Sometimes - okay, pretty often - I just have to say “wow!” about this small town where I live, with all the things going on and getting done here. And, here in my most recent column in the Claremont Courier, I’m not even talking about the eight colleges in Claremont which recently had their graduations, all but one in one crazy weekend.
CLAREMONTERS TAKE ON THE GOOD, THE BAD
Amy Andrews isn’t someone who we see as part of the Claremont community. We don’t think of her in Claremont.
We don’t want to think of her in Claremont.
Amy Andrews was a sex slave. She was a victim of human trafficking.
This happened when she was in her early teens, about 14. She had been in and out of foster homes, an incorrigible girl, a girl who was sexually abused in some of these homes, after being abandoned by her drug-addicted mother. A man, a man who she thought was nice, took her away, and she ended up in a locked house, working as the man’s prostitute.
This didn’t happen in some backwards, under-developed country. This didn’t happen in a far-off, impoverished region. This happened right next door, here in the Inland Empire. Ms. Andrews grew up in the Ontario area and met the “nice man” while spending time in Palm Springs. The man took her to a house in Los Angeles and later to Las Vegas.
She was probably driven through Claremont.
As much of a shock as this may be - it shocked me - it really shouldn’t be. It turns out that human trafficking, which includes not only prostitution but also domestic servitude and likely a range of things, is big businesses in America and that the Inland Empire is the “capital” of human trafficking in America.
News or not, this was the subject of an interfeith community forum last month in Claremont, sponsored by the Pomona Valley Chapter of Progressive Christians Uniting and co-sponsored by a range of groups, including the Interfeith Sustainability Council of the Pomona Valley, the Pomona Valley Affiliate of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), the Democratic Club of Claremont and the Islamic Center of Claremont. It was here that I heard Ms. Andrews tell her story, giving a firsthand account of what happened to her. Ms. Andrews, now a successful mother and studying to be a healthcare professional, is quite a powerful and compelling speaker.
The lead speaker at the forum was Claremont’s State Assembly Member Chris Holden, who is sponsoring a bill to expand law officials’ wiretapping authority, with a judge’s permission, to those they suspect of human trafficking. As Ms. Andrews pointed out, most of the business of human trafficking. Again, Ms. Andrews was most compelling, and all the more so when she asked the audience to reach out and be compassionate to those who appear to be involved in prostitution (and to do so with discretion, for they may well be supervised).
The audience - that there was one there - was perhaps the most significant thing about the forum, which also included leaders from Christian and Islamic groups. The topic was one that is ugly, not nice, easy to ignore and dismiss, to say that it doesn’t happen here in Claremont, and the fact that there were people there to listen, to learn and to find out what they can do, says a lot.
It says that there are people here who care, who get involved in work that is not easy, who do more than attend the bright events, like the one that happened a few days earlier, when Uncommon Good’s Whole Earth Building had it’s grand opening.
Taking place on a sunny and warm Saturday morning, this was every bit a celebration of the good - the good that can happen and the good that does happen when people get together to make it happen. With music and blessings and excited speeches, this was a party for everything Claremonters can get done.
What’s more, this grand opening was groundbreaking. Literally. This building, right behind the Claremont Methodist Church on Foothill Boulevard, was built mostly by hand using materials, the dirt and the rocks and the plant matter, that was on the site, saving energy and resources and preventing further pollution and global warming. It was designed by “visionary architect” Erik Peterson, of the Claremont Environmental Design Group, for the Uncommon Good organization’s offices and events.
It was exciting enough to get to go inside this brand new unique and beautiful modern adobe building, opening right in time for Earth Day, with its thick walls and warren of small yet airy spaces. It was also a special treat to see Dolores Huerta, the legendary farm labor leader who worked alongside Cesar Chavez, giving some words of congratulations. She was joined by other officials and dignitaries like Claremont Mayor Opanyi Nasiali, Chief Anthony RedBlood Morales of the San Gabriel Band of Mission Indians and, again, Assemblymember Holden.
There were shouts of “Dolores! Dolores!” capturing the love, joy, accomplishment and pride - “Si, se puede!” - that the gathering was all about. It was indeed a bright celebration of what people in Claremont can do.
It was also a reminder that most of this work is just that - work. As Nancy Mintie, the Executive Director of Uncommon Good, emphasized during her remarks, putting the building up was exhausting, and there were days when she and her fellow workers wondered what they had gotten into.
Not only is this work that people in Claremont do hard, it is sometimes unpleasant, disturbing and downright dangerous. Reaching out to the Amy Andrews in our midst can lead to some dark, ugly and nasty places.
The people who are involved in this summer’s effort to end homelessness in Claremont know this. They are shining a light into a dark underside of Claremont, one that more often than not involves mental illness, addition and other distressing characteristics.
Not only are they shining a light on the problem, they are trying to bring light to the problem. The purposes of the campaign is not to ignore or ban the homeless in Claremont, as City officials have attempted to do in the past, but to reach out to them and help them get the resources they need - resources that are freely available but which can be not easy to get.
Like much that is done in Claremont, this is good, hard work.