By Elizabeth Lenart
New Friends New Life (NFNL) Annual Luncheon Co-Chairs Jane A. Rose and Jessica Turner Waugh and honorary co-chairs Elizabeth and Eric Gambrell revealed updates for the NFNL fundraiser scheduled for Friday, September 18.
This year’s ProtectHER Award Recipients will be Natalie Nanasi, director of the Judge Elmo B. Hunter Legal Center for Victims of Crimes Against Women and assistant professor of law, Southern Methodist University, and Brittany K. Barnett, author, entrepreneur, and attorney committed to pro bono work and reform of the criminal justice system.
In addition, the event will now be held in a virtual format to ensure the safety of supporters during COVID-19.
“This year has presented additional challenges for our community. Survivors have endured a burden of emotional and economic loss. They have become more vulnerable to traffickers who are highly adept at capitalizing on their economic hardships for survival.”
Cyntoia Brown-Long, a sex trafficking survivor and advocate for criminal justice reform, will headline the luncheon. Arrested at the age of 16, Brown-Long was a juvenile sentenced as an adult to life in prison for killing a man who solicited her for sex. She served 15 years before receiving a commuted sentence by Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam. The author of Free Cyntoia: My Search for Redemption in the American Prison System and the subject of a documentary about her life, Brown-Long is passionate about shining a light on the injustices faced by women and children in American prisons.
“Cyntoia’s message illustrates the need for constant evaluation and courageous change within our justice system to support sex trafficking victims who are facing a myriad of extenuating circumstances that leave them trapped in this illegal industry.”
“Knowing that the average age that a girl is trafficked in the United States is 15 years old, it is imperative that our community understands that the prevention and intervention models provided by New Friends New Life are critical. Without these support systems in place, any of the 400 girls trafficked in Dallas every night could end up with a story as harrowing and unfathomable as Cyntoia’s, or even worse,” Turner-Waugh added.
Brown-Long was born to an alcoholic, teenage mother who was also a victim of sex trafficking. When her birth mother realized she could no longer care for her, she was adopted by a loving mother; however, she struggled throughout her childhood, heavily influenced by the world around her. A sense of isolation, low self-esteem, and alienation drove her straight into the hands of a predator, and she was trafficked during her early teenage years. At age 16, she was arrested for killing a man who solicited her for sex. She was tried as an adult and sentenced to life in prison without the chance of parole for 51 years. Her trafficker was never arrested. In prison, Brown-Long’s life took a dramatic turn when the prison education principal took her under her wing and introduced her to a spiritual path. She encouraged her to build a positive life in prison and to resist the negative influences that lead to despair. While in prison she earned her GED, an associate and a bachelor’s degree, both with a 4.0 GPA, from Lipscomb University. Her journey includes a PBS documentary about her life, a profound encounter with God, an unlikely romance (now her husband – musician and entrepreneur Jamie Long), and, eventually, a commuted sentence by Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam. She received unprecedented national and international support from social media advocates, pastors, and celebrities and was released from prison in Nashville, Tennessee, on August 7, 2019.
Her memoir, Free Cyntoia: My Search for Redemption in the American Prison System (Atria Books), written while in prison, documents her early years and the 15 years she was incarcerated and takes readers on a coming-of-age spiritual journey. Set against the shocking backdrop of a life behind bars and the injustice of sentencing sex-trafficked juveniles as adults, Brown-Long struggled to overcome a legacy of birth-family addiction and a lifetime of being ostracized and abandoned by society.
Brown-Long and her husband, Jaime, founded the Foundation for Justice, Freedom, and Mercy. In January 2020, the Vera Institute of Justice recognized Brown-Long as one of the Best of Justice Reform honorees. She is also a 2020 Nominee for the NCAAP Literary Image Award and has been featured as a guest columnist for The Washington Post. Brown-Long is a volunteer mentor to young girls through Epic Girl, a program in Nashville that empowers girls to reach their full potential through educational programs, mentoring, counseling, and community activities.
“As we navigate the production of a virtual luncheon experience, our team embraces this new format with creativity and excitement for the new opportunities it presents, including an expanded reach of our mission,” said Kim Robinson, CEO, New Friends New Life.
“We are excited to welcome our speaker and honor our award recipients, who together shine a light on the importance of criminal justice reform and the many injustices faced by those who are trafficked.”
ProtectHER Award Recipient Natalie Nanasi
Natalie Nanasi, an assistant professor of law and the director of the Judge Elmo B. Hunter Legal Center for Victims of Crimes Against Women at Southern Methodist University, supervises law school students’ representation of survivors of gender-based violence in a broad range of legal matters as well as systemic advocacy and policy work. Prior to arriving at SMU, she was a practitioner-in-residence and the director of the Domestic Violence Clinic at American University, Washington College of Law (WCL). Before joining the faculty at WCL, she was the senior immigration attorney and pro bono coordinator at the Tahirih Justice Center, where she represented immigrant women and girls fleeing human rights abuses such as female genital cutting, domestic and sexual violence, forced marriage, and honor crimes. Nanasi also served as counsel in the landmark asylum case of Matter of A-T- and as an Equal Justice Works Fellow from 2007-2009, with a focus on the U visa. Prior to her work at Tahirih, she was a law clerk to the Honorable Lynn Leibovitz of the District of Columbia Superior Court. Nanasi researches and writes at the intersection of immigration, gender, and feminist legal theory. She received her J.D. from the Georgetown University Law Center, where she earned an Equal Justice Foundation fellowship for her work at the South Asia Human Rights Documentation Center in New Delhi, India, and assisted in representation of HIV-positive immigrants at Whitman Walker Clinic Legal Services. Prior to her legal career, Nanasi was a rape crisis counselor and supported single teenage mothers at a transitional residence facility in Boston. She currently serves on the Board of Directors of the Human Rights Initiative of North Texas and the Dallas Area Rape Crisis Center.
“As a community partner with the legal center, New Friends New Life has referred many survivors to Natalie and her team, who have provided the assistance they so desperately needed,” added Robinson. “In 2019, 75 percent of our members had a criminal record of some kind – a formidable barrier for them to finding conventional employment, housing, and building a new life. We are thrilled to honor Natalie, who is making a critical difference in their ability to make a fresh start.”
“The criminal records that New Friends New Life’s clients carry are a direct result of the trafficking they have endured. From theft to drug and prostitution convictions, none of their interactions with the criminal justice system have occurred outside of the context of their victimization,” said Nanasi. “It is an honor to help survivors navigate the legal system and work with them to clear their records, and I am humbled to be recognized for standing beside these brave women.”
ProtectHER Award Recipient Brittany K. Barnett
Brittany K. Barnett is an attorney, author, and entrepreneur dedicated to reform of the criminal justice system. Her memoir, A Knock at Midnight, will be published on September 8. While working several years as a corporate attorney, Barnett was committed to pro bono representation of clients in federal prison under draconian drug laws. Her dedication resulted in freedom for many with federal drug offenses, including seven clients who received executive clemency from President Barack Obama.
As the daughter of a formerly incarcerated mother, Barnett knows firsthand the impact of mass incarceration is far reaching, devastating families and entire communities. Barnett founded two nonprofits: the Buried Alive Project, which works to dismantle life without parole sentences handed down under federal drug laws and Girls Embracing Mothers, dedicated to empowering girls with mothers in prison. Barnett is also the founder of XVI Capital Partners and Milena Reign, social enterprises devoted to shifting the paradigm to show the world-changing impact that formerly incarcerated people can have when they have access to resources.
She is a graduate of SMU’s Dedman School of Law and previously served as the associate general counsel at ORIX USA Corporation focusing on mergers and acquisitions and general corporate matters. Prior to her legal career, Barnett earned her license as a Certified Public Accountant and worked for international accounting firm, PricewaterhouseCoopers LLP. She holds bachelor’s and master’s degrees in accounting. She has been featured nationally on multiple news platforms, including television and print and has earned many honors, including being named one of America’s most Outstanding Young Lawyers by the American Bar Association.
“It is inspiring to see Brittany challenging systems at every turn,” shared Robinson. “Her resilience and determination have helped her overcome obstacles that could have easily made her a product of her environment. Instead, she is breaking through barriers on behalf of others, changing lives in the process. We are delighted to be able to celebrate her achievements.”
“Many of the women of New Friends New Life have had to face the criminal justice system in some shape or form. It is critical that women and girls directly impacted by sex trafficking and incarceration are empowered and at the center of any movement and work surrounding them,” said Barnett. “Women and girls and their diverse stories and perspectives are too often ignored but are critical to drive impactful change. It is an honor to be a recipient of the ProtectHER Award and help amplify the voices of these amazing women.”
NFNL Luncheon speaker, Cyntoia Brown-Long, was arrested at the age of 16, a juvenile sentenced as an adult to life in prison for killing a man who solicited her for sex. She served 15 years before receiving a commuted sentence by Tennessee Governor Bill Haslam. The author of Free Cyntoia: My Search for Redemption in the American Prison System and the subject of a documentary about her life, Brown-Long is passionate about shining a light on the injustices faced by women and children in American prisons.
“It is critical that women and girls directly impacted by sex trafficking and incarceration are empowered and at the center of any movement and work surrounding them.”
“This year has presented additional challenges for our community. Survivors have endured a burden of emotional and economic loss. They have become more vulnerable to traffickers who are highly adept at capitalizing on their economic hardships for survival,” shared Robinson. “Additionally, a staggering increase in online sexual exploitation has been reported. While we cannot physically be together on September 18, we can unite virtually, working together to serve as a catalyst for change. Please join us on September 18 to ‘stand for her’ and help us restore hope to so many trapped in this illegal industry.”
Underwriting sponsorship opportunities begin at $2,500, and individual tickets are available for $100 each. Guests will receive a link to view the luncheon, with sponsors also receiving sponsor gift boxes and digital package benefits. To reserve your virtual seats please contact Bianca Jackson, chief development officer, at 214-217-8650, visit www.newfriendsnewlife.org/luncheon or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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About New Friends New Life:
Founded in Dallas, Texas in 1998, New Friends New Life (NFNL) restores and empowers formerly trafficked and sexually exploited women, teen girls, and children. By providing access to education, job training, interim financial assistance, mental health and spiritual support, New Friends New Life helps women, teen girls, and children overcome backgrounds of abuse, addiction, poverty, and limited opportunities. In 2019, NFNL served 372 members (clients). NFNL also educates the community and works to eradicate the epidemic of human trafficking through advocacy, legislative reform and strategic partnerships that address systemic causes. In 2018, NFNL opened a drop-in Youth Resource Center (YRC) in partnership with the Office of the Governor to serve trafficked and high-risk teen girls. More than 100 girls visited the YRC during its first year. In 2015, NFNL organized its Men’s Advocacy Group to engage men in the fight against sex trafficking and exploitation. For more information, visit http://www.newfriendsnewlife.org.