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Service & Impact
fall 2021

The Rescuer

Leslie King-Friday Is Pulling People Out of the Darkness That Almost Swallowed Her
Written by: Ann Byle

Leslie King-Friday is a tough woman with a tender heart. She’s experienced the worst the streets (and life) can offer, and is now offering help to those who are right where she was for 20 years. As a formerly prostituted woman, King-Friday knows the language, the trauma, and what trafficked people need to help find their way out.


That’s what takes her back to the scene of some of her darkest days on the streets, offering a ray of hope to others caught as she was. Though she knows the potential danger from those who don’t want her messing with their profiteering from others’ pain, she goes there “without a second thought.”


“Somebody tried to threaten me once but it didn’t work out so good for them,” she says matter-of-factly. “I’m not afraid at all.”


King-Friday’s life was hard from her earliest years, watching her alcoholic father beat her mother several times a week. She took care of her younger siblings as her mother worked multiple jobs. The rapes began at age eight, by a cousin she had thought was a true friend to a lonely child escaping the trauma of her home by playing with dolls in the attic.


She started to run as a teenager—away from home, school and juvenile detention. She roamed the night streets trying to escape the darkness of her life, but instead of finding light she found an even deeper darkness. The boyfriend she thought loved her—he bought her meals and clothes, took her to parties and called her beautiful—instead sold her.


During 20 years being prostituted, King-Friday became addicted to alcohol and crack cocaine. She was beaten by the pimp and the johns. She was held captive, thrown out of cars, treated poorly by health care workers and law enforcement, turned other women out into the streets, and did whatever it took to stay alive one more day.

A new beginning
Desperate as her experience was, it is all too common. The U.S. Department of State estimates that as many as 17,500 people are trafficked into the United States each year, including sex workers and forced labor workers.


Finally, King-Friday had enough. On July 4, 2000, she drank all the alcohol she had, took all the pills and all the crack she could find, and waited to fall asleep forever. As she lay there dying, she remembered her four sons, two raised by her mother and two adopted together. The babies she loved and wanted to see again.


“God, if you are there, if there is a God in heaven, help me,” she cried out.


King-Friday sat up, threw up everything she had ingested. She called her mother and started her long journey to freedom.


The way wasn’t easy. She hasn’t had a drink or used drugs since that day in July 2000, but the temptation was strong. She struggled to find work with a police record a mile long, she struggled to rebuild relationships with her sons, and she struggled to overcome the shame and guilt that threatened to overwhelm her.


But now, more than two decades later, King-Friday is helping others who struggle as she did. Sacred Beginnings, her nonprofit, is the first survivor-led, peer-mentored program in Michigan for trafficked and exploited women. It is so named “because July 4, 2000, was a sacred beginning for me,” she says. “I heard from God in a way that nobody could understand that day.”


King-Friday went through a detox program, then lived and later worked at a transitional home for trafficked women run by nuns. Her first job after finding freedom was caring for elderly people in Grand Rapids, Michigan, her hometown and the place she was prostituted. She began mentoring women and girls who were being trafficked or who wanted out of the life. She also married a man she’d known for years.


A home base
Her vision for helping others escape from the darkness has grown from mentoring to offering her home as a safe haven, to creating two transitional homes through her nonprofit, to doing outreach several nights a week in Grand Rapids and other cities.


She meets women on the streets and offers a Blessed Bag containing her business card, hygiene products, snacks, socks and other small gifts. She offers to pray with each woman she encounters. Sometimes they agree, sometimes not. Sometimes she hears from them, sometimes not.


She takes every phone call from a trafficked individual whether she is ready to take the next step or just needs to talk. “Everyone has their own journey to freedom,” says King-Friday. “They have to be ready. Sometimes it takes years for a person to be ready, but I’m always there for them.”


She never dreams small. Her newest venture is what she calls Home Base, a center for anyone who has been trafficked, exploited or prostituted that was due to open in summer 2021. Its name is based on what she has told women for years.


“When I’m educating women and girls in the transition homes, I tell them that when they find themselves in a tight space and don’t know what to do, make it to me,” she explains. “I tell them to run and slide into home base, which is my front door.”


Centrally located in downtown Grand Rapids, Home Base plans to offer all the services women (and men) need to live a life of freedom after exploitation. There will be peer support groups, social workers to help access services, a doctor and nurse on certain days, a clothing closet.


Education-based groups will help individuals work toward a GED, and others will assist in getting into treatment programs, counseling for trauma, job training, and housing. AA and NA meetings will be held at the center. There will also be survivor-led training to educate the public—particularly law enforcement, social workers, healthcare workers—on trafficking and exploitation and the trauma it causes.


A national warning
Home Base will be “an inviting place for people to be able to thrive, breathe, learn how to trust,” says King-Friday. “They can come and be safe. But it’s not a place to sleep or just hang out. Each person must be working on him or herself.”


Along with leading a nonprofit, mentoring women and girls, and getting Home Base started, King-Friday has told her story in a memoir, When Angels Fight: My Story of Escaping Sex Trafficking and Leading a Revolt Against the Darkness, which is due to be published early next year by Kregel Publications.


In addition, she travels across the country educating communities on trafficking, advocating for trafficked individuals, attending protests and speaking up for justice.
“No one is immune, no one is safe, especially children and teenagers, from traffickers,” she says. “Traffickers prey on someone’s vulnerabilities and so many are vulnerable no matter what neighborhood they live in or how much money they have.”


MY WAYMAKERS: LESLIE KING-FRIDAY
Leslie King-Friday has been inspired by two women, one long dead and one very much alive. The first is Harriet Tubman, who was born into slavery, escaped and returned to the South to help more than 700 enslaved people escape into freedom.


“After all she went through, Harriet Tubman still went back and got the others. She kept going back unafraid,” she says. “I love her for that. And she heard from God in a way nobody else did.”


Her second waymaker is her mom, Sally King, now in her 70s and living in Arizona. “She’s a waymaker because I’ve watched my mom work several jobs and still take care of her kids. Even when my father beat her, she persevered through times when an average woman would have broken. She’s a strong Black woman… She loved me unconditionally yet she still challenged me. Now she’s my biggest cheerleader and the wind beneath my wings.”


For more information about Leslie King-Friday, Sacred Beginnings and Home Base, visit www.sbtp.org.


Ann Byle is a writer for national and local magazines, as well as author or co-author of a number of books—including Leslie King-Friday’s forthcoming memoir. She lives in West Michigan.