By Brooklyn Reader

April 1, 2014, 10:20 am

 

Brittanie Richardson, at a friend's home in Bed-Stuy, where she is preparing for her trip to Kenya

Brittanie Richardson, at a friend’s home in Bed-Stuy, where she is preparing for her trip to Kenya

Brittanie Richardson is in the backyard of a Bed-Stuy Brownstone on Kosciuszko Street kneeling before 16 women. A pitcher and a bucket of hot water sit to her left and her right.

What is happening? She is washing feet, saying “thank you.” The practice is biblical, ancient and remains widespread throughout most countries of Africa, where Brittanie has spent the last six years of her life.

Brittanie Richardson sits with the "Art and Abolition" family in Brooklyn, organizing roles and a fundraising initiative before her trip back to Kenya.

Brittanie Richardson sits with the “Art and Abolition” family in Brooklyn, organizing roles and a fundraising initiative before her trip back to Kenya.

In less than a week, 27-year-old Brittanie—originally from Atlanta, Ga— will be journeying back to Africa, Nairobi, Kenya to be exact, to continue her work of the last two years: rescuing young girls out of sex trafficking.

Her project is called “Art and Abolition,” an organization that uses the arts as a vehicle to bring healing to survivors of sexual slavery.

But before she leaves, she is thanking a group of 16 women in Brooklyn who have gotten behind her efforts and have vowed to organize and continue her work stateside.

Brittanie Richardson sits with the "Art and Abolition" family in Brooklyn, organizing roles and a fundraising initiative before her trip back to Kenya.

Brittanie Richardson sits with the “Art and Abolition” family in Brooklyn, organizing roles and a fundraising initiative before her trip back to Kenya.

They will fundraise while she does the harder part— risk her life trying to kidnap teenage girls and bring them back to their families, assimilate them back into their own communities, recapture their dignity.

“I do really dangerous things,” says Brittanie, her voiced lowered. She whispers the admission because she is on the subject of her mother, for whom she obviously feels a tinge of guilt:

“I know it freaks her out. And at first when I moved to Africa, she thought I was just going through something and would get over it. But it’s been a while now I’ve been doing this, and I think it’s finally sinking in with her that I’m serious.

“I don’t tell her, you know, I rescued a nine-year-old girl from a brothel yesterday.  I just show her the pictures of me with the girls smiling to let her know I’m okay, and I’m doing good work.

"Mama Brittanie" with some of her "daughters" she has rescued from sex trafficking

“Mama Brittanie” with some of her “daughters” she has rescued from sex trafficking

“She’s supportive. But I know it’s hard, because I’m her daughter.”

A devout Christian, Brittanie doesn’t wonder whether what she is doing is safe or even logical. She doesn’t question the life she leads for one second, because she feels it is a Divine path chosen for her.

During high school, she was casted for a part in a play called, Soweto! Soweto! Soweto! with The Youth Ensemble of Atlanta. The play was about the Uprisings of 1976 and the role non-violent resistance played in ending apartheid.

“What brought me [to Africa] the first time were the stories. I’d learned about apartheid and injustices in South Africa during high school, and so I wanted to do something about it,” she said.

“And for me, that planted the seed,” said Brittanie. “I’ve always had a heart for peace. So I wanted to learn more about how you can tackle violence by using non-violence.”

As soon as she graduated from high school, she hopped on plane to S. Africa. The first time, she stayed for three weeks and then kept returning all throughout college for different lengths of time.

Brittanie teaching a self-worth workshops for children

Brittanie teaching a workshop for children on self-esteem

After college, while on one of her sojourns to Mozambique, she said, she had a spiritual vision: She saw a bunch of really young girls, they were all in cages. And in her vision, God gave her keys to unlock the cages and set them free.

Ironically, shortly after and out of nowhere, Brittanie met a Canadian woman in Mozambique. The woman began talking to Brittanie about the sex slave trade in Kenya. She told Brittanie she wanted to start a rescue home in a small rural village in Kenya called Mtwapa, notorious for its rampant sex trafficking, and she needed help.

So, on the same wing and prayer she rode from the U.S. into southern Africa, Brittanie moved to Mtwapa, to help start and manage a rescue home for young girls escaping sex trafficking.

“In Kenya, I learned that culturally, it’s kind of accepted that girls will do this to earn money after they go through puberty,” said Brittanie.

“A lot of times, the parents or caregivers will just tell the kids in the morning to go find money. And the kids will do it. But they don’t talk about how or where they get the money, and the parents don’t always ask.”

UNICEF had posters up everywhere warning people that sex trafficking is illegal. “So it’s definitely known,” Brittanie added, “but it’s also probably why it’s so accepted. It’s like the village feels, ‘This is what we do here.’”

“When I ask a girl ‘Why are you doing this?’ They say, ‘Mama Brittanie, I’m not in school. All I can ever be to earn money is a prostitute. So I just wanna start now.’

“It comes to a point where they’re really just doing anything to survive. It has created this false truth that this is all they can ever be. And when you think that it’s all you can ever be, your self-worth is non-existent.

“They relate to themselves as objects instead of individuals. So when you ask them, “What is your name?” their eyes light up as if to say, ’You want to know my name? You care about me and not just my body?’

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