Filling in the Cracks
By Reggie Ellis
visalia – Fissures of red sand stretched through downtown on May 5 bringing attention to the cracks beneath our feat that normally blend into the pavement and go unnoticed. The Red Sand Project symbolizes the victims of human trafficking who fall through the cracks of our society and fade out of life, losing their family, and often themselves, forever.
It was a message that resonated with Redwood High School senior Alecia Campos who took part in the first Red Sand Project event in Visalia and took home first place in the event’s student art competition. Her drawing titled “Why?” showed a woman’s face split between her capture and the abuse that follows in this modern day slavery.
“I hope this brings awareness and empowers us to speak up for those who are silent,” Alecia said. “I just felt called to do something about it.”
Another Redwood High senior Corinne Hopper was among three finalists to receive honorable mention and a $500 scholarship. Her drawing showed a young woman, naked, hiding her face and curled into the fetal position with a price tag with the title “Priceless.”
“Most of these woman are taken at a young age and in many ways are still children,” Corinne said. “You can’t put a price on human life.”
The finalists’ artwork were on display inside the Fox Theater where information booths were set up by the District Attorney’s Office, Sheriff’s Department and Family Services of Tulare County. All three agencies played key roles in the earth-shattering event that first brought human trafficking to the awareness of Tulare County as a community. It was less than a year ago that Tulare County Sheriff Mike Boudreaux held a press conference announcing a special operation titled Operation Baby Face that culminated with the arrest of 13 men and one woman involved in a Visalia-based human trafficking ring that trafficked 52 victims as young as 14.
In the auditorium, a documentary on human trafficking with interviews from actual victims played in the background. Outside, just behind the ticket booth, members of the Visalia’s five Rotary Clubs handed out white pouches of red sand for people to pour into the cracks in the sidewalks throughout downtown. Developed by New York-based artist Molly Gochman to raise awareness of the issue, the Red Sand Project in Visalia was held in conjunction with the Visalia Arts Consortium’s First Friday Art Walk. Sand was available at seven other stops along the Art Walk.
The event was coordinated by Rotarian Susan Winey who participated in an event at a Rotary conference in Santa Barbara in November. All five Visalia Rotary Clubs decided to come together and offer a student art competition with a $1,000 scholarship for first place and $500 scholarships to each of the other finalists.
“Students are prime victims of human trafficking so we wanted them to be aware and involved in this project,” Winey said. “And given what happened last year, we definitely felt this was relevant to our community.”
For further information, call Susan Winey, Rotary Club of Visalia, 559-799-0533 or visit www.RedSandProject.org.