Pictured above: NFNL Chief Development Officer Pryia Murphy; Co-Chairs David S. Huntley and Tracey Nash-Huntley; Kerry Washington; Co-Chairs Elizabeth Carlock Phillips and Kevin Phillips; NFNL CEO Bianca Davis; NFNL Board Chair Jane A. Rose
By Elizabeth Lenart | Contributor
Over 1,200 guests joined New Friends New Life (NFNL) on September 29 at the Hyatt Regency Dallas in celebration of 25 years of empowering trafficked and sexually exploited teen girls, women and their children and driving awareness of this issue and its prevalence. The luncheon featured award-winning actor, director, producer, and activist Kerry Washington as speaker and raised $1.1 million to help the organization continue its mission.
Gospel singer Gaye Arbuckle set the tone with a powerful rendition of “You Can’t Stop the Girl,” by Bebe Rexha. NBC 5’s Laura Harris welcomed the attendees, emphasizing the impact of their support and the role they play in the transformation happening for the women and girls of the nonprofit. Following the invocation by Pastor Richie Butler of St. Luke Community United Methodist Church, ProtectHER Awards were presented by NFNL Chief Development Officer Priya Murphy to The Meadows Foundation and Yulise Reaves Waters, following a video presentation about their work in the community. The Meadows Foundation, a NFNL mission-defining partner has provided transformative grant support to help remove barriers trafficking survivors face and recently began a partnership with NFNL and Bonton Farms called Liberty Street Garden. The innovate garden provides survivors of human trafficking a means to earn a living wage as they build a new life. Yulise Reaves Waters, Esq., chief innovations officer, Lone Star Justice Alliance (LSJA),was honored for herlegislative and community advocacy work that educates the community about the mass incarceration crisis and its impact on marginalized populations.
Following lunch, guests enjoyed a video detailing the 25-year history of NFNL, narrated by Jessica Waugh, whose mother, Gail Turner, was one of the original founders of NFNL. Co-Chairs Tracey Nash-Huntley, David S. Huntley, Elizabeth Carlock Phillips and Kevin Phillips then took the stage to share more about the history, thank sponsors, and highlight service groups within NFNL. Elizabeth Carlock Phillips shared that her parents and uncle volunteered supporting the work of New Friends New Life in the church where it first began. The co-chairs recognized the honorary co-chairs, representing the founders and early board members of NFNL: Nancy Ann and Ray L. Hunt; Gail and Dr. Gerald Turner; and Pat and Pete Schenkel. The chairs concluded by talking about full-circle moments that have defined NFNL over the last 25 years, directing the audience to an emotional video about Annette Bailey, a survivor and NFNL’s economic empowerment specialist for the past six years.
In the video, Bailey shared her personal story about her journey and the attorney who saved her life by asking her if she had a drug problem and if she wanted help. He recognized the trauma she had experienced in her life. Instead of seeing her go to jail for drug charges, he was able to get her into a rehabilitation facility where she received counseling and an understanding of her childhood and why she had turned to alcohol and drugs.
“Once he helped me, I wanted to help myself,” said Bailey. “My probation officer directed me to New Friends New Life, and from there I went to Eastfield College and received my associate degree in substance abuse counseling and later, a bachelor’s in sociology from UNT Dallas.”
A 2023 article in The Dallas Morning News about Bailey caught the attention of her lawyer, Mike Howard, and he reached out to connect with Bailey, who then took him to a memorable lunch and shared her accomplishments. Howard, who was in the audience, was called to the stage by Annette Bailey to receive a surprise ProtectHER Award, and he and Bailey received a standing ovation.
NFNL CEO Bianca Davis took the stage to share the impact NFNL has had on human trafficking through its multiple programs.
“At New Friends New Life, we know that societal issues such as poverty, childhood sexual abuse, domestic violence, the foster care system, and the legal system must be addressed if we are going to move the needle on the issue of human trafficking,” said Davis. “Liberty Street Garden, where survivors can earn work experience and income, along with our legal advocacy clinic and our trauma informed clinical team, are all helping us address poverty and the lack of skills, which are barriers to self-sufficiency. Looking ahead, we plan to hire a GED instructor to serve the 30 percent of our women who didn’t finish high school, and we also have our eyes on housing to offer a safe environment for the 35 percent of our women and teen girls who are in homeless shelters. Collectively, collaboratively and in concert we can make a difference.”
At New Friends New Life, we know that societal issues such as poverty, childhood sexual abuse, domestic violence, the foster care system, and the legal system must be addressed if we are going to move the needle on the issue of human trafficking.
NFNL CEO Bianca Davis
Davis then introduced Kerry Washington and Laura Harris for “A Conversation with Kerry Washington.”
Harris kicked things off jokingly asking Washington about her week and if it had been quiet – sparking simultaneous laughter from the audience. Throughout the week, Washington had been on a whirlwind, week-long book tour with her new book, “Thicker than Water,” a journey of revelations and truth.
Washington shared that she always felt like her parents were keeping something from her. Five years ago, they told her that her dad was not her biological father, and that she was born from a sperm donor. Thus began a “rollercoaster of emotions,” said Washington.
“Every time I said I love you to my dad, he must have thought she loves me because she thinks I’m her father,” stated Washington. “I said to him, ‘You now have the opportunity to experience what it’s like to be loved unconditionally; we can be in truth, in the facts of the relationship, and be loved. I love you more because of this news. You are trusting this relationship with the truth.’”
Washington continued, “While listening to the conversation today during the luncheon, I reflected upon how much we all deserve to be loved and are lovable despite our past. It has been a journey with my family. They had so much shame in what they did and thought our relationship would suffer, and I would reject them.”
“And then you wrote a book about it,” continued Harris.
“When they asked me not to tell anyone about it, that made me complicit in their lie,” said Washington. “It’s been a hard few years. All of us, including my husband, went to therapy, and we have done a lot of work. I think one of the gifts is that I learned this information after I was a parent myself, and I know how hard it is to be a parent. My parents were making the best choices with the toolbox they had, trying to protect me. I know their intentions were good. What I see as flawed is part of the miracle of why I’m here. We have to love people where they are.”
Harris then shared how, like Annette Bailey and her attorney – who also got into trouble but had stability around him – we all don’t come from the same place with the same support.
My mother’s mother immigrated from Jamaica through Ellis Island. That strength of hers is what I lean into to break my generational trauma. I have alcoholism and abuse in my family. I want us to know we can tell the truth and be loved…. This is why New Friends New Life is so important.
“Annette spoke of generational pain,” added Kerry. She didn’t have the support and environment she needed to help her. My mother’s mother immigrated from Jamaica through Ellis Island. That strength of hers is what I lean into to break my generational trauma. I have alcoholism and abuse in my family. I want us to know we can tell the truth and be loved. We can find safe spaces where we can be loved. This is why New Friends New Life is so important. NFNL teaches that you always have agency, and you must build the right support around you so you can stand in that agency.”
In closing, Washington referenced her character on Scandal, Olivia Pope. “One of the things she taught me was how to be the lead character, and I feel like NFNL is teaching each of these women how to be the lead characters in their lives.”
Luncheon attendees included Toni Brinker, Monica Christopher, Elizabeth Gambrill, Nancy Halbreich, Janet Jensen, Sue Justice, The Honorable Ron Kirk, Ashlee Kleinert, Lottye and Bobby Lyle, Lynn McBee, Melissa Sherrill Martin, Katie Moise, Wendy Messmann, Rep. Morgan Meyer, Keana Meyer, Jan Osborn, Eileen Pratt, Jennifer Sampson, Christa Sanford, Marianne Staubach, Stephanie Wilcox, and Katherine Wynne.
Media sponsors were NBC 5 and Telemundo 39 and PaperCity magazine.
About New Friends New Life: Founded in Dallas, Texas, in 1998, New Friends New Life (NFNL) restores and empowers trafficked and sexually exploited teen girls, women and their children, and drives awareness of the issue and its prevalence. The agency’s vision is to create a community where women and girls can soar above the limits of their past and achieve their dreams. In 2022, NFNL served 357 members (clients). NFNL also educates the community and works to eradicate the epidemic of sex trafficking through advocacy, legislative reform and strategic partnerships that address systemic causes. In 2018, NFNL opened a drop-in Youth Resource Center (YRC) in partnership with the Office of the Governor to serve trafficked and high-risk teen girls. Since its opening, we have served 546 girls. In 2015, NFNL organized its Men’s Advocacy Group to engage men in the fight against sex trafficking and exploitation. For more information, visit http://www.newfriendsnewlife.org.