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 We are currently accepting applications for our Texbook Scholarship for survivors enrolled in a two or four years college for the Spring 2016 semester.

 Please email scholarships@sun-gate.org to inquire and apply.

ALL APPLICATIONS ARE DUE NO LATER THAN DECEMBER 15, 2015!

 

Textbook Scholarship Spring 2016

 

 

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I cried the first time I walked through the doors of the University of Massachusetts Boston (UMass Boston). My time had finally come to get my Ph.D. For decades I knew I would get my doctorate “someday” and the moment had arrived. I called my husband in tears. I needed to say the words “I am really going to get my Ph.D.” aloud –and for him to hear me – before the reality could truly sink in.

 
Education was my “way out” of a family locked in generational cycles of violence, substance abuse, mental illness and poverty. My mother had dreamed of escaping by going to college in Hawaii, but was told by her abusive father that she could learn everything in the factory where she worked that she could in college. The owners of the family pharmacy where my father worked offered to send him to the local college, but he turned them down. His priority was easy access to drugs rather than an education.

 
From a very early age I knew I needed to get away. My very first memory is of being sexually assaulted by my member of my immediate family in the back of a family friend’s bar. I was preverbal at the time, but I just remember feeling “shattered.” The world had somehow changed, but everyone was acting like nothing had happened. I continued to be physically, sexually, and emotionally abused by multiple members of both sides of my family until early adolescence. During that same time an immediate member of my family commercially sexually exploited me at truck stops and parties to support his drug addiction.

 
I knew I had found my escape route when I began to read in first grade. Books not only gave me a place to flee in my mind, but I also aspired to be like my teacher. She was kind, independent, and smart: my first role model. Learning made me happy and, for the first time, hopeful. I begged my mother to drive me to the town library 30 minutes away. My library card was my first passport. I felt independent and grateful for the opportunity to have a building other than church where I felt safe.

 
The sexual abuse and exploitation finally stopped when I was in middle school. The physical and emotional abuse continued, and so did my resolve to leave my family and my hometown by going to college far away (just as my mother had hoped for herself). In high school, I took several college-level courses at the very university where my father had refused to go. I turned 18 one day and graduated from high school the next. Three months later, my mother drove me college 2 ½ hours away. I had made it.

 
Yet, in many ways my work was only beginning. While my mother had encouraged my college education, she did not have any means to help me pay for my degree. My undergraduate degree took six years to complete because I had to take time off to work. Additionally, my mother died of cancer six months before I graduated. She waited until I had registered for classes to tell me her bone marrow transplant hadn’t worked for fear I would stay home to take of her instead of finishing school. Before she died, my mother told me to follow some friends to Boston and to get my master’s degree. I did both.

 
While receiving my master’s degree I started putting the pieces together about my abuse and exploitation history. “We study our pain,” is a common belief at the Wellesley Centers for Women, a research and action department of Wellesley College, where I now work as a social scientist. I initially focused on prostitution, which led me to the commercial sexual exploitation of children (CSEC). I had also started therapy during the same time, which also helped me to navigate the “roadmap” of my past. I confronted my abusers during this time and was told to never contact them again. I knew too much.

 
Thankfully I now have a true family and close circle of friends that support and care for me. I have been married for almost 13 years and we have an extraordinary 9 year-old son. Plus, I have been fortunate enough to be a part of a profoundly inspiring tribe of CSEC survivors, including Shamere McKenzie and the Sun Gate Foundation. These peeps, in addition to my Wellesley colleagues, are all encouraging me that the “time is now” for my Ph.D. The call for empirical CSEC research is pressing, even more so, I deserve to realize this final educational aspiration.

Written by Kate Price

Sun Gate Foundation sole purpose is providing access to education for survivors of human trafficking.  We strongly believe education is one avenue survivors can reclaim their lives and live a life they imagine.  Our CEO Shamere McKenzie is living proof that survivors can reclaim their lives through education. On May 8, 2015 she graduated with her B.S. in Criminal Justice & Criminology.  This milestone was covered by CBS Chicago and you can read/watch the full story here.

 

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If anyone knows the words persistence and hard work, it’s our CEO Shamere McKenzie.  As Loyola is preparing for graduation next week, four graduates were highlighted and Shamere was one of them.

Click here to read the featured story on Loyola’s website.

 

We have two scholarship opportunities available for survivors of human trafficking:

  1. Leadership Scholarship
  2. Textbook Scholarship

Leadership Scholarship:

This scholarship is specific to survivors of human trafficking who are at a high school level.  Survivor must have a desire to complete high school. Applicant must first fill out a Sun Gate application and then they will be required to fill out an application for the school as a standard policy. Click here for more information.

Textbook Scholarship:

Thanks to all those who participated in the 5 for Five campaign.  Through your support, we are able to offer textbook scholarships to survivors enrolled in a college or university in the Fall 2015 semester. Click here for more details.

For application and additional information, please email scholarships@sun-gate.org

On Tuesday, February 17, 2015, Congressman Shock hosted a human trafficking panel at Illinois State University.  The panel include:

Congressman Schock–  the moderator for the panel and who provided a brief introduction of the importance of the event and the issues discussed.

Shamere McKenzie–  our CEO and survivor of human trafficking.

Special Agent Ben Baumann– Special Agent Baumann is an officer at the Department of Homeland Security, Homeland Security Investigations office in Chicago, IL. His work focuses on investigating trafficking cases and enforcing trafficking laws in the Midwest region, including Illinois.

Tamara Guy– Tamara Guy is a Prevention Specialist at Prevent Child Abuse Illinois, covering the central region, including McLean County.

Ed McKibbin– Ed is a Student Attorney in the Dean of Students office at ISU.

Click here for media coverage.

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Hope Rising 4In 2010, President Barack Obama declared January as National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month.  “I call upon the people of the United States to recognize the vital role we can play in ending modern slavery, and to observe this month with appropriate programs and activities.” In honor of National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, Sun Gate Foundation is asking various groups around the nation to stand with us on Monday, January 26, 2015 for an event called “Hope Rising.”

Human trafficking is an epidemic that is plaguing our nation with disregard to human life and dignity.  Many of the stories we hear about human trafficking are disheartening, sad and lacking hope.  Despite, these atrocities we hear about on a daily basis there is hope.  Let us stand together knowing there is hope while being the light in this dark world of human trafficking.

 

Hope Rising” is a symbol of hope and light for:

  • Human trafficking victims and survivors
  • For better laws or the use of existing laws
  • For service providers and NGO’s addressing the issue of human trafficking
  • For law enforcement to better fight human trafficking cases
  • For legislators and our criminal justice system handling human trafficking cases
  • For community members in playing their role in the fight against human trafficking

We have a long way to go and a lot of work to do in the fight against human trafficking. As we fight and work let us not forget to hopeful.

How does “Hope Rising” Work? 

  1. Select an outdoor location to hold the event on January 26, 2015.  (It is winter in some places and it will be cold but this is a challenge. Human trafficking victims endure torture under worst conditions.)
  2. Reach out to at least 5 people in your community/network to stand with you.
  3. Purchase your candles and sky-lanterns here.
  4. You can decide the order of your event. If you wish to stand in silence and then release the sky lanterns you can do so or you can have a short program speaking about human trafficking in your community.
  5. Each person in attendance will make a commitment to self on one step they will take towards the fight to end human trafficking.
  6. Use the hash tag #hoperising
  7. At the end of your program release the sky lanterns
  8. Don’t forget to take pictures and share them on the Sun Gate Facebook page.

holly article 11-23-14Meet Shamere McKenzie, the recently-appointed Chief Executive Officer of the Sun Gate Foundation, a national organization focused on providing support to survivors of human trafficking who wish to gain access to private, continuing, and/or higher education. Why is this mission important to Shamere? Because she herself was once a victim of sex trafficking, and as a young adult pursuing a college education, she has had to overcome many obstacles.

“As a survivor, I know firsthand the stigma and difficulties faced by survivors of sex trafficking,” Shamere says, “And, as the recipient of the first Sun Gate Foundation scholarship, I am a walking example to other survivors that they too can pick up the broken pieces and live a life of their choosing.”  Click here to read the entire article written by Holly Smith.

 

Rebecca Bender PicWhen Sun Gate asked me to be a guest blogger on Education for Trafficking Survivors, I was jumping with joy! This is one of my favorite topics and quite frankly, I believe one of the potential answers to the perplexing question of why survivors often return to their captors.

Why? Why would someone who has been able to find freedom return to bondage? Why don’t birds who have been caged do well in the wild? Why do inmates after years of incarceration find it hard to live in normalcy again? I am by no means calling victims inmates or animals. What I am saying, is that there is something instinctual about returning to the familiar when the unknown is so frightening.

So how is education the answer to victims not returning to the life? {of course there is a conglomerate of answers mixed into a nice concoction and tied with a pretty little neat bow} but one that I think is the most VALUABLE, and rarely addressed, is Economic Empowerment.

Most survivors who have been under the control of a trafficker were lured with a promise. Finding out what the promise was and then helping them to obtain that promise on their own, without their trafficker, becomes something they can anchor themselves to when the storms come. While working in fast food is admirable, “living wage” is well… unlivable. Hope dwindles, circumstances get tough, financial set-backs arise and the zeal toward this newfound freedom fades, like a thick fog rolling in. Will it ever get easier? Will I ever make it out? Will my dreams ever come true?

I remember my first paycheck after getting out of the life. I cried and cried. How do I live on this? How does anyone live on this? I asked God, is this what you saved my life for, to just continue in a different struggle? It’s hard sometimes, to lift our eyes above the cloud of circumstances, and try tirelessly to peer at the promise that seems so far away.

So why is education so incredibly valuable, in helping survivors thrive? Education leads to economic empowerment. It keeps the fog at bay. It keeps our eyes above the clouds. It shows us an end game.

After I got out of trafficking, I went back to community college, taking night classes and online courses after my 40 hours of work a week, still trying to put food on the table for me and my child. I remember getting a raise and was so proud, until I found out that the $50 a month raise put me over the financial need limit and cut my food stamps by $100. So I gained $50 but lost $100. It was the first time I had been on state assistance- standing shamefully in the welfare line. I shouldn’t have been ashamed, that is what assistance is there for, to help people in need. But I was not blind to the looks in the grocery store when someone pulled out their food stamp card, or the jokes about welfare. So I found myself standing in line asking which shame was worse: the painful familiar or the terrifying unknown.

But I kept at it and I stuck with it and I prayed that this too would pass, that God’s plans were to prosper me and that He would reward those that diligently seek Him. This year, I start my Master’s degree. Little by little, I see the fog roll away. I see the idea of self-sustainability for me and my family within reach. Yes, there will be challenges, but the promises my trafficker used like a carrot, to dangle in front of me, are now mine for the taking. I can do this with the support of my friends, family and community; I can do it with the support of organizations like Sun Gate and individual donors. I can see the education that matches my abilities, continuing to eradicate modern day slavery, continuing to change the mindset of our culture and continuing to prevent young men and women from misidentifying trafficking within their own communities. The carrot is no longer dangling, it is in my grasp!

Written by Rebecca Bender

 

 

 

 

Shamere McKenzie of the Sun Gate Foundation talked with York College students Tuesday about how the sex trafficking industry is able to thrive. (SEAN COTTER — scotter@yorkdispatch.com)

Shamere McKenzie of the Sun Gate Foundation talked with York College students Tuesday about how the sex trafficking industry is able to thrive. (SEAN COTTER — scotter@yorkdispatch.com)

 

“You’re smart — how could you be trafficked?”

“It’s a question Shamere McKenzie has faced from everyone from the crowds to whom she’s told her story to the judge who sentenced her to time in jail.

“On Tuesday night, she took the stage in front of a packed auditorium at York College to tell her story — that of a survivor of the expansive American underground sex-trafficking industry, using her own tale to drum up support for the anti-trafficking cause and show that question isn’t the right one to ask.” Click here to read the first article
 

 

 

 

 

 

York College

York College

 

“Throughout the talk, she emphasized one point: people have to be the change they want to see in the world. She encouraged the audience to stand up for what they believe in no matter how hard it seems because it only takes one person to start a life changing movement.”

Click here to read the second article