A night of reflection and awareness for sex trafficking was hosted by Project Cultivate in UTCC.

Project Cultivate hosted its third annual fundraiser, The Gallery, on Feb. 3. The event, titled Fearless, was an art showcase dedicated to raising awareness about sex trafficking and raising funds for Project Cultivate’s Professional Development Program (PDP). Artwork depicting stories of brokenness and freedom lined the walls of UTCC. Creative expression was also highlighted through music, dance and spoken word. Two female survivors of trafficking shared their testimonies, one through poetry and the other by opening up about her experience for the first time.

Senior marketing major Jordyn Ex, the president of Enactus, spoke about the purpose of Project Cultivate and of fundraising for this event.

“Enactus in general stands for building kingdom impact and doing it through the community,” Ex said. “We don’t stop [at awareness], we try to make an impact and we take action.”

One of these specific actions is the PDP, which is a group of students that travel down to safe houses in San Diego. They work with the women to help build their professional skills, such as how to interview, dress professionally, write at a collegiate level and more.

“[We teach them] those important things that we are blessed to learn at school, but they have been in safe houses and have not learned yet,” Ex said. “We go in and help them reintegrate back into society.”

One of the women that Project Cultivate worked with through PDP, Janai, shared her poetry at the event. She identified herself as a former victimized mute for 14 years. Her words elicited applause and multiple standing ovations from the audience. Many identified her words as the most powerful part of the whole event.

“Janai’s spoken word piece was universal,” junior chemistry major Aaron Ramsay said. “There was something in it that resonated with everyone, and that was so powerful.”

Variety For One (VFO) and Pacific Islander Organization (PIO) also performed at the event.

Sophomore journalism major Samantha Waipa serves as one of three lead choreographers for VFO. She shared some of the emotions that went into the VFO group performance to Beyoncé’s “Freedom.”

“VFO aimed to not only emphasize the reality of social injustice but also to focus on the strength and perseverance that is interlaced in each person’s testimony, accompanied by the power of unity that comes with education and awareness,” Waipa said. “It truly is an honor to not just be involved but also perform at this powerful event alongside such brave artists.”

As people slowly trickled into the room prior to the start of the event, the artwork on the walls was the immediate focal point.

Senior studio art major Dominique Nevarez was a contributing artist for Fearless. Her piece depicted a woman’s legs, covered at the top by graffiti.

“The way that graffiti writers objectify the city, men objectify women and they just kind of act, like first instinct, and permanently leave you damaged,” Nevarez said. “Spray paint is pretty permanent. It takes decades for that to come off. Men just kind of view women’s bodies as the city where they feel free to leave their own markings that will last a long time.”

Artwork done by Dominique Nevarez. Photo Courtesy of Michaela Steiner.

It was a powerful night for all involved. From teary-eyed testimonies, to powerful dance pieces, each aspect of this event left a deep impact.

“The main element of tonight’s event that impacted me the most was the closing number from the Kaleo Band,” Waipa said. “It was a time where we reflected on all of the different stories displayed throughout the night in an environment of pure worship.”

Junior BFA in Visual Arts major Cassidy Lewis attended Saturday’s event as a first time supporter.

“It really brings light to things that are pushed under the rug a lot and not talked about, because it feels like kind of a dirty part of our society, but it is really important to think about,” Lewis said. “It helps you start to realize that it’s real people involved in this. It’s not as separate of an issue when you are hearing it from the mouths of people that were involved.”

Many shared that hearing such personal stories and seeing the vulnerable pieces of art around the room created a convicting atmosphere. But awareness also demands action.

“[This event] has really educated my role as a man in how either my lack of discipline, or whatever you want to say, can actually contribute to the issues that are happening,” Ramsay said. “So it really puts a face on the faceless…It is not just us we’re effecting when we are giving into these power structures, like porn. It’s actual women’s lives that are destroyed. We’re complicit if we participate, which is really convicting.”

As an artist, Lewis was inspired to engage the topic of sex trafficking in her future pieces.

Experiences of sexual harassment and sex trafficking are not stories that would need to be shared in an ideal world. Speaking up about this issue and giving a voice to things often hidden, being fearless as the name of the event encouraged, brings such necessary life back to brokenness.

“I create art as a way to cope with things, events and people,” Nevarez said. “This was constructive healing for me, because I am creating and it is helping me through a healing process. I felt alone about this topic, so it is nice to be in an art gallery where there are multiple pieces about this topic.”

California has one of the highest levels of sex trafficking rates in the nation. These women cannot be left alone.

“[Sex trafficking] happens every day, everywhere in California, even in the neighborhoods you would not think,” Ex said. “It happens everywhere, and we just need to be more aware of it.”

For more information about Project Cultivate and upcoming events, visit:

www.project-cultivate.com or email info@project-cultivate.com.