BET News Stolen Innocence

(left) Temeka Weatherly, Leah Albright-Byrd, Tasha Smith, Nicole Ari Parker and moderator Lola Ogunnaike 

At the height of the global attention brought on in the wake of the kidnapping of approximately 300 Nigerian schoolgirls by the Islamic fundamentalist organization Boko Haram, BET hosts a powerful conversation about one of the most talked about news stories of this year.  With Stolen Innocence: Your Daughters Are Our Daughters, hosts Marc Lamont Hill and Arise TV's Lola Ogunnaike aim to inform an increasingly aware public of the facts that surround the kidnapping crisis in Nigeria, as well as shed light on the underreported crisis surrounding human trafficking and child exploitation - internationally as well as domestically.  The one-hour town hall forum airs Friday, May 23rd at 7 p.m. ET/PT on BET and Saturday, May 24th at 10 p.m. on Centric.

“BET and Arise both felt that it was necessary this conversation not die down," says Ogunnaike. “When dealing with issues of this magnitude, for the first few weeks, everyone is really passionate about the story. Then, as is human tendency, people shift their attentions away. For Arise and BET, it was important the conversation continue, and also expand.”

Stolen Innocence was taped in Atlanta, Georgia---a deliberate decision by producers to help bridge the issue to a national audience. Atlanta has been documented as one of the central hubs of the international human trafficking and sexual exploitation industries.

Ogunnaike added, “To know a cosmopolitan as beautiful as Atlanta can have this sad, deep-rooted underbelly is shocking and really disconcerting, and the reason we chose to shoot it in Atlanta.”

Hill, representing for an equally as concerned male population in the forum, believes that now is the time to connect the community to the broader international crisis in a way that resonates closer to home.  “While there are hashtag campaigns and news reports we understand that, if this were a political issue or pop culture issue, the media would be saturated. We want to take that responsibility of coverage and raise critical questions about the role the United States should play, the role neighboring countries should play, and the strategies on releasing the girls via military and diplomatic responses," Hill explains. “Our goal is to make people realize that this isn’t some foreign, distant, abstract idea. This is something that is happening everywhere and can happen to our children and our daughters, and in fact has.”

The panelists and key town hall participants offer knowledgeable perspectives and opinions from various sides of the cultural bridge.  They include: actresses Nicole Ari Parker and Tasha Smith, journalist Omoyele Sowore, attorney Only Nwaohuocha, Dr. Bernice King, Emelia Orubele (President and CEO of the American Nigerian Int. Chamber of Commerce), Temeka Weatherly (Director at Wellspring Living), Leah Albright-Byrd (Survivor and Founder of Bridget’s Dream), and musician India.Arie.  Arise TV’s Charles Aniagolu will provide sentiments and perspective from Nigeria, as he corresponds from Abuja, the nations capitol.

Ogunnaike stressed the importance of having the opportunity to bring people together from different  cultures for this conversation: “It is paramount we heard from Nigerians on the ground as well as here in the States and important we are able to hear from three Nigerian panelists.  I was in Nigeria two weeks ago at a women's empowerment conference and, between panels, that is all anyone was speaking about. It is nice to see that Nigerian citizens and the international community are becoming equally as committed.”

STOLEN INNOCENCE: YOUR DAUGHTERS ARE OUR DAUGHTERS premieres Friday, May 23 at 7PM ET/PT on BET and Saturday, May 24 at 10 PM ET/ 7 PM PT on CENTRIC. You can join the conversation on Twitter by using the hashtag #OurDaughters.

Ugi Ugwuomo is a music and culture writer, born in Nigeria, and based in Brooklyn, NY.  You can follow him on Twitter @rLfNowhere.