December 7, 2017, Orlando, FL
The sound of freedom rang loud and clear at the Embassy Suites in Downtown Orlando on Thursday night. In remembrance of Pearl Harbor Day, Florida Abolitionist celebrated freedom in 1940’s fashion. Guests were greeted by a doo-wop group singing Boogie Woogie Bugle Boy from Company B and then led to tables where they each received a small silver bell and encouraged to “let freedom ring.”
Karla Ray from WFTV, Channel 9, hosted the event and began by sharing her first encounter with human trafficking as a reporter. In fact, one of her most impactful moments reporting happened when she was present at the recovery of one of the survivors being honored that night. Karla had the privilege of introducing world-renowned classical pianist, Adlan Cruz, who wowed the audience with his talent and brought everyone into the spirit of the Christmas season by taking requests and playing a beautiful Christmas medley.
The night focused on the success and growth of Florida Abolitionist in our work to stop human trafficking and honored those who have been a part of it. Blair Pippin, our Prevention and Creative Director, shared that we focus on two things: restoring people’s lives, and preventing human trafficking from continuing. No one could leave the room without understanding what we do and why.
After dinner, Tomas Lares, our Founder and Executive Director took the stage and gave the history of the organization. He highlighted milestones from the past eight years and shared exciting news for 2018 including the opening of a Crisis Human Trafficking Shelter, a National Training Center, and more. Great things are in store for us in 2018!
The highlight of the night was honoring those who have helped Florida Abolitionist get to where we are and those we have served. We honored our first church partner, Orlando House of Prayer; first community partner, Ray Sarmiento, for donating the first office space; and first business partner, Andy Swart from The Spa in College Park for offering pro-bono services to our staff.
Special awards were also given to two elected officials. Commissioner Tony Ortiz received the William Wilberforce Award for his leadership in the City of Orlando and Pete Clarke was given the Frederick Douglass Award for his influence in Orange County. Then, we honored Dr. Leslie Gavin with the Harriet Tubman Award for tirelessly assisting and leading the victim services team as a volunteer since Florida Abolitionist began. She has touched countless lives and is such a blessing to our organization and each person we serve.
After these awards came a touching tribute to three brave survivors of human trafficking who are now thriving. Karla Ray and Channel 9 created a video documentary about the three women. After being touched by their heartbreaking stories and resilience, each was invited to the stage to receive the Freedom Award. Savannah Parvu, Lisa Johnson, and Amy Smith were all greeted with standing ovations as they were honored for their courage. Now all three ladies are using their experiences to help others and are making our world a better place. They are truly inspiring.
To close the evening, our Executive Team Lead, Aaron Maners, took the stage to invite the audience to be a part of making stories like these happen again next year through their financial investment. If you were unable to attend but would like to make a difference in the lives of survivors of human trafficking, you can help them move from merely surviving to thriving with your donation to Florida Abolitionist. Your generosity is extremely appreciated! www.floridaabolitionist.org/donate
*Photography courtesy Jack Goras Photography