Tackling human trafficking

Stephanie Lawson

Stephanie Lawson

By Joyce Nanette Johnson, Staff Writer

ST. PETERSBURG — Not long ago the gossip whispered through school hallways was who had a new girlfriend or boyfriend or who was wearing what to the football game. Now whispers of suspected drug abuse, juvenile crime and the growing insidious epidemic of human trafficking can be heard.

According to Stephanie Lawson, who is employed as a resource teacher with the Pinellas County Schools Homeless Education Team, human trafficking is expanding rapidly in Pinellas and Hillsborough Counties.

Through a MLK Day of Service grant, Lawson motivated and assisted by her 17-year-old daughter Alexis Peterson, created a one-day workshop entitled “COLORS,” which is an acronym for Courage to Overcome Life’s Obstacles Regardless of My Situation.

The workshop will have three main components: Awareness, self-defense and learning to love your skin, both inside and out.

Alexis Peterson and Stephanie Lawson

Alexis Peterson and Stephanie Lawson

Lawson feels that homelessness is one of the main contributors of human trafficking and sexual abuse.

“I was aware of it, but my whole perspective changed when I saw the total impact and trauma involved with homelessness,” she said.

The brainchild of the project, Alexis is a senior at St. Petersburg Collegiate High School and as a result of her involvement with their Rotary Club’s Interact program, she felt motivated to create her own community service project focusing on human trafficking.

“I’m definitely proud of my daughter being generous with her time and being selfless to inspire other young women,” said Lawson.

“I’ve always had someone to mentor me,” Alexis said.  “I’ve had opportunities that others may not have had. I appreciate it and wanted to give back.”

Alexis said she was taught to help others so that they might “potentially help to change lives” by her mom and grandmother, Kathleen Woods-Richardson.

“I’m really excited about the overwhelming support from the whole community,” said Lawson, who along with her husband Benjamin and his family owns Lawson Funeral Home & Cremation Service.

The workshop will be held at St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church and transportation will be provided by Bethel Metropolitan Baptist Church.

Lawson said since the whole community recognizes the threat, recruiting volunteers was not too difficult. She will be assisted by Dr. Cynthia Johnson, Althea Hudson and Dr. Patricia Williams.

At the workshop, St. Petersburg Police Chief Anthony Holloway will be on hand to give tips on safety and awareness, while Alfred Foddrell of City Tae Kwon Do Academy will be there instructing girls on basic self-defense moves.

For boost in self-esteem, Khana Rebman, educator and Mary Kay beauty consultant, will be present to give tips on proper skin care, makeup application and how to have inner love and respect for oneself.

The COLORS workshop will have representatives from Pinellas Technical College, St. Petersburg College, several local businesses and area social services to provide resource information.

Attendees can expect a continental breakfast and lunch, and the afternoon will conclude with a group discussion on issues important to girls and will be facilitated by motivational speaker Naudia Camble, author of “Queen’s Pillow Talk.”

“I hope that the COLORS workshop will help girls to walk away more informed, aware and inspired,” Lawson remarked.

Alexis wants the girls to go out and disseminate the information learned at the workshop. “Give what they learned to someone else. Each one, teach one,” she concluded.

The project will kick-off Monday, Jan. 16 from 3-4 p.m. with pre-registration and a meet and greet with the presenters at Lawson Funeral Home, 4535 Central Ave. The actual workshop will take place Saturday, Jan. 21 from 10-3:30 p.m. at St. Mark Missionary Baptist Church, 1301 37th St. S.

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