(Introduction to show begins)
TODD MATTHEWS (Missing Pieces Host): I’m Todd Matthews. This is Missing Pieces. Tonight we have Cortney Thomas; welcome, Cortney.
CORTNEY THOMAS (Guest): Hi Todd. How are you?
TODD: I’m doing really good. Where are you located?
CORTNEY: I’m located in New York.
TODD: In New York, okay, and I’m in sunny Tennessee. And Cortney is with ‘Saving Our Children.’ Can you tell us a little bit about your organization?
CORTNEY: ‘Saving Our Children’ is actually a group of women who have committed themselves to getting the word out about missing African-American children.
TODD: And you picked specifically African-American because there is quite a large number.
CORTNEY: We picked African-American children because they don’t have the same representation as non-black children do.
TODD: Uh huh.
CORTNEY: If you ever notice, you will see on milk cartons, if you look at the grocery stores, a lot of children of color are not getting that type of attention for various reasons and because Jan, (Janice Lowery), who is the founder of ‘Saving Our Children,’ she had a niece who was missing and no one gave her any type of media coverage or no one really seemed to put an emphasis on locating her, and it really just pulled at her heartstrings, and this is when she said, “I’m going to start doing this.”
TODD: Uh huh.
CORTNEY: And then we started reading the statistics, it was just staggering the number of children that are missing in general. I mean every 40 seconds a child goes missing. That’s every 40 seconds, so that’s pretty much 2,100 children a day…
CORTNEY: …and of that number, 33% are African-American.
TODD: That’s a third.
CORTNEY: Right, so if you think about it, you never see that, and then to know that this amount of children are missing, it just boggles the mind. So there are roughly over 800,000 children missing a year.
TODD: Uh huh.
CORTNEY: And they say that approximately 500,000 don’t even get reported. So it’s something that just really touched Jan’s heart and it started from her MySpace page. She was posting the children who were missing and she began to get friends, and began to ask people to re-post the pictures and people would come by, and she has a slideshow, and the slideshow gives all the pertinent information about each child that is missing. And we don’t know if any children have been found because of the slideshow, but our whole goal is just to get people to take notice and to realize and to start looking. And now we have our website which is www.savingourchildren.bravehost.com and people are visiting the site. We’re starting to get shows like Missing Pieces and other radio stations are starting to take notice, which is what our goal is, to at least just want people to be aware and to know that there are children that are missing and we need to help find them; and also to bring awareness for how to prevent your child from going missing, or what to do if your child is missing.
TODD: And that’s the most important. To prevent, is the best route, absolutely. Well I’m glad to see an effort on the minority, and it goes both ways. Now you will see, even in the white population, there, unless you’re blond-haired and blue-eyed, you also don’t get as much coverage. You know we’ve found that, and females tend to get more coverage than the males; I’m not really sure why, but it happens.
CORTNEY: Yes, that’s true.
TODD: And everybody feels frustrated.
CORTNEY: Yes, it’s based on socio-economic factors, I mean there are so many variables that play a role in this, so if each person could take some time and just try to get the word out, we may be able to bring one child home. And if we bring one child home, then we feel like we’ve accomplished a lot.
TODD: Now, it’s interesting to see that you actually stem from a MySpace page; you know that’s where I think we found you originally. I think we hooked up with you from the MySpace and…
CORTNEY: Yes, you did.
TODD: …it’s where we were into, and we’ve actually been in that and it’s a huge community that’s growing out there in MySpace, of family members, different organizations, have you noticed how much it’s grown? Could you tell us a little bit about what you’ve recognized?
CORTNEY: Yes. When we started out on MySpace, we had a very small group. And, you know, we had a couple of people who would come in but a lot of people had started putting Jan on their top friends…
TODD: Uh huh.
CORTNEY: …and so it kind of took on a life of its own and people would…you know if you go to someone, you can see the little, her icon is a butterfly…
TODD: Uh huh.
CORTNEY: …and you see the butterfly flapping and you click on her page, which is www.myspace.com/hfmbc, which is ‘help find missing black children…
TODD: Uh huh.
CORTNEY: …and people just started clicking and adding, and each person was telling someone about it and then we starting getting blogs about it. So we’ve gone from 50, at one time when we thought was a lot, she has over 1,000 friends now. And these are people who just come in and they encourage her, because looking for missing children and having to go on the sites to find these children and read details about them, it just…I can’t do it. But Jan has a heart for it so she sits there and she goes and finds the pictures and she finds out…because when you put information out, you want to make sure that the information is accurate. So she has to go to different locations and different sites to get the information and to put it on the site. I mean it’s very time-consuming and it’s something that she believes in so she just does it, and the response has been overwhelming. People are asking us, “Can we interview you? What can I do to be a part of it? How can I help?” People are re-posting the children on their bulletins. So if you have 300 friends, and your 300 friends have 300 friends and each person is re-posting the bulletin, you have no idea the volume of people that are taking notice of these children now.
TODD: Huge network.
CORTNEY: So they didn’t have a voice, now they do.
TODD: It’s a huge network that’s been created because of MySpace. Isn’t this an interesting use of MySpace?
CORTNEY: It really is.
TODD: So many people are…it’s blocked at my workplace. You know I also have a day job that I have to go to and MySpace is blocked because of what it’s usually used for is networking socially, and it’s one of the sites that’s blocked and it’s because it was considered a non-essential function, but now it’s being networked for a reason. And I see more and more organization like yours that are rooted in places like MySpace and some of the other online communities; it’s making the best use of some of these online communities.
CORTNEY: And it’s funny because when I initially started with my MySpace page, I had an argument with a friend who had his, and I was like, “Oh you’re just doing that,” but when I got my page and I said, “Guess what I’m doing?” He said, “Oh, now you’re in MySpace,” and I started laughing that mine was positive, and his was positive also but because you just hear so many negative things about it, you automatically think, “Oh, you’re using it for this and you’re using it for that.” But then when I actually went on and I saw how many people were doing so many positive things, I said, “You know what, it’s like anything, you can use it for good or you can use it for bad.” It’s the person and what your goals are, and I just commend Jan for putting this out there and allowing other people to get involved and to want to help, and people are just really reaching out and wanting to get involved and they’re just passing the information along. It’s just overwhelming. We can’t even begin to imagine how many people have reached out and said, “We appreciate what you are doing. We’re happy for what you’ve done,” and it’s something that you never thought about.
TODD: And you have to recognize it as a tool.
CORTNEY: Some children have been missing for years.
TODD: Oh yeah, it’s just an incredible tool and I think a lot of people see MySpace and the Internet in general as you would categorize a gun; a gun is evil, but the gun is not evil, it’s the person using the gun, so it’s what you do with it…
TODD: …that is important.
TODD: How did you get involved in this?
CORTNEY: Jan gave me a friend request…
TODD: Uh huh.
CORTNEY: …and I accepted it, and periodically I would just go to her page and just leave something encouraging because it really pulled at my heart what she was doing, and I would just leave her some words of encouragement. And she said that every time that I left her a comment, it was at a time that she felt that she just needed to stop the page because she felt depressed…
CORTNEY: …and so she said, “I really would like for you to get involved.” I said, “Oh no, I can’t do that. You know that’s not for me.” And she said, “Well, just pray on it.” And I prayed on it and it really just took a life of its own and I didn’t want to do it, I said, “No, no,” and she said, “Well, I want you to go on the radio,” and I said, “No, no, no.” She said, “Just go,” and it’s the best thing I could say that I’ve done. I mean I just love being a part of it and our goal is to one day have offices and branches in various states, so when people are missing, they have a place where they can go.
CORTNEY: They will be able to help them through the process.
TODD: Now, I was originally going to interview Jan, herself, and we were going to do a weekend taping, and Kimberly…we’ve got a new calendar, we’re using a lot of these online tools, and we’re using the Google calendar to try to keep up with who we are interviewing and when and how. For some reason I had her marked for Sunday, and she was originally thinking Saturday, so sort of crossed in the night with Saturday but we had a backup plan with you, and you’re not a bad backup at all, you’re really…you know your stuff I think, so it worked out for the good I think.
CORTNEY: Thank you, Todd. That’s so sweet.
CORTNEY: Thank you so much.
TODD: Yeah, you’re doing a really good job.
CORTNEY: When you love the kids, you just feel it. And it’s so funny because I was telling my girlfriend, there are so many times I say, “Okay, I’m just going to leave this,” because it really becomes your life.
TODD: Oh yeah.
CORTNEY: “Oh no you’re not,” she said, “because you just love those children.” And I’m like, “No, I’ve had enough. I’m just not going to do it.” So she says, “So what did you do today?” “Oh, I was looking for some children. I did this and I did that.” But you just really become committed.
TODD: Now what about the National Center, have you had an opportunity to work with those guys? The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children?
CORTNEY: Jan goes to their site…
TODD: Uh huh.
CORTNEY: …and she looks for the children from their site, but we don’t have…they don’t send us links or anything right now, and because we are not a non-profit or we are not an organization, I think there may be some variables there as to why they don’t send us information directly.
TODD: Well I always say that you can’t get too many eyes out there looking, but there are so many now and that’s a good thing; they’re like mushrooms popping up and some organizations come on real strong and then they fade away.
TODD: We’ve noticed that. I’ve worked with a lot of organizations; Doe Network, Project EDAN, where we do the forensic reconstructions and age progressions for kids. There are a lot of different organizations that I’m involved in, but before you become involved in them, you say, “Are they going to have staying power? Are they going to stick around? Or is this just a fancy that will pass when the people involved grow tired of it?”
CORTNEY: And I think that they probably have a lot of things that they have to put in place to actually send you the link for the children, and by the time they get all that in place, like you said, the organization has gone.
TODD: Oh yeah, and it gets tiring. I’ve appeared on national TV before where people will see it and then there’s this huge burst of people that are, “I want to do this too. I want to do this too,” and when they realize, “Oh, wow, that’s a lot of work,” they’re done with it.
TODD: It a lot more than what people realized, it’s probably more than what you realized.
CORTNEY: Yes, it is. And it’s funny because we’ve had people who were really gung-ho and told Jan that they wanted to get involved and I told Jan, “Don’t give them too many responsibilities until we see if they have staying power.” And she’s much sweeter than I am because she’s from the Mid-west.
CORTNEY: And she was like, “Oh no, they really want to. Trust me.” You know I’m from New York so we have a different little kind of hard edge to us, and I said, “Well, let’s just wait and see,” and as we watch and see, eventually they just fade away.
TODD: Well, I have to realize, I know that they don’t know what they’re asking for.
TODD: In their mind, if it was what they thought it was, they probably would stick around, but when they realize, it’s just overwhelming and we’re just barely…the hardest day that we feel like we have really done a lot of work in this field, when you look at the whole thing, you think, “Wow, it’s like putting a scratch on the Titanic.” You didn’t really get a lot done even though you did do a lot. As an individual you did a lot; as an organization you did a lot, but when you look at the whole cause, it’s going to take a lot of work and it’s going to take a lot of people.
CORTNEY: Yes, and then also it’s not a glorious job, it’s not a pretty job. A lot of what we do is behind the scenes, so you don’t get to be out in the front, you don’t get the press, you don’t go on the shows and sit down and talk. And sometimes people think, “Oh, I’ll do this and I’ll do that,” and we say, “Well, no, we need you to search for the children,” or “We need you to put together a letter for something,” but that’s not what they want to do.
TODD: No, it’s not the same. Even when there is a lot of media involved and I’ve been fortunate to be able to do a lot of media, even so, when you do that and people think, “Wow, you’ve worked in a lot of different media outlets,” but if they realized how much effort went in behind just those things that you do see, there are things that you don’t see, that nobody even knew that you had done. But you still do it because you know that it’s the right thing to do, but it’s a lot more work than what people realize. A lot more work.
CORTNEY: A lot more. And it starts a long time before you get on a radio show or before you go on television, and that’s what people don’t realize. So we’ve been very blessed to have people who are very committed and now we are growing; initially it was just 3 of us, it was Mildred, Jan and myself, and now we’ve grown to 15 people so we’re very happy about it and a lot of people are asking us if they can put the children in the newspaper. So one newspaper puts a different child in every week, and another newspaper said that they would run a child once a month. So it’s taking over and people are really starting to learn about us, and people are starting to become concerned about missing children. It’s not that we didn’t know that the children were missing, I think that it’s something that if you don’t talk about it, it doesn’t exist.
TODD: Well it’s not really something that you want to know.
TODD: I mean, you really don’t want to know what’s happening, and a lot of times I’ll talk to a reporter, no matter which side of the interview you are on, if you’re being interviewed or doing the interviewing, when you bring up some of the numbers…over 100,000 missing people with the FBI NCIC alone, and over 6,000 unidentified, not including the cases that are not in the FBI NCIC, the reporters are like, “What?!” “There are how many?” I mean it’s like the population of cities.
TODD: Easily. And if that many people went missing all in one day, can you imagine?
CORTNEY: Right. But because of the fact that it’s not mentioned, you only here about certain cases like Jon Bonnet…
TODD: Uh huh.
CORTNEY: Or cases that are exceptions to the rules.
TODD: Uh huh.
CORTNEY: But just a normal child missing, you don’t hear about it unless there are some extenuating circumstances, and that’s what people are really starting to see now that there are a lot of children that are missing and we just aren’t aware of them. And unless it’s on your front door, it’s not something that you think about.
TODD: Now I do know that the national government has stepped up and they are organizing a national database for missing and unidentified persons, children and adults, and it’s called NamUs.gov (http://www.namus.gov/), and I’m actually on the advisory panel to the Department of Justice for that specific program, so I’ve had a wonderful time with that and it’s an incredible opportunity to get to express your needs and I hear their side of things versus our side of things as advocates. It’s incredible to be there when we’re exchanging these ideas; I can see their point of view of why something might not have been done before, and then they get to hear why something was important to people like us and it’s been so creative, just these short few times that we’ve been together, it’s been incredible. I think we’re going to see a change. I’m really betting my heart on it that it’s going to be something that’s going to be good; if everybody is at face value, if everybody is doing what the promise is, it’s going to be incredible. It is really going to be incredible. But it’s not enough. I mean it won’t work alone.
TODD: There will still need to be advocate groups. There is still going to be…people still have to see these things and we have to make sure that even though they’re here in this national repository, we still have so make sure that they’re still seen because obviously these cases, something is missing from them. If they remain missing, there is some bit of data that is not there.
CORTNEY: Exactly. And that’s what we need; people to get the word out, and for people to become concerned, to just take a look, just go by the page, look at the page, look at the children, look at the faces, it may be someone that you know. It may be a child that you just see that you met and you don’t know their circumstances, you just see him with his parents and you assume that it’s their biological child or a child that they have adopted, and it may be a missing child. So we just need to be alert, and we just need to be aware, and we also need to know how to protect our children.
TODD: It prompts a second look, you know, because it’s easy to think, “Oh, that can’t happen here.” I’m in small-town America, I’m in Livingston, Tennessee, and there are just things here you don’t see. You know you go on the streets and you don’t generally see a homeless person, you don’t generally see a prostitute, we just don’t see these things; this is like Mayberry, but when a crime does occur here, everybody stops to see what’s going on. And you begin to think that there can’t be anything like that that happens here, and of course that child belongs with that person but you do need to take the time to take a second look because you can become too trusting in a small town.
TODD: You really can. And you’re thinking, “Oh, I didn’t lock my car doors, I will be fine. Don’t worry. Don’t get out of bed. Don’t worry about it,” and you can get accustomed to it, but I’m afraid that we can’t be that way anymore.
CORTNEY: I was speaking with someone and we were talking about, how in the big cities, our children go and stand at these bus stops by themselves and they wait for the bus, and sometimes there are parents but sometimes there are not, and you have a little 7 or 8-year-old standing at a bus stop waiting by themselves. Well, if you’re a pedophile or if you want to kidnap a child, that’s the ideal place to go because you know that child is going to be there every morning, Monday through Friday at this time waiting for this bus.
TODD: They know where to fish. They know where to go for their prey.
CORTNEY: Exactly. And I was saying I know some parents have to work so it’s not like they have the luxury of being there, but there are usually some elders on the block wouldn’t mind just walking and standing at the bus stop with that child.
TODD: You know I’ve been there. What part of New York are you in?
CORTNEY: I’m in Queens.
TODD: Okay, well, I’ve been there. I’ve been to New York and I saw children on their own, and they were navigating, doing what they needed to do; I could have followed them and they could have gotten me where I needed to go better than I could have got there myself. I saw them do things that I was afraid to do; I wouldn’t have done it.
TODD: But they knew. They were very well trained at what to do but they’re still children and they’re easy to manipulate.
CORTNEY: They are, and you have children now who are developing so much faster because they have exposure to things that we were never exposed to at that age, so their minds are quicker and people know how to entice them.
TODD: Oh yeah.
CORTNEY: So while these parents think, “Oh my child would never do this,” but you don’t know that one thing that might just entice your child to want to go with them. So I implore parents, I know you don’t have the opportunity to take your child to school every day, but find somebody who maybe could do it for you for a small fee, or make sure your child travels in a group because if you’re in a group of people, the person is not as likely to pick them because they don’t want the hassle, they don’t want the aggravation.
TODD: Uh huh.
CORTNEY: Or we send our children into department stores, and if you ever notice in the malls, where there is a children’s specialty shop, there’s usually toy store nearby…
TODD: Uh huh.
CORTNEY: …because it’s the marketing. If a parent in going into a place that sells children’s clothes, right across the street is a ‘KB Toys’ or a ‘Toys “R” Us’, or ‘EB Games’ and sometimes your children will constantly pester you, “Mommy, can I go? Can I go? Can I go?” and you let them go.
TODD: Uh huh.
CORTNEY: Well, when you’re letting them go in, there may be someone who knows that there are going to be children in there who are unsupervised.
TODD: Uh huh.
CORTNEY: There are pedophiles in there. So you are exposing your children to danger that is not necessary, but we don’t think about that.
And then if a child is abducted or taken, by that point it’s too late, because now you’re saying, “I shouldn’t have, but we didn’t think about that,” so these are things that ‘Saving Our Children’ is trying to bring to the forefront to make parents be aware so that maybe your child will not go missing, which is what the goal is, to not have any missing children.
TODD: What’s one of your focus cases right now? Do you have any case that’s in the forefront at the moment? Or should be in the forefront? It’s hard to pick, I know that, it’s hard to pick.
CORTNEY: We have so many cases that are in the forefront right now that I couldn’t really pick one particular case.
TODD: Well we will have your website, this particular page for this show will remain in the archives on Missing Pieces so people can hear this broadcast at any time. It will be transcribed and we’ll have links to your website that we’ll keep updated. So this is the beginning; now on most talk show, this is the end, this is the final step of the communication, but with this one it’s the beginning. I don’t know if Jan realized it or not, we missed the boat on the first communication but that wasn’t the last stop; this is just the beginning. So we will remain in contact with you, and we’ll try to make sure that we are another portal for what you do. We do get quite a bit of traffic and hopefully we can refer you to people because we have a lot of people that ask for help a lot of times and it’s not really so much us that can help, but it’s you guys. I could say, “Well, maybe they can help you.” or “They offer a great service.” So hopefully we can form a partnership where we can work like that, and if you have cases that you feel like you have a family member and they really need the exposure and the opportunity to speak, we should be able to do that.
CORTNEY: Yes, if we get families who we know, that we’re able to get, we will definitely point them to you, Todd. And I really appreciate you taking the time out and supporting ‘Saving Our Children’ and helping to get our word out and to let people know that we are there and getting traffic to our site because, basically, we just want people to stop and to think and to be aware.
TODD: And you’re helping to make that happen. So, in the usual show we do the one on one with the individual case, but we like the opportunity to showcase a website like yours and people like you that are doing things, and I know when you send somebody to me, you’re pre-producing this for us and we know that it’s valid. You know we have to research some cases before we do a show, and this way, I know when you send somebody to me, they’re ready and need the help.
TODD: You give me a level of confidence when we do things. So it was really good to talk to you and I’m hoping that we can have you back if you have something you want to add or make a statement at some point in time, we’d love to have you back.
CORTNEY: Well, thank you, Todd, and we would love to come back. Thank you so much for having us.
TODD: It was great having you here. Well we’ll say goodnight to everybody and wish them all a very good week. Bye-bye everybody.
CORTNEY: We hope everyone’s children stay safe.
TODD: Thank you.
"Saving Our Children" is a dedicated organization that brings forth public awareness and assistance to cases involving missing and murdered African American children.
Having you seen these missing children?