The inaugural Gillen-Massey Award: TRAPPED: Lessons from the Trenches was presented to Dr. Roza Pati, Founding Director of the John J. Brunetti Human Trafficking Academy, on January 11, 2022, during National Human Trafficking Prevention Month, by the community organization A Voice in the Wilderness Empowerment Center, in Ft. Myers, Florida. Ramona D. Miller, Founder and Visionary of the Empowerment Center, commended Dr. Pati’s vision, leadership, tireless work, and global contribution against human trafficking as an inspiration to all those involved in anti-trafficking work.
Receiving the award, Dr. Roza Pati said: “It is an exceptional honor for me to receive the inaugural Gillen-Massey Award. Michele Gillen was a larger than life personality, a formidable journalist who put her sharp wisdom and unbound passion into exploring a hidden problem in our own backyard at a time when no one else did. I deeply treasure having partnered with her since the early 2000s. Kyla Massey was everyone’s daughter, sister, friend exploited in an industry that commodifies human beings – a ruthless and pervasive phenomenon that should shock the conscience of everyone. She is an angel who we can never forget. This award means the world to me: for the namesake it carries and for the community organization that has established and bestowed it upon me. Ms. Miller and the organization she leads reach us from the trenches, talking truth to power, and holding us all to task. They are a Godsend in our great State of Florida. I am very grateful.”
Michele Gillen was a celebrated investigative news journalist and South Florida television news anchor whose notable career won her 39 National Academy of Television Arts and Science (NATAS) Regional Emmy awards, the Columbia DuPont Silver Baton, the Edward R. Murrow Award for Investigative Reporting and three Green Eyeshade Awards. She has been honored by the Foundation of American Women in Radio and Television, including being chosen as the television journalist whose investigations most benefited and helped change the lives of American women. Ms. Gillen had traveled the world to expose and bring unique perspective to critical stories and newsmakers of our time. Her work has been featured on The Oprah Winfrey Show, The O’Reilly Factor on Fox, and The Huffington Post. She was well-known for her investigation “Invisible Chains” – an expose into human trafficking and modern day slavery in America and across the globe. In cooperation with St. Thomas University and Dr. Roza Pati, a first of its kind international conference in South Florida to fight human trafficking was held at St. Thomas University College of Law in 2004. This partnership continued for many years. Ms. Gillen produced the award-winning short documentary, Trapped: Lessons from the Trenches, which featured Kyla Massey’s story. It received a local Emmy in 2017 in the category of Societal Concerns – News. The film exposed the raw but intimate face of the hidden world of human trafficking including its nexus with mental illness, drug addiction, foster care, and suicide. Trapped also illuminated a path towards hope and featured the John J. Brunetti Human Trafficking Academy. Ms. Gillen passed away in June 2021 and continues to be remembered for her prolific investigative journalism, passion for the truth, and as a champion of the vulnerable and exploited.
Kyla Massey was a survivor of human trafficking in Florida who used her experiences and voice to help other victims. She bravely and selflessly shared her raw story with the world. Ms. Massey once said that even if things did not change for her, she wanted to use her voice to help others above all else. She was a mother of two daughters whom she loved greatly. She passed away in July 2020 at the age of 30, but her voice, story, and legacy continue to educate and inspire others.
Ramona D. Miller who worked closely with both Michele Gillen and Kyla Massey on the film Trapped remarked, “Kyla wanted to be heard to help other victims, Michele took Kyla’s voice and amplified it, and Dr. Roza Pati gave us an audience, support, and hope, while rekindling our passion to keep going.”
On multiple occasions, Ms. Gillen, Ms. Massey, and Ms. Miller presented to participants of the John J. Brunetti Human Trafficking Academy and shared survivors’ stories to bring a better understanding of the societal problem of human trafficking. “The Academy events at St. Thomas University were instrumental to give Kyla the hope and resolve to keep speaking on behalf of survivors. After one such event where Kyla received a standing ovation, I remember her turning to me and saying, ‘My raggedy little life really meant something.’” said Ms. Miller. “Kyla’s life touched more than she could ever imagine. Michele and Dr. Pati recognized that and gave Kyla the platforms to share her story.”
The award was presented to Dr. Pati in the presence of participants at the Integration Challenges: All Hands on Deck to End Human Trafficking in Southwest Florida event at the Riverside Community Center. A Voice in the Wilderness Empowerment Center will annually receive nominations of deserving journalists, survivors, and advocates combatting human trafficking throughout the world for the Gillen-Massey Award in honor and remembrance of Michele and Kyla’s legacy.
To learn more about Michele Gillen and Kyla Massey, watch TRAPPED below.