I knew what I wanted to fight for

By Margaret Langford, youthSpark Intern

As a high school student at the Atlanta Girls’ School, I am required to complete two 70-hour internships during the summer. Our internships are supposed to fuel a passion, and teach us about leadership in a professional environment. Last year, I became an intern with a newspaper company, where I still write occasional articles. This year, however, as I have learned about human trafficking in Atlanta and around the world, my interests have shifted. After realizing the impact of commercial sexual exploitation on girls my age and its relevance to Atlanta, I knew that, along with my pursuit of writing, I wanted to contribute to the anti-trafficking cause. Thus, I chose youthSpark as my internship this summer.

I was first introduced to human trafficking during a sophomore EDLS (Education for the Development of Leadership and Service) course at my school. Each student was assigned to give a donation to a non-profit in Atlanta, thanks to the generous donations of Amy Conlee. When our teacher shared her own philanthropic passion with the class, I was shocked and moved. I knew what I wanted to fight for.

The TEDtalk she showed us said that there were more slaves in the world than ever before, 27 million of them, and that the issue was not confined to developing countries. In fact, I found out Atlanta is one of 14 cities with the highest amount of human trafficking in America. If this was true, then why did we study slavery in school as if it were only a thing of the past? Prompted by my anger at the prevalence of slavery and my interest in Fairtrade fashion, I joined two other students to donate to a local anti-trafficking non-profit, Meet Justice.

In the following weeks, I got involved with the ENDit Movement, which seeks to raise awareness of modern slavery, and with a toolkit given to me by the teacher who had first taught me about the issue, I began a campaign at my school to teach others about modern slavery. Using the ENDit Movement’s Shine A Light On Slavery Day as the basis for an awareness week, two other students and I spent five days educating AGS about slavery, and in particular, human trafficking. As teenage girls, we were outraged by the abuse and suffering experienced by our “sisters” in our own city and around the globe. During that week in April, we spoke at an assembly to the school about human trafficking. The three of us hung up a wall of pictures of slaves’ faces in a beautifully sunlit hallway to bring the plight of slaves closer to the students. Looking into the eyes of the women forced into prostitution, the laborers, and the babies in the photographs made us all want to act, and on the official Shine A Light On Slavery Day, AGS joined the global shout against slavery by drawing red Xs on the back of our hands.

This experience changed my perspective, and that of my peers, I am sure. The combination of advocating for a cause and watching others respond to my voice changed the way I thought about my role in world issues.

The next school year was also eye-opening, and very busy. While I didn’t have time to lead an activity or plan an event about trafficking at AGS, I was able to speak about the April 2014 Nigerian abduction at an all-school assembly. Through this announcement, I got to point out human trafficking as an issue in developing countries, and my passion for the anti-trafficking cause was re-ignited.

When I talked with Ms. Shah, my internship coordinator, in the spring of my junior year, I told her that I might want to work with a non-profit. Definitely a step away from sitting at home and writing newspaper articles, I was excited by the possibility of fighting against trafficking. Ms. Shah brought to my attention a multitude of organizations, one of which was youthSpark. Inspired by the group’s dedication to protecting and educating teenagers, I applied for an internship and was accepted at youthSpark. Now only a few days into my time at youthSpark, I am grateful to be able to work with such a dedicated nonprofit. I can’t wait to watch its programs continue to grow and ultimately transform our city.