Perhaps the seed of the idea for Alika Galloway’s church in North Minneapolis to minister to those in the sex trade was planted years ago in California.
At a church there, Galloway, a Presbyterian pastor, met a homeless woman. “She would come to church and cry and cry and cry and say, ‘Forgive me.”’ It wasn’t until later that Galloway realized that the woman was using her body to make a living and was, she says, a victim of the sex trade.
Galloway’s sympathy and her desire to help those engaged in prostitution grew, particularly when she learned that some of the women in her new church neighborhood in North Minneapolis off West Broadway, were, as she says, trapped in prostitution.
“The women are caught; they are the victims of the sex trade. There are systems in place where women have nothing else to trade except their bodies. That’s the issue,” she told me, a woman exuding both warmth and strong convictions.
Still, it wasn’t until a couple of years ago that she met Lauren Martin, a University of Minnesota research associate collecting data on sex trafficking in North Minneapolis, and found a kindred soul.
Martin’s vision, which we first told you about in February 2010, was to open a safe and welcoming place where women and teen girls in the sex trade could get off the street, find a place to sit and drink a cup of coffee or eat a sandwich, to wash up or use a phone, to wash their clothes and eventually connect to better lives. Plans include offering health services, emotional and spiritual counseling and job-search support.
At first, the drop-in center was going to be small scale: a lounge area, a bathroom and laundry room at Kwanzaa Community Church, PCUSA, where Galloway is co-pastor with her husband, Ralph. Church leaders, steeped in caring rather than judgment, the pastor says, signed on to their new mission. “But we thought and talked and prayed about it more,” she told me, preacher and storyteller building to a high point.
Instead, the 200 or so members of Kwanzaa, people Galloway calls “some of the best human beings I’ve ever met in my life,” decided to loan out their entire 10,000 square-foot building to the program, stained glass windows and all.
As of now, Kwanzaa members have donated more than $15,000 in labor, in-kind supplies and money toward the project.
This week, nearly a year after they’d first hoped to start, Northside Women’s Space begins operations at 2100 Emerson Ave. N., in that donated 100-year-old facility. There’s an open house from 5:30 p.m. to 8 p.m. today, April 26, with remarks by Galloway and Martin at 6:30 p.m. at the site.
Kwanzaa’s congregation, meanwhile, has moved to their other facility at 3700 Bryant Ave. N.
The Presbyterian church cares about what’s going on in society, Galloway says, both talking their walk and walking their talk. “So many people see the sex trade as a moral issue. It isn’t, it’s an issue of generational poverty,” she preaches.
Women, girls and boys are reduced to the level of commodities by selling their bodies, she says. “If Suzie Q doesn’t have the means to feed her family, to keep clothes on her body, have a house for her family what is she going to do?”
Martin’s research seems to bear that out. In 2005 and 2007 Martin, a PhD., surveyed 155 people living or working in North Minneapolis trading or selling sex and found: 87 percent were female, 90 percent were unemployed and living in poverty, 82 percent were African-Americans, fewer than half had a high school diploma or equivalency; and 80 percent had experienced physical, emotional or sexual violence.
Those engaged in prostitution won’t be knocking at the center’s doors quite yet. Outreach is the first step toward full implementation of the program, begun with a small “trust-building” group of women going out to talk about the center to those in the sex trade, Martin says, serious and focused. “People aren’t going to trust immediately.”
Since a meeting in early 2010 to introduce the idea to community agencies and leaders, Martin, Galloway and others have been fundraising and gathering support. Count among those supporters nine local Presbyterian churches and the National Black Presbyterian Caucus as well as Breaking Free and PRIDE, two organizations with established histories of working to help women and girls escape prostitution. Further, groups of volunteers have helped renovate and decorate the former sanctuary space.
“We are trying to be the church, not look like the church,” Galloway says. These women and girls need a comfortable and welcome place to share their stories, she said. She wants them to know, she says, “Even if you don’t want to hear anything about Jesus, I’m going to love you anyhow.”
What, then, about those colorful glass church windows? For the right price, they could be sold with the proceeds going to Northside Women’s Space. As an elderly church leader told her, Galloway says, “Jesus would rather be walking with those women than in those windows.”