A small group of people gathered outside the Gering swimming pool Saturday morning. Wearing black and carrying signs, they silently walked from the pool and through town.
The goal of the Walk for Freedom “is to raise awareness and bring attention to those who are trapped in modern day slavery,” co-organizer of the walk, Amanda Ferguson, said.
“We are wearing black as a sign of mourning for those caught in trafficking,” co-organizer Tory Bauer said.
The walk was in conjunction with an international walk organized by the A21 group. Throughout 50 different countries, walks were held Saturday in 475 different cities.
A21 is a nonprofit organization “fueled by radical hope that human beings everywhere will be rescued from bondage and completely restored,” according to the organization’s website, a21.org. “We are the abolitionists of the 21st century. We work with you to free slaves and disrupt the demand.”
Ferguson and Bauer met in church; both had experiences with the issue.
“God laid it on our hearts to be a voice in this area,” Ferguson said.
The two got the go ahead from the A21 organization and the city permit only a few weeks ago. They have worked with a few churches and local media to get the word out to make the walk work in its first year in the Panhandle.
“It is a great cause,” walker Vanessa Manning said. “The topic is one that is not talked about often, but needs to be.”
Human trafficking is “sometimes easily looked past,” walker Brooke Ray said.
“But it is a bigger issue than most people think,” Seth Leathermon added.
The problem is local, Ferguson said.
“In this area, it is usually the parents who are trafficking their children. Parents are in trouble selling drugs or needing money for drugs and they use their children as a commodity instead of a human being.”
An estimated 4.8 million people are in some form of modern slavery today, Bauer said. It could be child pornography, sexual abuse, labor, domestic or pornography.
As a voice for those caught in modern slavery, Bauer said they want those trapped to know they are not forgotten. What they are going through “doesn’t define them. They are worthy of so much more. They are loved by Christ and they are not forgotten.”
Miss Scotts Bluff County Outstanding Teen Jamie Rose Chen said when she saw the event on social media, she felt a need to get involved. She shared with the walkers the importance of freedom and read a walkers’ decree.
Afterward, the group prayed, took up their signs, and began walking.
The group walked, without saying a word, from outside pool, down J Street to 10th Street. There they turned north and walked down the west sidewalk through downtown turning west on Q Street. From there the group silently walked, speaking only to those asking why they were walking, to 14th Street where they turned south to head back to Oregon Trail Park.
“We will be doing this again Oct. 17, 2020,” Ferguson and Bauer said.