By Naomi Harris

In the past 11 days, the Epsilon Psi Chapter of Phi Beta Sigma at the University of Maryland raised $554 in an effort to provide self-defense supplies and educational support for young women in the DMV.

Over the past month, young girls of color have gone missing within the D.C. region, which sparked national debate about media coverage. In March, Justin Ferguson, one of the fraternity members, brought up the surrounding issues of why these girls run away.

“I’m just looking and saw that Instagram showed the date when people started going missing, and it was so close together,” Ferguson said. “I saw something about pepper spray, and that’s where I got the idea from.”

The idea turned into a fundraising effort on GoFundMe. Per the description, the money raised will go toward helping fund the expense of self-defense supplies, like pepper spray and self-defense key chains, which will then be passed out on campus and at local high schools.

“We not only want to provide self-defense items, but we want to facilitate and start conversations in those areas,” Ferguson said. “Why is this happening?”

Indeed, the question brought alarm to many, including celebrities like LL Cool J, Zendaya and members of the Congressional Black Caucus.

“Ten children of color went missing in our nation’s capital in a period of two weeks and at first garnered very little media attention,” wrote the members in a letter to Attorney General Jeff Sessions and FBI Director James Comey, according to the Associated Press.

But within the push for action, information on Twitter and other social media platforms circulated confusing information.

In March, the D.C. Metropolitan Police Department informed NBC that the missing 14 girls, who have garnered many viral and inaccurate tweets, did not occur in one day, but are a result of many cases they wanted to now make public on their social media.

Even so, the response to runaway children creates conversation. Community members, such as Ferguson, hope to continue discussing why young girls of color run away and what educational safety precautions they can offer for young women.

“The fundraising is the immediate action. The immediate action is to provide young girls with supplies,” Ferguson said.

“The future action is to educate. The educational part is to start the conversation so people can acknowledge that this is happening and will hopefully prevent it from happening in the future.”

Featured Photo Credit: Feature photo courtesy of Justin Ferguson on Facebook.

Naomi Harris is a senior multi-platform journalism and sociocultural anthropology double major and can be reached at naomi.j.harris01@gmail.com.

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