S. Epatha Merkerson, a long-time “Law & Order” star who is the host of TV One’s show “Find Our Missing.” She, along with Derrica Wilson, president of the Black and Missing Foundation, joined Roland S. Martin on the Essence.com stage at the convention center to discuss “Find Our Missing” and increasing awareness for missing African-Americans.
MR. MARTIN (VOICEOVER): One person who is not speechless is S. Epatha Merkerson, a long-time “Law & Order” star who is the host of TV One’s show “Find Our Missing.” She, along with Derrica Wilson, president of the Black and Missing Foundation, joined me on the Essence.com stage at the convention center.
MR. MARTIN: So, first off, Epatha, why – look. You could do a lot of shows. You can narrate a lot of stuff, host a lot of stuff, but why did you want to do this show, “Find Our Missing,” which focuses on African-Americans who have come up missing in this country?
MS. S. EPATHA MERKERSON: Well, it was a no-brainer for me. Literally, though, I’d been hearing this dialogue for a while about there not being a national forum for our people that have gone missing. So, when TV One called, it – it was a no-brainer.
MR. MARTIN: What’s the deal with the disparity, and what have TV execs told you about the issue of ignoring Black folks who come up missing?
MS. DERRICA WILSON: Well, [what] some of the television executives have told us is that this is not what society want[s] to hear about. One of the o- —
MR. MARTIN: Wait, wait, wait, wait. Hold it. Some TV execs have told you society does not want to hear when Black folks come up missing, but when Becky come up missin’, we all need to know that.
MS. DERRICA WILSON: It’s all about the ratings. It’s all about the ratings.
MR. MARTIN: Now, Epatha, what’s the one thing that’s – that you learned by being involved in this show?
MS. MERKERSON: How important detail is. Literally, if – what I’ve found even from the Black and Missing Foundation is that if someone is missing – say, from Florida – they literally can be trafficked to Seattle. So, the details that we show on the show – it literally shows where the person went missing, what time of day, how old they were. You get all the background on the person, so that if, by chance, your memory is jarred, and you remember a face, you’ve had all of the detail to have you call in those – those clues, call in something that you saw – ’cause that’s what’s got to happen. We have to be involved. The community has to be involved in these people that are missing.
MR. MARTIN: I was at the State Department, and Jada Pinkett Smith was there. They were releasing a report on sex trafficking in the United States, and there were three cities in California leading the country. And a lot of people assume that – well, someone comes up missing, [and] they think the worst – that they’re actually dead –
MS. MERKERSON: Exactly!
MR. MARTIN: — when, in fact, a lot of these young women – and in some cases, young men as well –
MS. MERKERSON: Yes.
MR. MARTIN: — they’re being caught in trafficking situations.
MS. MERKERSON: Yes.
MR. MARTIN: And it’s happening in our cities, and we don’t even know they’re being housed, if you will, and made to be sex slaves.
MS. MERKERSON: And so a show like TV One[’s] allows us to look at where the folks have gone missing. It gives us a photograph. There’s a call to action at the end of the show. So, if you’ve seen something, you’re able to call not only law enforcement, but you can also go to the website, tvone.tv, and put in your information – anything that you see – because sometimes it really does seem inconsequential, but it might be the clue that law enforcement is looking for to connect families.
MR. MARTIN: Out of all the cases you’ve dealt with, what’s the one that has been so shocking to you, or befuddling to you?
MS. DERRICA WILSON: Well, actually, I have two cases. I think the one that really rings out to me is our partnership with Michael Baisden that has been so profound and a young girl who was four years old who was missing for six months. After airing her story on the show, someone turned her father in, and her mother was able to fly from Florida to reunite with her in D.C.
MR. MARTIN: Wow.
MS. DERRICA WILSON: And then the other one was, of course, “The View” in February. After that show aired, 15 minutes later, that tip came in that reunited that family with that child –
MS. MERKERSON: [Crosstalk.]
MS. DERRICA WILSON: — that was missing for five and-a-half months.
Media coverage is vital, and that just proves that.
MR. MARTIN: Which also is why, although we have “Find Our Missing” on TV One, we’ve got to press every one of these cable networks –
MS. MERKERSON: Absolutely!
MR. MARTIN: — every time and say, “Don’t you dare ignore when somebody Black comes up missing.”
MS. MERKERSON: “Find Our Missing” really is timely; but it is, indeed, time for all of these networks to pay attention to our missing.