Picture this. You have just finished a job interview downtown Greensboro. You got the job. You’ve got a skip in your step as you find a nice spot in the sun to grab a bite to eat. Upon your path, you come across an all-female group of college students and their professor, pouring red sand on the sidewalk.
Here you have two options. You can take everything that has been presented to you up until this point and stay on your path to lunch, or you can indulge your curiosity and openness with the chance of learning something new and getting involved. I went with option B and here’s what I learned.
On Wednesday April 24, around 3pm in Downtown Greensboro I quite literally stumbled upon the Bennett Belles of Greensboro’s Bennett College, pouring red sand in the cracks of the sidewalk in order to raise awareness against human trafficking.
The Red Sand Project was created in 2014 by Molly Gochman, who is a social activist, interdisciplinary and conceptual artist. She established this as a worldwide mission who’s awareness could be spread through social media, using the hashtag #RedSandProject. This push for awareness stemmed from a need to fight the statistic that 40.3 million people today live as slaves.
This project aims to target the vulnerabilities that are specific to overlooked populations such as refugees, immigrants, women, people with disabilities, LGBTQ people, people of color and children. Though human trafficking can happen at any time to anyone of any gender, color and background, statistics from the United Nations state that women and children are the most trafficked groups of people. And therefore are the most vulnerable element to this equation.
One of the Bennett Belles, Natajia Smith who is a junior psychology major got involved with this project after attending the old women’s college, and as a group they, “heard several situations involving sexual assault in Greensboro from their peers and so with our culinary class we just wanted to spread awareness in the Greensboro community, about sexual assault that can lead to trafficking.” Smith states that their goal is, “to have everyone in the community be aware that sexual assault does happen, especially among college students.”
One of her peers, Ariel Tindle, who is also a psychology major at Bennett College, was the one to inform me that this was her first day engaging in this project, however the project itself is international and has been going on for a few years.
“There are many people around the world today putting down red sand in the cracks to create awareness for human trafficking and sexual assault against women,” said Tindle. She also mentions that the most impactful and motivating thing about doing the project, is when people stopped to engage, participate, join in and pour some red sand with them.
Dr. Valerie Ann Johnson who is the Mott Distinguished Professor of Women’s Studies, Director of the Honors Program and Director of Africana Women’s Studies Program at Bennett College stated that, “this project stems from a modern day slavery grant that we received where we are in collaboration with Tougaloo College and Morehouse College talking about lifting up the ideas and awareness about human enslavement worldwide. So one of the projects was to do the Red Sand Project. They have a website and we asked to participate. They said sure, so they sent us the supplies and we came downtown. This is our third year doing the Red Sand Project.”
After being asked about the impact they are hoping to make by placing red sand it in downtown Greensboro, Dr. Johnson mentioned she hopes that, “people will be curious when they see the red sand, that if they get the flyer they can learn more about it or Google it and ask themselves, why is there red sand in downtown Greensboro? So this will draw attention to human trafficking. It also shows, as you walk across these many cracks, how many people fall between the cracks. Where we don’t see human trafficking, when it is everywhere. It could be the child in school who is there one day and gone the next. So there needs to be training around that… We’ve got sex trafficking, labor trafficking, in the agriculture sector… There are people who are brought places just to do work and are kept hostage basically.”
As functioning members of society in a rapidly globalizing world there are large scale world-wide issues that we are exposed to from media or experience. Sometimes, it may seem overwhelming considering how many problems there are to fix and how little resources we have on an individual basis.
In the same way media and social media platforms have the power to inform us, albeit through their various lenses, it also has the power to present us with solutions and if not that than simply to bring awareness.
The Red Sand Project takes the issue from the internet platform and brings into the hands of people with physical, eye-catching and metaphorical red sand. “We can’t merely walk over the most marginalized people in our communities—those who fall through the metaphoric cracks”, is the profound message of the project as stated on The Red Sand Project website.
With such a great message and meaningful intent for awareness, maybe UNCG student organization forces can also unite and work as a community to engage in our own Red Sand Project one day.
For more information visit https://redsandproject.org.