Meet Natalie Wilson and Derrica Wilson, co-founders of the Black and Missing Foundation, a non-profit that advocates to bring media attention to missing women of color. They also work directly with the families of the missing and law enforcement to push cases forward.
NATALIE WILSON: 40% of all persons missing are of color, that's hundreds of thousands of people missing every single year. And collectively, we can do so much more.
BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: Hey, everyone. Welcome to Unmuted. I'm your host Brittany Jones-Cooper, and today I'm joined by Derrica Wilson and Natalie Wilson, founders of the Black and Missing Foundation. You two are sisters-in-law. When did you realize you shared this passion to help find Black people who were missing?
NATALIE WILSON: There was a young lady by the name of Tamika Houston, and she went missing from Derrica's hometown of Spartanburg, South Carolina. And we read how her aunt really struggle to get national media coverage for Tamika's disappearance. A year later, Natalee Holloway disappeared, and just saying her name alone, I'm sure your viewers can envision her face.
And Tamika's aunt reached out to those same media outlets, and there was no interest in to make a story at all. So Derrica and I decided to use our professions. I am in public relations and Derrica is in law enforcement. And those are the two critical professions needed to help bridge the gap and find and bring awareness to our missing.
BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: Derrica, can you talk to me about the relationship between the media and law enforcement?
DERRICA WILSON: When a family goes to law enforcement and report their loved ones missing, they should not be turned away and telling them to wait 24 hours before they come back. We all know that the first 24 to 48 hours are the most critical moments when a person goes missing. We understand that not every case is going to elevate to national mainstream media. But at the very minimum, take the police report, create a flyer, utilize your social media platforms, get rid of the classification and run away, because if you're looking at a flyer and one says run away, the other one says missing, the messaging is not created equal.
I just really feel that with law enforcement in general, more training is definitely needed in handling these cases. I think more resources need to be dedicated, because it's not a priority. And when you look at these police departments across the country, they are handling hundreds of cases, and it may only be two or three detectives assigned to that unit.
BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: Have you found in your work that Black women are more often labeled as runaways?
DERRICA WILSON: Oh, absolutely. These individuals are missing. And if they are running away, which we don't utilize that term in their classification with our organization, we need to understand what are they running from and who are they running to, because we know that human trafficking is a multibillion dollar industry that's happening right here on US soil. We understand poverty is an issue in our community, and people are trying to survive day by day. And so if they are the vulnerable, these pimps are preying on them.
BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: HBO currently has a series called Black and Missing, and they follow the work that you two are doing. What hope do you have that that will impact the work that you do?
NATALIE WILSON: It's a wake up call. And we hope that the media and law enforcement can look at themselves and address some of their biases. It may be intentional, or not, as to not covering these cases.
BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: You guys care so much about these families. What kind of toll does this take on personally?
DERRICA WILSON: There's no such thing as a day off. Even when I say I'm gonna disconnect now, I'll tell Natalie I'm shutting down and then she tells me she's shutting down. And we're both posting and sending emails and texts. We're just fully invested in these families.
BRITTANY JONES-COOPER: Yeah. For me, the take away of the docuseries was definitely-- it removed my false sense of security. And I think I believed that if somebody's missing, well, then the right people are looking for her, and that's not always the case. So I want to thank you guys for the work that you're doing every single day in encouraging all of us to be more active in our communities.
NATALIE WILSON: What we're doing is tough. But when we get those cases where it says, found, we were able to locate someone, it just makes us smile. We can't give up on these families, because we're all that they have.