California reports more cases of human tracking than any state. In Oakland, most sex trafficking victims are Black girls under the age 18. Regina Evans is an activist and artist using her creative gifts to call attention to this crisis and rescue girls.
She recalls how during a rough point in her life, the pastor at a friend’s church prophesied over her.
“She said, ‘I see them, I see them. Your children are coming.’ She’s laughing and she’s happy. And I was like, ‘Whose children are coming? What children?’”
The children came alright. Regina didn’t birth them, but she’s giving new life to some youth in Oakland who’ve endured unimaginable ordeals.
Regina stands at the intersection of International Boulevard and 21st Avenue in East Oakland. It’s a warm Thursday on the eve of a heatwave. Regina is in all black flowy pants and shirt with a multicolored African wrap crowning her head.
Around here are apartments, convenience stores, an elementary charter school, and trafficked youth roaming the streets. Regina says this intersection is part of a longer two-and-a-half-mile stretch of road people in Oakland call The Track.
“The Track is where girls and boys are sold into rape,” she says.
Oakland is in Alameda County, whose officials report that 99 percent of sex trafficking victims are girls and 63 percent are Black. Art is one way Regina, 59, reaches these young victims.
Several times a year, Regina gathers volunteers to help her create altars on different areas of The Track. She’s not conventionally religious. Regina’s faith is a spiritual gumbo that honors her Protestant upbringing, West African spiritual traditions, the Divine Feminine and the power of dreams. This visual gift for the sexually exploited girls originated in her dreams.
She says, “ I saw the track as a garden. I woke up and I was like, I’ll build garden altars.”
Regina and her crew brighten up blighted corners. A cellist plays as the volunteers buzz around the sidewalks with plush dining room chairs, sunflowers, and African dolls. I’ll say more about the symbolism later, but this is all for the altars — one for each corner at 21st Avenue and International Boulevard Regina calls this intersection the belly of the beast. On any given night, 10 to 15 of the girls here are victims of trafficking.
“Once it gets about 9:30 pm, there are so many young women out here on The Track,” she says. “This is the hottest block right here.”
Across the street, two slim, young Black girls in super short shorts, sheer tops and long colorful wigs float in the street alongside parked cars.
Oakland police officials tell me that about 35 percent of trafficked youth in Oakland are from the city. Most of the rest come from nearby areas.
Regina says exploiters force kids into sex labor many ways. She knows a common tactic involves grooming.
“The line that they use the most to grab a girl is,“you are beautiful,” Regina says. “We are falling down on our job when that’s the line from an exploiter.”
Regina knows first-hand what these girls are going through, because she experienced it too.
Jeneé Darden is a journalist fellow with the Spiritual Exemplars Project.