together to think creatively about how we can make the world better so.
Secunda: And I have to say, I think you know the people that we serve and that we partner and work with – we very much lean on the community to let us know what those solutions are.
Erica: Yeah yeah, so so important.
What are the top three ways that individuals can advocate for the communities that you serve?
Secunda: I mean, in the top three ways. One, I would ask people to be about abolition. Read about it. Look at what’s happening with our city’s budget. Just investigate what people are saying. There’s some people that you can look at, which is 1) Angela Davis, old school. I mean, her and the Panthers have been, you know, saying these things forever. Like this is not anything new. And then there’s also like Miriam Chhabra, who is very active. So, I say read. Not for the purpose to just have knowledge because I think we’re past that. But to expand your imagination toward what’s possible.
The second thing I say is to support local organizations like us. One of the things I think a lot of the issues, or what would be helpful for us is…people think that after people are not talking about things anymore that things are not happening. Houston is still number two in eviction. We still get calls from the jail. Those things, just because it’s not on the news does not mean that we still don’t need help. Our people still don’t need help. Another thing I think…So donate, right? Donate to these local organizations and a lot of us, especially, I can name Restoring Justice and BLMHTX, some other folks, you know, we work together. So it’s helpful when you help us.
I think the last thing I would say, like sometimes supporting organizations, you know, we need volunteers. We need people who are willing to just trust the community, right? But yeah, that those are the main things like get involved with your community. I think the most important thing, thinking about your audience, is like use your area of influence to move dollars to other black and brown led organizations.
Sometimes people think of like, well how can I be friends with and have this relationship with people of color – black people and brown people and indigenous folks. It doesn’t take that to be in community. So, when you’re in community, everybody in the community is not your friend. You don’t hang out with them. But they’re your neighbor. If somebody walks up to your neighbor’s door and you know nobody is supposed to be there, you give him a call. You don’t have to hang out. That’s not what community is. Community is caring for one another.
And if you have resources, trust those people who are caring in the community. Don’t come in thinking that you’re gonna be a savior. Don’t come in with all your ideas. Come in with your dollars. Come in with your space, if you have it. Come in with those things that will make an impact. I think that’s probably one of the biggest things that folks could do. And let people do what they know to do.
Erica: Awesome, well thank you so much for your time today and thank you for all the incredibly important work that you are doing towards creating equitable communities here in Houston.
You guys are such a valuable partner in this work and I hope that these conversations and these partnerships can continue.
To get involved and find out more about ImagiNoir/BLMHTX visit https://www.blmhtx.org/