The Nonprofit Quarterly
November 21, 2023
In America, there is an epidemic of missing Black women and girls. This year, as a result of long-term advocacy led by Black women, lawmakers in Minnesota and California passed groundbreaking legislation to combat this epidemic. Similar legislation has been introduced in several other states and on the federal level.
Black women and girls make up 18 percent of missing person cases, despite being only 7 percent of the population. Black women who are 20 years old and younger are only 2 percent of the US population and make up 15 percent of missing person cases. When they do go missing, the media often underreports their cases, and—reflecting a lack of urgency in finding missing Black women and girls—their cases stay open four times longer than those of their White counterparts.
In May, Minnesota became the first state in the country to establish an Office for Missing and Murdered African American Women and Girls, a government office that allocates resources toward finding missing Black women and combating issues like domestic violence and human trafficking—contributing reasons for why Black women go missing in the first place.
This came after years of advocacy in the state by groups like the Minnesota Coalition Against Sexual Assault. Former Minnesota representative Ruth Richardson, who now serves as the CEO of Planned Parenthood North Central States, first introduced the idea of a task force for Missing and Murdered African American Women in 2019, but it didn’t gain traction until the police killing of George Floyd in her state in 2020 sent ripples across the country and incited nationwide calls for racial justice reforms.
Just last month, in October 2023, California became the first state to create an alert system geared specifically toward finding missing Black women and youth. The legislation, which state senator Steven Bradford sponsored, will ensure that vital resources are allocated toward finding missing Black women and youth, who often receive less attention in the earlier days of their disappearance when search efforts are especially crucial.
Leading Voices for the Missing
These policies are largely the result of Black women leaders who amplified the stories of missing Black women and fought for policy solutions to address the crisis. They understand the urgency of the issue, and they know that it could easily be themselves or their loved ones in need of someone to care enough to raise awareness about their stories.
Among the leading voices for missing Black women and girls is the Black and Missing Foundation, founded by sisters-in-law Derrica and Natalie Wilson. Derrica is a former law enforcement official who saw the disparate treatment of missing Black women firsthand while working on missing person cases. She is also a human trafficking investigator. Meanwhile, Natalie has extensive experience in public and media relations. The two combine their expertise to uplift the underreported stories of missing Black people.
For 15 years, the two women have worked to amplify the stories of missing Black people and push back against the adultification bias that surrounds Black youth and contributes to a disregard for their need for safety. Often, less attention is paid to finding Black youth because they are perceived to be runaways. This ignores the fact that they have often been groomed, targeted, and even trafficked.
Another group doing crucial work to amplify the stories of missing Black people is the Dock Ellis Foundation. The group was founded in 2017 by the wife and daughter of Dock Ellis, who passed away in 2008. Ellis was a major league baseball player who battled against racism and drug addiction. His perseverance and journey to become sober inspired many people, so his family members wanted to do something to honor his life.
“I have over 20 years in the victim services field, so seeing the biases of what does occur with victim services and minorities and then understanding the desperate need for missing persons, we decided to create a mission strictly focused on missing persons,” said Jasmine Ellis, Dock’s daughter and CEO of the Dock Ellis Foundation, in an interview with NPQ.
Ellis notes that the organization runs a 24-hour hotline and that their services are available nationwide. “The moment an individual calls in to the Dock Ellis Foundation, we immediately verify that it is a missing person case with law enforcement. We immediately contact the media, and we are immediately boots on the ground, no matter where the individual lives,” Ellis said.
For Ellis, the passage of laws like the Ebony Alert is a sign that more people are starting to pay attention to the crisis impacting missing Black people, but she also believes that “we are at a place where it’s time to now drill the awareness.”
At the time Ellis spoke with NPQ, she had just left a planning meeting to organize a vigil for Cierra Chapman and Niqui McCown, two missing Black women in Ohio. The vigil, which took place on November 11, 2023, was planned around Chapman’s 31st birthday. December 29 will mark a year since she has been missing.
Recently, a billboard was erected in Ohio to draw attention to the ongoing search for both women. McCown, who has been missing for 22 years, is the sister of one of the Dock Ellis Foundation’s board members and a stark reminder of how close to home the work to find missing Black women and girls hits for many people. It is why they are committed to fighting for change.
Photo credit: Jennifer Marquez / Unsplash