From the Iowa-Nebraska border in the middle of the Bob Kerrey Pedestrian Bridge, Barry Jurgensen took his first step Friday on his second 500-mile journey in two years to raise awareness to fight human trafficking.
Jurgensen, an Arlington High School history teacher and Dana College graduate, is walking from Omaha to Scottsbluff, stopping in cities along the way to meet people and spread his message with Walk Forever Free 2017.
“My message is the only way to fight human trafficking is a network of communities working together to prevent it and stop human trafficking from existing,” said Jurgensen, who serves on the education committee for the Nebraska Human Trafficking Task Force.
“It’s been around for hundreds of years; we just keep renaming it. I think it’s time for everyone to realize slavery is slavery, and we need to do something to stop it.”
In 2016, Jurgensen walked from Nebraska City to Chicago and raised more than $27,000 for Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives, a nonprofit organization dedicated to fighting human trafficking through education initiatives in schools and communities.
For this year’s campaign, Jurgensen has partnered with several Nebraska organizations: The Set Me Free Project, I Have A Name, the Coalition on Human Trafficking and the Central Nebraska Human Trafficking and Immigration Outreach.
Jurgensen’s decision to focus on Nebraska comes after a report released earlier this year by the Human Trafficking Initiative, which shows that the commercial sex trade reaches all parts of the state.
The study, conducted through the Heider College of Business at Creighton University, looked at one website, Backpage.com, which primarily features ads for “escorts.”
Every month in Nebraska, 900 individuals are sold for sex, often multiple times, according to the report.
Many of the cities Jurgensen has chosen to walk through were prevalent in the study.
Jurgensen will present with the Central Nebraska Human Trafficking and Immigration Outreach during a stop in Lexington. The event will be at 6 p.m. June 16 at the Parkview Baptist Church. He’ll also speak in other communities if requested.
Halee Pfingsten ran her finger down the article of the 1926 issue of the Blair Tribune.
“The most beneficial thing is to meet people,” Jurgensen said. “Then, they introduce you to other people.
“You get dialogue started about the issue and what they would do after I left.”
AHS English teacher Amber Sims helped Jurgensen organize both campaigns. The walk, she said, continues because the issue still exists.
“I know last year when he was in Chicago, we felt a great sense of accomplishment with everything we did and we have a lot to be proud of, but we both said we weren’t done,” Sims said. “I think today and the start of this walk is a testament to the fact that we’re not done and the work isn’t done and it won’t be done until slavery doesn’t exist anymore.”
Focusing on Nebraska was important.
“You can’t look elsewhere until you try and do something here,” Sims said.
Dana College graduate to trek through Nebraska to raise awareness
On Friday, Jurgensen was joined by 10 others, including his wife, Jen, and current and former students.
Grace Volk, a senior at AHS this fall, shares Jurgensen’s passion to fight human trafficking.
“I don’t think a lot of people know it is even here, especially in Omaha, Lincoln and all those places along major highways,” she said. “I don’t think people know what a big problem it is. They think it is just overseas or in developing countries.
“I think it’s really nice to show people that it’s a problem here so we can help stop it.”
Ross Miller, a University of Nebraska-Lincoln student and 2015 AHS graduate, walked with Jurgensen in 2016 and returned to walk with him through Omaha.
“He’s been a great influence on my life,” Miller said. “What he does is awesome to spread awareness for human trafficking, and I just want to be a part of that.”
Those wanting to walk with Jurgensen should contact him through the “Walk Forever Free” Facebook page.