Foundation Aims to Make Missing Blacks a Priority

Janelle Carwell, a 16-year-old black girl from Georgia, has been missing since April 17.

Robert Branch, 28, a black man from Baltimore, hasn’t been seen or heard from since Oct. 2, 2014.

Details of their cases — and many others like them — can be viewed on the website,, the domain of the Black and Missing Foundation which focuses on the crisis of missing African-Americans.

The foundation founders said blacks make up just 13 percent of the U.S. population, but account for 37 percent of the missing in the FBI’s database under the age of 18 and 26 percent above the age of 18.

Cases involving African-Americans also receive less media coverage than whites, with missing men of color receiving far less attention, organization officials said.

Derrica Wilson and her sister-in-law, Natalie Wilson, are working to bring them home.

“Not all missing persons’ cases are treated the same,” Derrica Wilson said. “Missing persons from a lower socioeconomic status aren’t given the kind of public attention needed that is critical their recovery. Media coverage and public interest are vital as they help keep the victim’s face out there, increasing the odds that someone will come forward with needed information. And coverage also dials up the pressure on law enforcement to spend time and resources on the case.”

A victim’s race should not affect coverage and, shamefully, it’s often assumed by many that missing persons of color are involved in drugs or criminal activity, Wilson said.

“It’s important that the public know that these missing individuals are loved and missed by their loved ones — they aren’t nameless,” she said.

Since its founding in 2008, the foundation has helped locate more than 120 missing individuals. While many were not alive, it still provided some answers to grieving and devastated families.

The foundation has created public awareness campaigns, spreading the word with pictures and profiles of the missing and using print, television, the internet and other media to help locate individuals.

“It’s always been a concern to hear about the lack of news coverage regarding missing persons of color,” Wilson said.

The mission began after Tamika Huston, a black woman from Wilson’s hometown of Spartanburg, South Carolina, disappeared from her home. While Huston’s family pleaded for coverage, Natalee Holloway, a white teen from Mississippi, disappeared in Aruba a year later, and her story filled TV airwaves and newspapers everywhere.

“That’s when Black and Missing Foundation Inc. was born,” Wilson said. “When we hear the term missing persons, most people conjure up images of Chandra Levy, Caylee Anthony or Natalee Holloway. As a result, the public is misled in believing that victims of abductions and kidnappings are blond, blue-eyed and female.

“Let me be clear, in no way are we trying to dishonor these individuals or their families,” she said. “But what about missing persons of color who do not receive the same around-the-clock local and national media coverage? Like Phoenix Coldon, missing since Dec. 18, 2011, from Spanish Lake, Missouri, or Relisha Rudd, who went missing from a Washington, D.C., homeless shelter in March 2014.”

Recently, numerous black women in D.C. were reported missing, but authorities have classified most as runaways. However, Wilson noted that FBI statistics have revealed that close to 40 percent of all persons missing in the United States are of color.

Minority children make up 65 percent of all non-familial abductions, according to the FBI statistics.

“Our mission is simple: To bring awareness to missing persons of color, provide critical resources and tools to missing person’s families and friends, and to educate communities of color on personal safety through training and outreach,” she said.

While mental illness is a factor in some disappearances, black communities continue to be unaware of the magnitude of issues like sex trafficking, Wilson said.

“Our children are being lured at an alarming rate,” she said. “Many believe it’s happening abroad and not in our backyards. Our goal is to bring all of our missing home or to at least provide answers and/or closure to their families.”

For more information, visit

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Stacy Brown

I’ve worked for the Daily News of Los Angeles, the L.A. Times, Gannet and the Times-Tribune and have contributed to the Pocono Record, the New York Post and the New York Times. Television news opportunities have included: NBC, MSNBC, Scarborough Country, the Abrams Report, Today, Good Morning America, NBC Nightly News, Imus in the Morning and Anderson Cooper 360. Radio programs like the Wendy Williams Experience, Tom Joyner Morning Show and the Howard Stern Show have also provided me the chance to share my views.

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