The Student Association along with the help of UAlbany Students Stopping Trafficking Of People (SSTOP), Epsilon Delta Psi Pre-Professional Fraternity, Pride Alliance, National Congress of Black Women, and Cornerstone Ministries are hosting a presentation with guest speaker Cyntoia Brown-Long. Cyntoia Brown-Long is an author, speaker, and advocates for causes such as: criminal justice reform, racial equality, women’s rights, and human trafficking. She will be speaking to the students of The University at Albany via Zoom on Wednesday, October 7th at 6 pm.
Disclaimer: Mention of distressing content such as sexual abuse, addiction, and imprisonment
Cyntoia Brown’s childhood was nothing short of challenging. She was born to a mother suffering from alcoholism and cocaine addiction both during and after her pregnancy with Cyntoia, funding her habits by prostituting herself and putting both herself and her baby at risk. Unable to care for her child, Georgina Mitchell placed Cyntoia up for adoption, and she was later adopted by a school teacher. At the age of 12, Cyntoia began acting out in various ways including frequently skipping school and running away. During this time, she met Garion McGothen, or as he is known on the streets, Kut Throat. It was not long until Brown was being trafficked by Kut Throat, and felt that she had to continue because of threats he regularly made against her. Cyntoia stayed with Kut Throat, not only because of his threats, but because she felt worthless. She did not think there was any way to get out because she believed there was no one who cared for her enough to help.
At the age of 16, Cyntoia was trafficked by a 42-year old real estate agent whom she would eventually murder after finding the courage to escape her captor. She was charged with first-degree murder, even though she was still a minor. She was tried as an adult in court, and received a life sentence without parole until the age of 51. Kut Throat, Cyntoia’s pimp, was never charged even though he had trafficked a minor. While in prison, Brown wrote a memoir, Free Cyntoia: My Search For Redemption in the American Prison System, which can be purchased at the University at Albany bookstore. Cyntoia describes that while in prison, she found faith thanks to the facility’s education principal. It was this new sense of renowned faith that helped Cyntoina stay strong behind bars until she was released.
In 2011, Ban Birman released a documentary titled, Me Facing Life: Cyntoia’s Story. This documentary got the attention of many, including Rihanna and Kim Kardashian West. Kardashian West tweeted, “The system has failed. It’s heartbreaking to see young girl sex trafficked then when she dares to fight back is jailed for life! We have to do better & do what is right. I called my attorneys yesterday to see what can be done to fix this—#freeCyntoiaBrown.” on a post about Cyntoina’s conviction. Many questioned why a minor, who was trafficked by adult men, was being charged so harshly. This lead to the hashtag #freeCyntoiaBrown trending on Twitter. Fifteen years after Cyntoia was first sentenced, Tennessee’s former governor, Bill Haslam, commuted her sentence. Meaning, Cythoia was released from prison, and although still on parole, her life behind bars had finally come to an end.
Since being released from prison, Cyntoia Brown and her husband, Jamie Long, founded the Foundation for Justice, Freedom, and Mercy, which sheds light on the truth about the criminal justice system. She is the 2020 Nominee for the NAACP Literacy Image Award, and in January of 2020, the Vera Institute of Justice recognized her as one of the Best of Justice Reform Nominees.
Hosting Cyntoia Brown as guest speaker will be very informative and educational, especially during a time where human trafficking is on the rise. Human trafficking is no longer just an issue abroad, but happens in every state in the United States. This disproportionately affects communities of color, who are over 5 times more likely to be sentenced to prison than white Americans. It is important to educate people not just on the relevance of human trafficking, but also on how to stay safe and avoid being trafficked yourself.
If you come to hear Cyntoia speak this Wednesday, you will get a more in-depth look into her experiences with sex trafficking and incarceration. You can also listen to her talk about her ideas on reforming the public education and criminal justice system, and how both these systems failed her in her childhood.
Sources: Kate Hodal. (23 October 2019). Cyntoia Brown: trafficked, enslaved, jailed for life at 16 – and fighting back. https://www.theguardian.com/global-development/2019/oct/23/cyntoia-brown-long-trafficked-enslaved-jailed-for-life-at-16-and-fighting-back.