It costs only $490 to test each kit — a clinical reminder of a heinous act.
So when more than 100 African-American women stood together in east Detroit 18 months ago and pledged to raise the funding needed to test the last of 11,341 sexual assault kits that had been found abandoned and untested in 2009, they named their challenge after that cost: AA490. Lab workers recently found an additional 555 untested kits collected since 2009.
That's 11,896 kits, stories that were left without an ending, cases just now being solved or closed. And only 619 kits total remain to be tested, Wayne County Assistant Prosecutor Maria Miller said this week. We are so close. We can do this.
The AA490 coalition comprising leaders of nonprofits, sororities, corporations and community groups has raised a whopping $451,000, but its leaders say as they near the end of the campaign, that they need one final push to raise about $206,000 to meet their goal before the end of April, which is Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
That's nine days, folks. And this community should join their final push.
The women have worked tirelessly: hosting a face-off between alumni of the University of Michigan and Michigan State University at the annual football classic, mounting a fund-raising competition between African-American Greek sororities, arranging a special reach-out to African-American men's groups, getting superstar Erykah Badu to donate money from her recent Detroit concert and dozens of little projects from bake sales to convincing people to donate birthday money.
“I talk to survivors whose kits have been among those processed, and this campaign has been one of the most impactful things in my life,” said Kim Trent, president of the Enough SAID AA490 Challenge. “I ran into a survivor in a restaurant whose kit had not been processed, and she said she felt like she had her life back. That's just something I still can’t talk about without getting tears in my eyes. … People have to remember that these kits are attached to human beings whose lives were impacted in a negative way. We’re helping them reclaim their power. That, for me, has been most satisfying.”
Now, here's what we can do: AA490 is celebrating International Denim Day on Wednesday by asking every business in metro Detroit to allow — or encourage — its employees to wear denim for a $5 donation each to AA490.
They’ve already got some takers.
The nearly 500 employees at the UAW Solidarity House and the UAW GM Center for Human Resources are in at $5 per pledge.
Fifth Third Bank will donate proceeds from its bi-weekly dress-down day today toward next week's total.
And the City of Detroit upped the ante, asking city workers to wear denim next Wednesday in exchange for a $10 donation to AA490. The group also has scheduled two other fund-raisers — a karaoke celebration Saturday of the music of Prince, one year after his death, and a Jeans for Justice fashion show next Wednesday.
"The UAW Women's Department was planning an educational campaign for our members and International Union UAW employees to commemorate Sexual Assault Awareness Month," said Cindy Estrada, UAW Vice President and Director, UAW GM Department and UAW Women's Department. "When Kim reached out for our support ... I knew it would be a strong action that people could take to connect to the awareness campaign. We're emphasizing that sexual assault prevention is everyone's issue, and we all have the right to work and live in a safe and healthy environment."
C'mon... a donation to wear jeans? How easy is that? With tens of thousands of companies across metro Detroit, this could be the home run we wish for in the bottom of the ninth. A fashion show ticket? You can buy one even if you can't go.
When I think of young women violated in the worse way imaginable, then having to endure a rape exam, only to have the evidence sit in a warehouse with no one searching for their assailants, it makes me sick.
That we still are working to process the kits and get the monsters off the streets makes me mad.
That moment 18 months ago when the women stood on a crisp fall day and said "Enough!" was powerful enough to motivate major giving. Now they're asking the most generous community in the country to dig a little deeper because they want a win.
"We’re very proud of the work we’ve done to raise awareness about rape culture and to show the world the power of black women when we work together,” Trent said. "We want to encourage corporations to embrace Denim Day and allow their employees to wear denim. It would send a powerful message about those corporations’ commitment to ending rape culture and supporting Detroit in a meaningful way.
In addition to Denim Day and the other fund-raisers, AA490 also announced that lipstick maven Melissa Butler of thelipbar.com is donating $10 from the sale of every $15 tube of a lipstick she created just for the AA490 campaign called 100 Proof.
As the group completes its work giving back, it also is getting a gift: global affirmation of its efforts. Wayne County Prosecutor Kym Worthy and AA490 leaders will join Nobel Laureate Toni Morrison, feminist writer bell hooks and activist Angela Davis among honorees at this year’s Black Women’s Blueprint Words of Fire conference on April 29 at Atlanta’s historic Spelman College. The summit, to be held jointly with Spelman’s Women's Research and Resource Center, will honor black feminists who have worked tirelessly for justice.
“I was floored when I saw the conference packet and the caliber of black leaders who are being honored at Words of Fire,” Trent said. “And that we are among them? I think I really did underestimate how closely people were following our campaign on a national level. To be in the company of people that is just breathtaking.”
Worthy — whose solo effort to get the kits tested spawned a statewide effort led by Enough SAID, an independent collaboration comprising the Michigan Women’s Foundation, the Wayne County Prosecutor’s Office and the Detroit Crime Commission — expressed gratitude for the work of AA490 and Enough SAID.
"It is crucial that money, awareness and consciousness continue to be raised," Worthy said. "The journey to justice for our sexual assault survivors has made significant advances thanks to the dedication of the women and men who have taken up this cause."
The discovery of Detroit's untested kits garnered national attention, and as many as 400,000 untested kits were found in cities across the country including Las Vegas, Dallas and Toledo, officials with Enough SAID told the Free Press.
Thanks to fund-raising across the state over the past few years, Worthy was able to assign a special unit to the kits. Those investigations have resulted in 78 people being convicted, including some serial rapists. The unit is currently investigating 334 other suspects with more than a thousand more still in the queue.
As I stood in the street that day last fall, watching all those women lined up, standing up, banding together to help find justice for victims, I felt history being made. I saw everyday, extraordinary women get in formation. To say they changed the conversation would be an understatement.
That moment was Detroit, in all its past can-do spirit and in all its future we-will hope.
I hope that more women — and men — will step up to not just talk about the city’s issues, not just to demand fixes, to be part of the solution rather than just talk about the problem.
Detroit should be a sea of denim next Wednesday, with companies across the region collecting donations from jeans-wearing employees.
All it takes for a movement is to say, “I’m in.”
To sign your company up for the International Denim Day AA490 challenge, send an e-mail to 490Challenge@gmail.com.
- Purple Karaoke for the Kits, a celebration of Prince music one year after his death, will be held 8 p.m. to midnight Saturday at the Loft at 1420, 1420 Washington Blvd. in Detroit. Admission is $30. For tickets, visit https://www.crowdrise.com/AfricanAmerican490Challenge. It is being co-sponsored by Our Detroit Vodka and Detroit City Distillery.
- The “Jeans for Justice” Fashion Show will be held at 7 p.m. Wednesday at MotorCity Casino's Sound Board. Twelve local designers will present their creations, said planner Larmender Davis. “The goal is to celebrate International Denim Day, to serve as the culminating event for the AA490 campaign and to recognize the local agencies that will continue providing direct care to sexual assault survivors,” she said. Tickets — $25 for general seating and $49 for premium seating — are available at eventbrite.com.
• Melissa Butler, of thelipbar.com, created a shade of lipstick called 100 Proof; $10 from the sale of each $15 tube goes to AA490. Visit https://www.thelipbar.com/product/100-proof for details.