Meet Daily Point of Light Award honoree Natalie Wilson, who was a 2021 L’Oréal Paris Women of Worth Awardee. Each year L’Oréal Paris and Points of Light recognize and celebrate Women of Worth who make a beautiful difference in their communities. Ten honorees each receive a $20,000 grant to support their most cherished cause, and an online vote determines one honoree who will receive an additional $25,000 grant. Nominations for 2022 are now open! If you know a woman who works to create lasting and significant change in her community, nominate her to be one of the 2022 Women of Worth.
As a public relations executive, Natalie Wilson knows how to generate interest around a cause. For nearly 15 years, the 52-year-old Washington, D.C. resident has been using her professional skills for good as she works to bring home missing people of color.
“A young lady named Tamika Huston went missing from my sister-in-law’s hometown,” says Natalie. “We read how her family really struggled to get media coverage, particularly national media coverage [around the case.] A year later, Natalie Holloway disappeared and her name dominated the news cycle. We weren’t sure missing persons were an issue in our community because we definitely didn’t see our persons on the news.”
Today, Natalie says 40% of all missing persons are of color, a number that has increased since her work began. Realizing there wasn’t time to wait for someone else to solve the problem, Natalie and her sister-in-law, Derrica, launched the Black & Missing Foundation, Inc (BAMFI). The organization’s mission is to bring awareness to missing persons of color, provide vital resources and tools to the families and friends of the missing, and educate the minority community on personal safety.
“Missing persons of color is an issue that affects us all as a nation and it takes all of us, law enforcement, the media and our community,” says Natalie. “[We all] have a responsibility to have those tough conversations within our households about this issue because we all can make a difference, be mindful and help another family find their missing loved one. When you see a flyer, don’t disregard it because it’s not your loved one and it’s not top of mind because you’re not personally affected, do know this is someone’s son, daughter, grandfather or father that is missing, and we need to rally around these families to help them throughout the most traumatic moment of their lives.”
The help she is providing in these desperate situations has impacted thousands of families across the country, BAMFI bringing closure to close to 400 cases thus far, according to Natalie.
“There was a mother searching for her daughter and she had nowhere to go. We were able to get her on a national program, ABC’s “The View”. Within 14 minutes of the segment airing, we received a tip that her daughter was found. That shows the magnitude of national media coverage. It was a huge win not only for the organization, but for the mother and the families we serve. By getting [her] that national media coverage, they were able to get their daughter home. That’s what we’re trying to provide to thousands of families, answers or closures as to what happened to their missing loved one.”
Through her service, Natalie, who also serves as chief operating officer for BAMFI, is embracing responsibility to confront the issue across often underprivileged populations, the media and law enforcement.
“7% of missing persons of color receive media coverage and we’re trying to change that number. Awareness is key. If our community isn’t aware then they’re not looking for the individual. When the case gets visibility and media, it adds pressure to law enforcement too. By serving as a publicist for these families who wouldn’t get media coverage at all, I’m using my experience and my expertise to help our missing become household names too. We don’t want race to be a barrier for people to getting equal media coverage or treatment under the law.”
Developing relationships with family and friends of missing individuals, Natalie has become a trusted advocate, says Ni’cola Mitchell, whose goddaughter, Jade Morris, was kidnapped and murdered in 2012. When Natalie stepped in to help the family, Jade’s mother had been blown off by the media and police, says Ni’cola.
“[Jade] was murdered but Natalie did make an impact, because they weren’t even looking for her. When she made it on the national news, we had search parties going on,” says Ni’cola. “I still believe if Natalie didn’t do her due diligence, they wouldn’t have found [Jade] because she wasn’t important to look for. The police and everybody blew the mom off. They oversexualize and criminalize our children all the time, but Natalie makes people, no matter what their circumstances, feel like they’re human. That’s a God-given right but everybody don’t give us that. No matter what their circumstances are, be human.”
Change is happening because of BAMFI, says Natalie, including an outpouring of work from around the community, traction from the media, and police examining and questioning how they can do a better job when it comes to missing persons of color cases. Meanwhile, Natalie’s persistence in raising awareness continues, using events like BAMFI’s Hope Without Boundaries 5K to honor missing individuals and provide funding for families of the missing, flyer distribution, financial support, victim recovery, and burial service assistance.
“The world needs [volunteers] now more than ever. There are so many people that need help or resources and you don’t even have to give in a big way. You can give of your time, financial donations, just sit and listen, whatever it is. It’s so important to help someone that may feel isolated or alone, to know that the world cares, someone cares, and understands what they’re going through.”
Do you want to make a difference in your community like Natalie Wilson? Find local volunteer opportunities.