Today’s FACE, Tajuan McCarty, is a truly remarkable human being. The story of her past and that of the women and children she now helps are gut-wrenchingly inconceivable to most of us, yet Tajuan has risen above with an overwhelmingly positive spirit that exudes hope and love without a trace of bitterness or self-pity. Tajuan McCarty is the founder of The WellHouse, a full-service shelter for human trafficking victims, the first of its kind in Alabama. The organization has rescued more than 200 women since opening its doors in 2011. Human trafficking is the second largest and fastest-growing criminal industry, and it is happening right here in Birmingham with Interstate 20 considered the sex trafficking superhighway. Welcome, Tajuan!
*SB Note: for clarification, for an action to be considered human trafficking, the use of force, fraud and/or coercion must be involved and an exchange of goods must occur (payment of some type). If the exchange is sex, it’s considered sex trafficking. Sex trafficking is different than prostitution as the victim must either be a minor (under 18) or be in the situation as a result of force, fraud or coercion.
Tell us a bit about your story and how you came to found The WellHouse.
God gave me the vision of The WellHouse in 2010. Lisa-Roxanne Richardson and I were already doing street outreach at the Birmingham Dream Center. I knew there would come a time when a lady/woman/girl would want help, and we wouldn’t be able to help her due to some barrier she had that prevented us from trying to get her into a safe place. For example, she wouldn’t have an ID, or would still be high or test positive for drug use or something of this nature. And it happened on July 2, 2010. We received a phone call from a local Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent who had a woman on his couch that he was going to have to put in jail if we couldn’t find her a place. And there was no place, so she had to go to jail.
God told me to write the plan, and I did. Business plan, SWOT analysis, competitor’s analysis, two-year projected budget, etc. I had no intention of opening The WellHouse, but God saw different. Everything was ready for someone to take it over with a house and the financial means. On January 27, 2011, our crisis line received a phone call. A 21-year-old needed help or she would die. And that’s when The WellHouse opened.
Only because of Jesus Christ am I where my life finally makes sense. Who else but God would take a two-time convicted felon who’s been sold in 48 states, two other countries, beaten beyond recognition, left for dead more than once, obtained a BSW, MPH and MPA, and then give her a vision for the first shelter in Alabama for sexually exploited women and victims of human trafficking?
Is human trafficking really a serious problem in Birmingham or is this more of an overseas issue?
This answer is simple: I was trafficked to Birmingham so much that it became my home. The first time I ran away at age 12, I wound up in Birmingham from Carrollton, GA. Beginning at age 15, when the trafficking in my life started, Birmingham was a target destination for the pimps I had.
Who or what is perpetuating the trafficking?
Recent research shows the buyers of sex to be 18- to 60-year-old white males with expendable income.
What are some ways that we can be more cognizant of the problem? What are things people in our community can look for, and what should they do if they suspect someone is being victimized?
I’d like to direct your readers to this page on our website, which is a great resource for this question: http://the-wellhouse.org/how-to-spot-victims/
Is the problem becoming bigger or are we just noticing it more now?
I believe both are true. It is becoming bigger and we are more aware of it.
What can individuals do to combat this problem?
Help an agency that is fighting it. Raise awareness. Pray. Stop saying it is her fault. She is a victim, not a willing participant, even though she may not know it!
It takes a special person to do this job. How do you not take this home with you?
Oh, I do take it home with me every day. I cry at night for the girls and women who are still enslaved. I know the hurt, pain, torture, abuse and torment they are experiencing. How can my heart not continue to hurt for them?
What are some things you love to do outside your job?
I love to read, attend church, spend time with family and friends, and live life, something I didn’t know how to do until now!
What is inspiring you right now?
There are two people who are inspirations to me and helping me in my healing. One I have met, the other I have not: Dr. Dan Allender and Dr. Brene’ Brown. Both of them are having dramatic influences in my healing.
What is the biggest life lesson you have ever learned?
To love God with all my heart and soul. The rest is up to Him!
What is the best advice you have received in business?
Not to take things personally. Everything isn’t about me or directed at me. Yes, others have different opinions and criticisms, but that doesn’t mean I need to “own” their perspective!
If you were not in your current job, what would you secretly love to do?
There is nothing else I would love to do. For the first time, my life makes sense!
What is something people would be surprised to know about you?
I have a heart the size of Texas. I may “appear” to be a tough cookie, but I love others in a deep and meaningful way!
What is your favorite place to go out to eat?
I love Chinese food! And any place that has sushi!
Is there an upcoming event in Birmingham that you are looking forward to?
What are you reading right now?
What are three of your favorite things?
Cooking, reading and long drives to clear my mind and spend time with God!
Thanks for sharing your insights with us today, Tajuan. For more information on sex trafficking along the I-20 corridor, watch this harrowing yet insightful video.
And thanks to Beth Hontzas for today’s beautiful photos! See more of her work at www.bethhontzas.com.