TV Show Publicizes Missing Persons Of Color

While African Americans constitute only 13 percent of the population, they account for more than 40 percent of missing persons. Find Our Missing on black cable network TV One wants to be the catalyst for tips that might solve a disappearance.

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A television program launched last month comes with the hope of starting a national conversation. It's from TV One, a cable channel that targets black viewers, and it's called "Find Our Missing." The show aims to publicize missing people of color. It's the results of a partnership with a nonprofit that has the same mission. They're doing this because they believe missing people of color actually disappear twice - the second time is in the lack of media coverage of their cases. Here's NPR's Karen Grigsby Bates.

KAREN GRIGSBY BATES, BYLINE: The format sounds familiar.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FIND OUR MISSING")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: On the night of July 5, 2007, neighbors in 34-year-old Monica Bowie's upscale Atlanta apartment complex hear a woman scream.

(SOUNDBITE OF SCREAMING)

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: Seconds later, a reddish Mercury speeds away.

BATES: "Find Our Missing" may remind you a lot of its crime mystery predecessor, "America's Most Wanted."

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FIND OUR MISSING")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #1: She's taken and never seen again.

BATES: Monica Bowie is black, and statistically that's not so surprising. African-Americans are only 13 percent of the country's population. But according to the National Crime Information Center, they're about 40 percent of persons considered missing or disappeared. Despite that, media coverage for missing persons of color often is lacking. Derrica Wilson wanted to change that. She's a retired Virginia police officer. She remembers the reaction she got from black and brown families who were frustrated that they couldn't get more media coverage for their missing loved ones.

DERRICA WILSON: It's always the same. You know, when we're talking to the minority community, they're like, well, you know, I don't see the person on the news. I mean, when I turn my news on, it's, you know, Kaylee Anthony or Laci Petersen or Natalee Holloway.

BATES: Those cases of a winsome Florida two-year-old, a pregnant woman who vanished from her California home on Christmas Eve, and a blonde high school graduate who disappears on a trip to Aruba, kept TV viewers mesmerized for months - or in Holloway's case, years.

(SOUNDBITE OF NEWS BROADCAST)

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: After years of empty leads and searches, missing Alabama teenager Natalee Holloway has officially been declared dead.

BATES: Good to have publicity for those cases, Derrica Wilson thought, but many people don't know about missing black folks.

WILSON: I didn't know that, you know, Unique Harris was missing or Shondelle McCloud was missing.

BATES: Wilson eventually left police work and paired with her sister-in-law Natalie Wilson to create the Black and Missing Foundation, a clearinghouse and support group for families of color who have missing loved ones. This year they partnered with TV One to create "Find Our Missing," an hour-long weekly program that focuses on missing people of color. Craig Henry, the network's director of programming and production, says it was important for the show to erase stereotypes.

CRAIG HENRY: We're not accustomed to seeing us very often as victims of crimes. We see us portrayed very often as the perpetuators of crime. And I think it desensitizes us to a certain extent. It's kind of hard to be outraged with some of the things that you hear about that's constantly on the radio and TV.

BATES: Henry says missing black people vary.

HENRY: You know, we're often portrayed in a very unidimensional way. And we wanted to show that people of all different types of economic levels, different education levels, people in the Northeast, in the Southwest, they're everywhere. And we wanted to really do a good job of representing a diversity of cases in the program.

BATES: The show's host is S. Epatha Merkerson. You'll remember her as Lieutenant Anita Van Buren from the "Law & Order" series. She introduces each case, like this one centering on Chicago girls Diamond and Tionda Bradley.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "FIND OUR MISSING")

S. EPATHA MERKERSON: Two little sisters disappear from their apartment on a bright summer day at the same time. How do two innocent young girls vanish just like that, and why a decade later are these sisters still missing?

BATES: Those children are joined by a teen in upstate New York, a federal bureaucrat in Washington, D.C., and an Oakland toddler. Black and Missing's Derrica Wilson says the series doesn't promise to solve every disappearance, but she believes the show's recreated scenarios may jog someone's memory.

WILSON: You're like, oh wow, I do remember a blue car with Virginia tags. You know, we just need people to go back to that day, because somebody knows something. And we just need them to speak up.

BATES: People are beginning to respond.

WILSON: They're calling in tips. They're providing information, which is providing these families with the hope that they need and the hope that they deserve.

(SOUNDBITE OF SHOW, "FIND OUR MISSING")

UNIDENTIFIED MAN #2: It's a hurting feeling. It's a hurting feeling.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN #2: I would give any day up for that, to see them again.

BATES: That's Diamond and Tionda Bradley's family. The hope is that before the show's first season wraps in March, they or someone else will have found their loved ones, or at least know what happened to them. Karen Grigsby Bates, NPR News, Washington.

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