Earlier this year, “missing white woman syndrome,” a phrase coined by Journalist Gwen Ifill, was a hot-button topic after the viral coverage of the disappearance of Gabby Petitio. It highlighted the lack of coverage for people of color when they go missing compared to the coverage of young, middle-class white women that go missing.
But, two Maryland Black sisters-in-law are doing what law enforcement and they media don’t. They are prioritizing finding missing people of color.
Natalie and Derica Wilson are the co-founders of the Black and Missing Foundation, an organization whose goal is “to bring awareness to missing persons of color” which they have been doing for 13 years, according to their website.
Previously, Derrica worked for police departments in Virginia and Natalie worked in public relations, per the story from CNN. Today, the foundation has assisted over 300 families.
According to FBI data from 2019, 609,275 people were reported missing in the United States. Black, Asian and Indigenous people made up nearly 40% of all reported cases. Although Black people only make up 13% of the US population, they comprised 34% (205,802) of all reported missing person cases in 2019.
That’s a shocking and disturbing number considering the lack of media coverage those cases receive.
But, Derica and Natalie are ensuring that Black missing persons are not forgotten.
Per the story from CNN, the sisters-in-law believe the lack of media coverage for people of color can be tied to many causes like, “the misclassification of minority children as runaways or criminals and desensitization to crime victims who come from impoverished minority communities.”
In other words, they do not fit the archetype of a person that “mainstream” America can get behind. In other words, they are not white.
“The Black and Missing Foundation was started because of a necessity,” Natalie told CNN.
When the Wilsons officially established the Maryland-based nonprofit in 2008, they had a straightforward mission: help us find us.
The nonprofit brings awareness to missing persons of color using its online platform, public awareness campaigns, education, and an anonymous tip line.
“We help families from A through Z in raising awareness of their missing loved ones, and that includes creating flyers and social media posts as well as boots on the ground,” said Natalie.
“It’s important for everyone to recognize that this is someone’s brother, sister, mother, father, son, daughter, and their lives are valuable, and we need to do everything that we can to help find them and bring them home,” said Derrica. “We want them to know that they’re not in this by themselves.”
For BAMFI, that includes emotional support, and in the event, a missing individual is found deceased, funds to assist with funeral arrangements.