In May 2004 Tamika Huston, a 24-year-old African-American woman, vanished from her Spartanburg, S.C., apartment. Though her family sent e-mails, put up flyers and called newspapers and TV stations-the national media skipped the story. Huston's body was found, her ex-boyfriend charged with murder more than a year later-just four months after teen Natalee Holloway went missing, a case that made headlines around the world. "It made me angry, but in a positive way," says Derrica Wilson, 34, who's from Spartanburg. "I wanted to help families like Tamika's."
So in 2008 she teamed up with sister-in-law Natalie and formed the Black and Missing Foundation (bamfi.org). The Washington, D.C.-area women use their skills-Derrica as a former cop and now a city agency investigator and Natalie, 43, as a communications specialist-to work with the police, media and families on hundreds of missing-persons cases. To date, the Wilsons' efforts have contributed to 113 people being found-from murders to runaways to custodial kidnappings-including 71 where a missing loved one was found alive. It's a daunting task: Thousands of African-Americans go missing each year (one-third of all missing-persons cases). The problem has caught Hollywood's eye: Tyler Perry recently offered a $100,000 reward for tips leading to the discovery of two missing Florida men. "There's not another organization like Black and Missing," says Diane Groomes, assistant chief of police for Washington, D.C. "They're such a help."
The Wilsons devote up to 40 hours a week each to this. Derrica coaches families on talking to police and media; Natalie works her contacts in television, newspapers, radio and websites. They've partnered with TV One to produce a series of missing-persons segments and with nationally syndicated radio host Michael Baisden for a "Missing Child of the Week" segment that has helped find 14 kids alive. "I felt so helpless," says Julius King, 27, a Navy technician in Virginia Beach, whose 6-year-old son Jahir went missing for several weeks after King's ex-girlfriend allegedly did not return him after a visit. The Wilsons helped King work with police and got him on Baisden's show. One week later the ex-wife was arrested and Jahir returned safely home. "I can't," King says,"thank Natalie and Derrica enough."
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