The board of the Life Preservers Project had the honor of attending the GEMS 20th anniversary gala on October 24, 2018 at Capitale, Downtown Manhattan. Upon walking into the event, one was struck by the emotional energy—the air was thick with excitement, pride and empathy—as the night progressed and speeches were underway, one could observe intermittent sniffles, hands being raised to faces wiping tears away. At our own table, there was not a dry eye. The program began with remarks from GEMS graduates and current staff members. Together, they lit up the room with their eloquence and positivity. Tiffany shared a beautiful poem about overcoming the struggles in her life, and how GEMS was not only a place for rehabilitation, but a place that went beyond. At GEMS, she found strength in the dynamic women who held onto the hope GEMS afforded them. Despite facing atrocities, including being mistreated and stripped of their dignity, these women flourished through the support of their sisterhood.
Another young lady who spoke later in the night about how GEMS helped her. She revealed she was the Valedictorian of her high school, and has delivered speeches at high profile events and even met President Obama.
The graduates showcased their diamond spirits, spirits that the GEMS organization nourished and revitalized—that all of us in that room, including the Life Preservers team, helped revitalize.
The night was bittersweet: a compilation of stylishly dressed attendees, auction items, and upbeat music in between the gut wrenching but hopeful speeches. It was jarring at times, to be pulled from the gaiety of festivity, and catapulted into the roller coaster of emotions one experiences when listening to firsthand accounts of abuse and sobering statistics. It was tragic to hear that despite putting in 20 years of work fighting commercial sexual exploitation, the issues still pervade. As Rachel Lloyd, Gems Founder, pointed out: no, we have not solved the problem of human trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation. And no, we may never solve it. But since the inception of GEMS, the term “trafficking” has become a recognized concept. Prior to GEMs, the concept of trafficking and commercial sexual exploitation wasn’t coined. Victims were “criminals.” Only through the past twenty years, have victims begun to be recognized as vulnerable individuals that were taken advantage of and exploited.
If anything, one walked away from the event realizing the strength of these victims. One walked away feeling hopeful, despite the staggering statistics that trafficking remains a very real problem. But by supporting GEMS, we are changing lives affected by this horrible industry. We are improving the lives of these victims and their families. This is what we should hold onto. This is why we do what we do.
Thank you, Rachel Lloyd and GEMS, for all of the work you do.