When the Black and Missing Foundation, Inc (www.BAMFI.org) began in 2008, 30 percent of all persons missing were of color. Sadly, that number has grown -- seemingly to a new record setting incline. Last year, according to the FBI, there were more than 242,000 persons of color reported missing -- that is 40 percent of all persons reported missing -- the key word reported. God only knows about the individuals who were not reported.
While we continue to diligently rally for their safe return, we must acknowledge that all missing persons cases are not treated equally. Let's be very clear, there is a disparity in law enforcement assistance and media coverage. Many of our children are classified as runaways, therefore, they do not receive the Amber Alert or our men and women are stereotyped as being involved in some type of criminal enterprise. Where is the public outcry for America's vulnerable citizens who are being sold into sex trafficking? Some of this rational is due to lack of understanding, and, yes, racism. Regardless of the reason, it is unacceptable.
I remember the tear-stained faces of children and siblings, like, Brandi Martin and Derrick Butler, who are desperately searching for a tiny morsel of information that could lead to the whereabouts of their loved one. Or, the anguish on faces of parents and grandparents like Marcia Williams, Michael Muse and Lolita Smith who would like assistance from the media, law enforcement or the very community that many hold the answers.
Fifteen years ago this Valentine's Day, 9-year-old Asha Degree disappeared from her Shelby, North Carolina home. We are encouraged that the Charlotte Division of the FBI is offering a reward up to $25,000 for any information leading to the arrest and conviction of the person or people responsible for her disappearance. They are re-examining the case, re-interviewing witnesses and following new leads to determine what happened to Asha.
Families simply want to know what happened to their missing loved ones. We hope that law enforcement agencies around the country will follow The FBI's lead and reexamine many of their missing persons cases so that families can have the answers they are desperately searching for.
As we work diligently to bring our missing men, women and children home, we must remember that we, collectively -- media, law enforcement and the community -- play a pivotal role in finding them.
We cannot continue to look the other way while so many suffer in silence. We must educate and EMPOWER each other to take action against this unthinkable crime. We must continue the dialogue to address this issue.
We'll know black lives matter when ALL missing persons cases are treated equally.
This post is part of the "Black Future Month" series produced by The Huffington Post and Black Lives Matter for Black History Month. Each day in February, this series will look at one of 28 different cultural and political issues affecting Black lives, from education to criminal-justice reform. To follow the conversation on Twitter, view #BlackFutureMonth -- and to see all the posts as part of our Black History Month coverage, read here.