Students gather for a Deeds Not Words Facebook Live video to talk about speaking to the Senate. From left to right: Emily Gentry, Eleanor Bailey (11) , Alicia Weigel, Sierra Walton (11), Dana Nichols (11), Ash Pelette (11), Jurnee Jackson (11), Julie Apagya-Bonney (11).
On April 20th, 2017, a group of Ann Richards students played hooky for a cause: three sophomores and ten juniors spent the morning at the Texas Capitol to attend a public hearing, on a bill written by the students to implement sex trafficking education into Texas schools. They did not attend their morning classes, resulting in unexcused absences and possible Saturday school.
“I skipped school not because I’m a bad student, not because I was coerced into skipping school; I skipped school because I care about the democratic process, specifically the democratic process in Texas.” Emily Gentry (11) said.
The students met under a portrait of Ann Richards before they went to the hearing, where they were met by the creators of the Nest Foundation and Alicia Weigel, a member of the Deeds Not Words foundation.
Deeds Not Words, founded by Wendy Davis fights for women’s rights, and encourages women to do the same. The organization teamed up with students at Ann Richards to write Senate Bill 2039.
Senate Bill 2039 was written to start teaching kids K-12 about sex trafficking, particularly using the program created by the Nest Foundation. For 10th grade STARS, the Nest Foundation came to Ann Richards taught a nine-unit program following the movie Playground, a documentary directed by the creator of the foundation, Libby Spears.
“This bill is important because these kids need to be educated on the dangers of sex trafficking, and how they are susceptible,” Eleanor Bailey (11) said. “It’s an eyeopener to have this experience, and that there’s children just like us in Texas, 70,000 of them are being trafficked, and we need to stop [dismissing] these victims.”
Bailey, Gentry and Gabrial Kyttle testified to the Senate, each telling their own stories and reasoning to help encourage senators to vote on the bill.
“In the 10th grade, I had no idea this was such an issue,” Bailey (11) said while speaking to the audience. “There is no reason why we should not be educating children on sex trafficking and why it’s an issue.”
The senators were impressed, many agreed with the bill and spoke highly of the students.
“This issue is a crisis, I don’t think there’s any other way to explain it,” Senator Carlos Uresti (D) said. “The fact that y’all are here shows a lot of courage on your part, and you’re going to make a difference.”
High school principal Jeanne Goka stated she was proud of the students that helped write and support the bill, speaking to them the following morning.
“That’s what activism is,” Goka said, expressing gratitude towards the students. “It’s taking that extra step.”