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Spelman College Archives - Community | Union Institute & University

MLK Student Fights To End Sex Trafficking

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Read how Deborah J. Richardson’s participation in the MLK Ph.D. program influences her resolve to continue to seek justice for children sold into sex slavery.

Deborah J. Richardson

Current Student | Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Studies

Deborah J. Richardson is a Ph.D. student in the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Studies Specialization program. She is Executive Vice President of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights, an organization committed to connecting the American Civil Rights Movement to today’s Global Human Rights Movements. She recently served as the Interim Chief Executive Officer during the organization’s search for a permanent CEO.  Prior to joining NCCHR in 2011, Deborah had served as Chief Program Officer at Women’s Funding Network in San Francisco, California; CEO of The Atlanta Women’s Foundation; Director of Program Development for Fulton County Juvenile Court; founding Executive Director of the Juvenile Justice Fund (now Youth Spark); and Managing Director of the National Black Arts Festival.

Ph.D. student Deborah J. Richardson learned about courage as a child who grew up on the same street as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s parents, the Rev. and Mrs. Martin Luther King Sr. “The work I do now is a direct reflection of what I saw and learned growing up,” said Richardson, Ph.D. student in Union Institute & University Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Studies Specialization program and Executive Vice President of the National Center for Civil and Human Rights.

That work includes fighting, for over 15 years, to change the systemic conditions that contribute to sex trafficking and social inequality for women. She credits her participation in the MLK program with the resolve and theoretical knowledge needed to continue designing leading programs for girls victimized by trafficking and testify before Congress on the legislative and cultural conditions that facilitate the demand to purchase children for sex.

“My advocacy work in addressing human trafficking has been significantly informed by both Dr. King and my public policy courses at Union Institute & University. Human trafficking is based on the economic model of supply and demand. Because of the demand of customers who want to purchase sex from underage children, the trafficker recruits, grooms and makes available the child,” said Richardson. “Until we interrupt the demand, there will always be victims. Our efforts through the International Human Trafficking Institute at The Center for Civil and Human Rights is to redirect the conversation from awareness about human trafficking to action that eliminates the conditions where victims are in demand in the first place.”

Union’s MLK program examines Dr. King’s teachings and how his legacy continues to inform social change. “In his last book:  Where Do We Go From Here:  Community or Chaos?  He predicts a time when we will forget the principles of nonviolence social justice—eliminating racism, militarism, and poverty. Forty-eight years since his death, one has only to read a newspaper or listen to any local or national media outlet and affirm his prediction has come to fruition,” said Richardson. She muses on her studies and challenges her Union peers to reflect on how they will best use their great privilege of education and the access it provides to work for sustainable lives for all.

“Dr. King said charity is good, but at some point, the person has to ask what are the social conditions that make charity necessary. Union students may contribute to these efforts by having conversation, in their sphere of influence, on the social construction of gender, where the objectification of women is reinforced and often encouraged. We can also interrupt one of the most pervasive forms of human trafficking—labor trafficking, by purchasing fair trade items and insuring our own companies are securing items that have a slavery-free supply chain."

Deborah Richardson’s many achievements include the Lives of Commitment Award from Auburn Theological Seminary, The Pathbreaker Award from Shared Hope International, The Big Voice Award from Georgia Voices for Children, and the Community Service Award from Spelman College. Richardson holds a Master of Arts in Leadership from St. Mary’s College of California in Moraga, California.

Learn more about Union’s Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Studies Specialization program