On February 8, 2023, the John J. Brunetti Human Trafficking Academy (Academy) and A Voice in the Wilderness Empowerment Center (AVITWEC) hosted the 2023 Gillen-Massey Award luncheon to announce this year’s recipients. Numerous nominations for the Award were received from around the globe. Among the many worthy applicants, the Award Committee chose two recipients for this year’s award: The Honorable Kwami Adoboe-Herrera and Noy Thrupkaew.
The Honorable Kwami Adoboe-Herrera is a Presidentially appointed Member of the United States Advisory Council on Human Trafficking of the U.S. Department of State Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons. The Council provides a formal platform for trafficking survivors to advise and make recommendations on federal anti-trafficking policies to the President’s Interagency Task Force to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons.
Hon. Adoboe-Herrera is also an anti-trafficking advocate, consultant, and speaker. As a survivor himself, he understands the unfortunate impact of human trafficking. His lived experience has guided his career and interests to support policies that help support victims as they navigate life after experiencing trafficking. He was featured in a documentary Break the Chain that provides a detailed look at how trafficking goes unnoticed within our backyards. He is also a member of Not for Sale: One Step at a Time, an organization that brings awareness and hope to this hardly seen issue in communities across Ohio, America, and around the world. Hon. Adoboe-Herrera “has certainly done a lot in a short time to give back and speak out against human trafficking,” stated Phillip J. Pillin, Ph.D. candidate in the Theology and Leadership Program at St. Thomas University, in his nomination letter.
Noy Thrupkaew is a distinguished investigative journalist and reporting fellow at Type Investigations focused on human rights and labor reporting, and director of the Ida B. Wells Fellowship Program. She has reported on cutting-edge issues related to human trafficking for decades.
Thrupkaew was nominated by Ana Vallejo, Esq., Director of Vida Legal Assistance, Inc.; Susan L. French, Esq., a Human Trafficking Attorney Consultant, former U.S. Department of Justice Human Trafficking Prosecutor, and past recipient of the Wellstone Award; Laura Germino, Director of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers Anti-Slavery Program, and recipient of the White House Trafficking in Person Award; and Professor Janie Chuang, Professor of Law at American University Washington College of Law.
“While trafficking – or ‘modern-day slavery’ – features in many headlines, few journalists have a grasp of the enormous complexity of the trafficking phenomenon. Investigative journalist Noy Thrupkaew is one of those very, very few. Noy has been reporting on human trafficking and labor exploitation for over twenty years and has been instrumental in challenging the many myths about trafficking that have led to misguided anti-trafficking policies. Noy has pointed out that most media focus on the sensationalism, typically accentuating gruesome details that ‘survivors’ have experienced. She correctly points out that ‘survivors’ are much more than their victimized status and that we all need to see not ‘victims or survivors’ but persons in their totality,” stated Thrupkaew’s nomination letter.
February 8 also marked the International Day of Prayer and Awareness against Human Trafficking, and the day’s activities began with Mass at the Chapel of St. Anthony celebrated by Father Paul V.I. Sidlawinde Karenga to pray for victims and survivors of human trafficking. Father Karenga delivered a moving homily drawing from his vast knowledge of human trafficking gained through the research and writing of his book, A West African Model to Address Human Trafficking, as part of his J.S.D. in Intercultural Human Rights at St. Thomas University. The St. Thomas More Catholic Law Society of the College of Law co-sponsored the event.
The 2023 Gillen-Massey Award Luncheon took place in the afternoon and was widely attended by academics, attorneys, journalists, students, nonprofit and faith-based advocates, survivors of human trafficking, and the community at large. The Program began with a welcome from Prof. Dr. John Makdisi, Dean of the Benjamin L. Crump College of Law, followed by Opening Remarks from Prof. Dr. Roza Pati, Founding Director of the Academy and the recipient of the inaugural Gillen-Massey Award.
Ramona D. Miller, Founder of AVITWEC, recounted her journey alongside the late Michele Gillen and Kyla Massey as they shed a light on the complex issue of human trafficking. She also introduced a screening of the documentary Trapped, which featured herself, Gillen, Massey, and the John J. Brunetti Human Trafficking Academy.
The highlight of the luncheon was the introductions and remarks of the 2023 Gillen-Massey Award recipients, the Honorable Kwami Adoboe-Herrera and Noy Thrupkaew.
Hon. Adoboe-Herrera shared about his lived experience of human trafficking as a child coming to the United States from Togo, his faith in God, journey of forgiveness and healing, and insights on gaps of services for survivors. “When we don’t see God in people, we dehumanize them. Human trafficking is a crime committed against human beings created in the image of God. We must not make the mistake of mistaking a person for profit,” said the Honorable Adoboe-Herrera.
Next, Ana Vallejo, Esq., Director of Vida Legal Assistance, Inc., introduced Noy Thupkaew. Thrupkaew delivered an eloquent speech emphasizing a variety of complex issues and systems affecting human trafficking in our world today. She also lauded the work of other organizations working against human trafficking in meaningful ways, including the research and advocacy towards worker-driven responsibility of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers. She concluded with a call to action for all in attendance to be a part of the change.
“It was such an honor to receive an award named after two luminaries in the fight against human trafficking and made possible by the John J. Brunetti Human Trafficking Academy and A Voice in the Wilderness Empowerment Center, organizations that have done so much to defend human rights and dignity. Having a chance to connect with fellow award recipient and powerful anti-trafficking advocate Kwami Adoboe-Herrera and the current and next generation of anti-trafficking practitioners and leaders at the event was tremendously inspiring. This work can be complex and difficult, but being immersed in this community was a powerful reminder of what we can do together,” said Thrupkaew.
Kimberly Brunetti of the Brunetti Foundation, the Academy’s most generous benefactor, presented the crystal awards to the recipients alongside Prof. Dr. Roza Pati and Ramona D. Miller.
Recognizing Robert A. “Bob” Butterworth
Robert A. “Bob” Butterworth, a decorated civil servant and former Dean of St. Thomas University’s College of Law (2003-2007) was also recognized at the luncheon for his transformational leadership in combatting human trafficking since 2003 when the Academy began its pioneering work against trafficking in persons. Senior Associate Dean Todd Clark presented the Award. Prof. Cecile L. Dykas, Associate Dean of Administration and Clinical Programs, accepted the award on Butterworth’s behalf. Professor Dykas recalled that the week also marked the 18th Anniversary of the Miami Declaration of Principles of Human Trafficking.
Inaugural Gillen-Massey Intercultural Human Rights Scholarship Recipients
The inaugural Gillen-Massey Intercultural Human Rights Scholarship was also awarded at the luncheon to Yemibeth De Los Angeles Zamora and Omar Cruz-Martinez. The scholarship was established in memory of Michele Gillen and Kyla Massey by A Voice in the Wilderness Empowerment Center together with contributions from their loved ones and other supporters of the LL.M./J.S.D. Program in Intercultural Human Rights of St. Thomas University Benjamin L. Crump College of Law. “The Scholarship provides financial assistance to meritorious graduate students who have demonstrated a commitment to human rights issues and are currently enrolled in the Intercultural Human Rights Program at St. Thomas University Benjamin L. Crump College of Law, a Program that both Ms. Gillen and Ms. Massey cooperated with against human trafficking for many years,” said Prof. Siegfried Wiessner, Professor of Law and Director of the Program.
St. Thomas University Students Participate in Event Program
Various students throughout St. Thomas University also contributed to the event’s program. Daniela C. Curiel, J.D. Candidate, opened the event in prayer. Dominique Ritchie, J.D. Candidate, read a tribute written by Michele Gillen to the late Kyla Massey prior to Gillen’s death only a year later. “Kyla gave voice to the real fight, the real needs endemic in the world of human trafficking that go beyond a ‘rescue.’ Kyla was gifted with the most authentic and committed advocate I know, Ramona Miller. Ms. Miller . . . [was] a rock and lifeline of help for Kyla and in turn so many other young women like Kyla. Ms. Miller’s fight on Kyla’s behalf went beyond human limits. Because of that, the true face of human trafficking, and its nexus with drug addiction and mental illness was cemented for history and hopefully will forever be an on-going path of change. The hidden and inconvenient truth about the state of Florida’s foster care system was also exposed,” read Ritchie.
Students in St. Thomas University’s choir performed You Raise Me Up for a time of reflection and prayer at the luncheon under the direction of Dr. Elizabeth Turner, Ed.D., Director of Vocal Arts, St. Thomas University. Mona Almelhem, J.S.D. in Intercultural Human Rights Candidate, closed the event with a prayer.
“I am overwhelmed and humbled by today’s amazing program with the John J. Brunetti Human Trafficking Academy at St. Thomas University. I cried tears of joy remembering all that Kyla and Michele accomplished during their lifetimes, and tears of sadness because their assignment was completed on this earth,” said Ramona D. Miller, Founder of A Voice in the Wilderness Empowerment Center. “I am excited to see what the future holds as we continue to eradicate human trafficking through education, and acknowledging those who answer the call to freedom and those who can assist them in their journey.”
“I was honored to know and work closely with both Michele Gillen and Kyla Massey as well as receive the inaugural Award from A Voice in the Wilderness Empowerment Center on January 11, 2022. I count this award as one my greatest treasures due to its namesakes and all it represents. I am delighted that the Honorable Kwami Adoboe-Herrera and Ms. Noy Thrupkaew are this year’s recipients as a foremost survivor leader on the U.S. Advisory Council on Human Trafficking and distinguished investigative journalist whose significant work has shined a light in dark places on the issue of human trafficking,” said Dr. Roza Pati, Founding Director of the Academy. “We look forward to continuing to honor the memories of Michele Gillen and Kyla Massey as well as acknowledge other exceptional journalists, survivors, educators, service providers, and advocates combatting human trafficking throughout the world in the years to come.”
For information on how to submit a nomination for the 2024 Gillen-Massey Award, please visit: www.humantraffickingacademy.org/gillen-massey2024.