I don’t write many blog posts these days. Mostly, we communicate our work through film, photography and artifacts that tell the stories of ending and overcoming human exploitation. We focus on upstream prevention strategies and moving communities to empathize and engage. The video above is short but my post is not. Today, I have something very personal to say.
A little over a year ago, our Southern California Hub team for iEmpathize met a woman named Norma Bastidas, a dual citizen of Mexico and Canada. She was running from her home in Vancouver, Canada, down the west coast of the US, and then to her childhood home of Mazatlán, Mexico. As a child growing up in Mazatlán, she endured various forms of sexual violence. In her late teens she would survive a kidnapping incident with the intent to traffic her. Today, Norma is a single mom, actor, and ultra-athlete. She wrote a book about her trek from Canada to Mexico called “Running Home.” Tired of running away from her past she ran towards it and confronted it. Soon after, Norma and I got on the phone. She told me about this crazy idea to capture the world’s attention in a very different way concerning exploitation, sexual violence and trafficking. These types of crimes are so heinous that most tend to look away rather than engage it. What if a survivor did something so unbelievable that people couldn’t help but notice? She needed resources, support, and a team to make this idea a reality. She told me she needed a partner as daring and crazy as she was. “That’s why I called you… I want to break the record for the world’s longest triathlon to fight human trafficking.” she said. “I want to swim in Cancun and want the route to go from capitol to capitol.” That’s over 3,500 miles of swimming, biking, and running! I have done a lot of crazy things in my life but this idea was at the top.
Recently, I was talking to Norma about the idea of imagining success, projecting an idea into existence, and visualizing. These are great leadership practices, but the point I was making to Norma was that I have learned something over the years that trumps all of that… believing. Believing is bigger than visualizing. What she was suggesting seemed unbelievable, but when you regularly witness child victims becoming survivors and then overcomers on a regular basis, you start to believe that almost anything is possible. I knew of Norma’s previous record-breaking athleticism and endurance, I had experienced her fierceness firsthand, but most of all when I learned of her past and witnessed who she is today… I believed. My questions were simple, “When do we start and how do we finance it?”.
After running non-profits for most of my career, I do a pretty good job of managing expectations of what kind of projects get people excited and supportive. I am used to a small group of supporters sustaining the majority of our work. I just knew this project would be different and appeal to the masses for our cause. It wouldn’t polarize people and companies, but would rally them around this issue in ways that I had not seen.
I was wrong.
If I may… we talked to countless potential sponsors. Sports sponsors, hotel sponsors, food sponsors, vehicle sponsors, film producers, tv networks, private funders, investors, etc. The recurring theme was, “no.” I am used to “no” more than “yes” but the response genuinely surprised me, knocked me back, and disappointed me. Don’t get me wrong, there were those that believed but most didn’t. I thought, ‘If corporations and investors won’t get on board, I can rely on a public campaign… wrong again. I have had experience successfully crowd-sourcing projects, but this time we didn’t even get close. Our $100,000 Indiegogo campaign only raised $25,000. People say “no” or pass you by for lots of reasons and most of the time I have a fair perspective on why. Maybe its capacity, previous commitments, or too much doubt that she can actually do it. None of this deters me.
This is not a time to lower my expectations.
I met Norma’s swim coach, who at one time was on the Canadian Olympic swim team. When they started working together just over a year ago, Norma could barely swim! She just passed 100 miles swimming in the ocean and has only a handful of miles to go before beginning the biking segment into the US.
To be relentless you have to believe. It’s time to start believing.
You won’t be the only one. Our crew of twelve believes (watch Jim’s video here), The United Nations and the US Embassy to Mexico believe (watch their video here), the second largest TV network in Mexico believes (watch TV Azteca’s video here), the largest Mexican owned hotel chain believes (watch Fiesta Americana’s video here), child survivors of human trafficking believe (watch their video here).
We are a non-profit. We have ongoing needs that have to be met. I work very hard to communicate our needs in a non-needy way, but this appeal is urgent. We need your help at this very moment. We have many expenses to get Norma from Cancun to DC. We need gas and food money immediately for the Mexico portion of this journey. We need a reliable RV to get from Laredo, TX to DC. We need food, hotels and gas when we cross the border. We need to pay our crew who have left their normal lives to support Norma for many weeks. This is not just about a world record, it’s not just an anthem for survivors, it’s also a two year campaign partnered with the UN and others to protect at risk kids and tangibly empower survivors. It’s a way to capture the conversation in and between the US and Mexico like never before.
“As hard as it gets, I remind myself that this is where most people quit, and going beyond that is an incredible satisfaction. I don’t want to be like most people. I don’t want to live a good enough life. We hear very few stories of why we did the right thing and that’s why when everything seems against it, we just continue pushing.”
What will your company do? What will your agency do? What mile will you sponsor? Just give what you have… maybe it’s $5, $500, $5,000 or $50,000. If you’re a gas company, give gas. If you are media outlet, report. If you are an agency, engage. If you own a reliable RV, let us borrow it from Texas to DC (we’ll bring it back). Sponsor a mile for $100 and inspire ten others to do the same. If all you can do is share her story, share it.
I am certain we are being invited to experience relentlessness first hand as Norma opens herself up to us all in this journey and subsequent documentary. She is confronting the misconceptions of what is believable and possible. Too many times we speak up for survivors as a “voice for the voiceless” rather than amplifying their own. Our role should be simply adding our voices to theirs. This is the essence of empowerment.
I used to say that, “I don’t want people crossing the street when they see me coming because that’s the guy who tells me horrible stories of victimization and asks me to help them.” Over time, I have embraced the fact that I am that guy. It’s not very often that we get an opportunity to join with someone making history, breaking down injustice, and empowering humanity simultaneously.
This is the most epic human rights campaign I have ever been a part of. It is one of the human spirit. I believe in Norma and I am inviting you to as well. Please “like” our iEmpathize Facebook page, follow us on twitter. Share this webpage and our giving page with others. Find a gap and fill it. Show up on Norma’s route and cheer her on. Sponsor a mile for $100, or donate whatever you can today.
Many Thanks and Be Relentless,
Founder and President