Sherry Searles' business card identifies her by an unusual title — abolitionist.
More commonly used 150 years ago to refer to antislavery advocates, the term has just as much relevance today.
“A lot of people are not aware human trafficking is the fastest-growing crime on the planet,” said Searles, who lives in North Manchester and teaches preschool in Warsaw. But everyone can make a difference in abolishing it, she said. She and others will discuss how during the panel discussion “What's in Your Hand? Everyday People doing Everyday Justice” at 3 p.m. Friday at Fellowship Missionary Church on Tillman Road.
The session is part of a two-day justice conference at the church.
Searles became involved in the justice movement accidentally.
In early summer in 2009, she picked up some library books to read. One was “Not for Sale,” by David Batstone.
“That was when I became aware of modern-day slavery and became aware it is the fastest-growing crime on the planet,” Searles said. “I wanted to do something.”
She founded the nonprofit organization Accessories for Hope. Through “Freedom Parties” she holds in homes, businesses, schools and churches, she educates people about human trafficking and sells items made by children and adults rescued from the sex trade or other slavery.
Items available include jewelry, purses, tote bags, scarves, knitted items and fair-trade coffee and chocolate. All revenue goes to the people who made the items and the organizations that rescued them and keep working to free others from slavery, she said.
Most of the items come from people in India, Thailand and Cambodia, she said. But slavery also takes place in the United States, where arrests the last few years have shed light on the sex trade and human trafficking.
In the last three years, Searles has held 150 Freedom Parties and raised nearly $100,000 to help oppressed people around the world.
“Psalm 82:3 says, 'You're here to defend the defenseless, to make sure that underdogs get a fair break; Your job is to stand up for the powerless, and prosecute all those who exploit them,'” she said.The boundaries of justice extend even deeper into society, said Andrew Hoffman, executive director of NeighborLink Fort Wayne, who will moderate the “Everyday Justice” panel discussion. The local nonprofit matches volunteers wanting to help others with people who need help.
“Typically, the justice we're talking about is happening to the vulnerable people and/or situations in our society that are being marginalized, abused, taken advantage of or not having adequate opportunity at the proverbial table,” Hoffman said via email.
“Everyone on the panel will be sharing how they identified something that was wrong in our world and what they did about it,” he added. They also will take audience questions.