Miss Mississippi College Taylor Townsend Promotes Blue Heart Campaign
May 17, 2012
Shining a light on the global tragedy of human trafficking is an enormous challenge.
Helping promote the worldwide campaign against a 21st Century form of slavery, Taylor Townsend, the 2012 Miss Mississippi College, wants people to understand that human trafficking knows no borders. It occurs in distant places like Brazil, Thailand, and Russia, but also exists close to home in America.
As the centerpiece of her platform for the Miss Mississippi Pageant in Vicksburg June 27-30, the 19-year-old from Flowood is encouraging Mississippians to join the Blue Heart Campaign against Human Trafficking. All over social media from Facebook to Twitter and YouTube, the effort is being led by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.
Townsend is rallying for a cause she first learned about a few years ago at a national conference. What she discovered regarding the shameful illegal activity really shocked her, and now she’s telling people how they can make a difference.
“There are millions of modern day slaves in the world today,” the Mississippi College sophomore says. “People are being trafficked in Mississippi and around America.”
Traveling recently to a safe house in New Orleans to see some of the human trafficking victims up close made the issue much more real to her. She’s discussed the topic at several churches, with friends and professors at Mississippi College and during meetings with political leaders from both sides of the political aisle.
Mississippi Gov. Phil Bryant and Attorney General Jim Hood are both supporting Taylor’s efforts to spotlight the Blue Heart Campaign against human trafficking. Taylor met with both officials in the spring to advance legislative efforts to strengthen laws against such hideous crimes. Hood has assigned a staff member in his Domestic Violence Division to fight it in the Magnolia State and help train prosecutors. Mississippi’s Third District Congressman Gregg Harper is also backing Taylor’s push to curb human trafficking.
After finding out more about the world’s second most lucrative illegal business (behind drug trafficking), Townsend emphasized the issue as her platform on the evening she won the 2012 Miss Mississippi College Pageant in January.
When Taylor goes around speaking to groups across the state, she notices many people know very little about the issue. Here are a few of the facts: women and girls account for 80 percent of the detected victims, while child trafficking accounts for 15 to 20 percent. Sexual exploitation is involved in about 80 percent of the cases. The United Nations’ Blue Heart Campaign estimates the total market value of illicit human trafficking worldwide is $32 billion.
The campaign is pressing law enforcement agencies to step up the battle against human trafficking wherever it leads.
Taylor’s message to spotlight human trafficking led the Rankin County resident to create an innovative website devoted to the topic, distribute Blue Heart Campaign stickers, and ask other Mississippians to join her. For the Jackson Prep graduate, her platform is one of the key components of her bid for the title of Miss Mississippi.
All 42 Miss Mississippi Pageant contestants from community colleges, universities and regions of the state are pushing platforms focusing on a smorgasbord of issues. The 2011 Miss Mississippi Mary Margaret Roark created her own campaign to promote Alzheimer’s awareness statewide. Roark launched the JEWELS for Alzheimer’s campaign after seeing her grandmother face the disease.
While keeping up with the latest developments on human trafficking, Taylor Townsend is also staying current on breaking news around the world. She’s reading “Time” magazine, watching “Good Morning America,” and other news shows to prepare for the pageant’s flurry of interview questions. Staying in shape by running, and polishing her vocal performance after recently completing her freshman year on the Clinton campus are part of her daily routine with the pageant just weeks away. Taylor will perform a song from “Little Women” at the event in Vicksburg.
Taylor’s parents are helping the MC biology major prepare for the interviews by asking lots of questions.
Taylor Townsend is the daughter of Drs. Bill and Cindy Townsend, both professional educators at Mississippi College and Jackson Prep.
Like her pageant rivals, Taylor’s dream is to become the 2012 Miss Mississippi.
“Going to Miss Mississippi, you have to want it. I’d love to represent such an incredible state and this would be a wonderful opportunity to promote my platform and be a voice for the victims.”
Year-round, Taylor is committed to making excellent grades at Mississippi College (her GPA is a sterling 3.9) and going to medical school to become a pediatrician. “I’ve always thought about the medical field as a good way to help people. It would be a way to make a difference in the lives of children.”
Photo: Taylor Townsend