When it comes to combating human trafficking, a crime that claims some 40 million victims worldwide each year, the options seem frustrating. At the local level, a pair of Christian music concert producers hope to strike a big blow this weekend with what they're calling the "largest Christian concert ever to be in Bakersfield."
Jill and Heath Kelsey, working as J and H Productions, have been very active in the local Christian music scene the last three years, producing a number of fundraising concerts for local churches and charitable groups. Taking a giant leap forward, the Kelseys are producing "Concert for the Youth," a two-day weekend festival with more than 20 notable Christian bands preceded by a VIP concert and auction Friday at the Fox Theater. Along with entertaining attendees, the events are meant to raise awareness and money for local charitable organizations dedicated to the cause.
After Friday's VIP fundraiser, the weekend concerts were originally slated to take place at the CSUB Amphitheater but heat concerns prompted a change of venue.
"There's a risk of heat exhaustion for the artists, the audience and even the equipment," Heath Kelsey said.
Kelsey said predictions of triple-digit temperatures were threatening not only to health, but even the survival of the festival.
"People were calling, emailing and commenting on Facebook, all saying the same thing: 'We're not coming because it's too hot,'" Kelsey said.
Fortunately, the Fox Theater came to the rescue, donating the theater for the entire weekend. Kelsey said the entire festival is transferring to the indoor, air-conditioned venue.
"The times are the same, the lineup is the same, ninety percent of the artists will be available for the meet and greet Friday night," Kelsey said.
The artists, including headliners Kutless and Family Force 5, are part of the reason the event blossomed into a three-day event, Kelsey said of the performers inspired by the cause.
Kelsey said he and his wife have an even more personal connection to the effort.
"Ever since we brought home our foster daughter a couple of years ago, we started to learn about the foster system, how it works, what isn't working and most of all, how children end up in foster care," Kelsey wrote.
"We learned that many children end up homeless when escaping trafficking, our modern day slavery," Kelsey wrote.
Kelsey said the biological father of his foster daughter has been in prison for trafficking.
"So it has become a passion for us to create awareness and educate our community on this epidemic," Kelsey wrote.
As personal as the crime of human trafficking is for the Kelseys, all of Kern County recently got an unpleasant reminder of the enormity of the criminal enterprise when California Attorney General Xavier Becerra last month announced 54 felony charges against three people involved in luring victims from the Central Valley and trafficking them throughout the state.
The victims, including eight minors, were sold for commercial sex throughout the Central Valley, Bay Area and Los Angeles.
Quinton Brown, Gerald Turner and Mia McNeil were charged in the investigation. Among the allegations, Brown and Turner are accused of human trafficking of a minor for a sex act in Kern County.
This weekend's event begins Friday evening at 5 p.m. with a big fundraising event. "Duck Dynasty" star Willie Robertson will serve as guest host, and numerous guest speakers will talk about human trafficking and what can be done, and guests can contribute through both a live and silent auction. Hot auction items include a framed Beatles gold record display signed by Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, custom 2000 Harley Davidson Heritage and a "Duck Dynasty" limited-edition signature series duck call collection and display case signed by cast members Si, Phil, Jase and Willie Robertson.
The event continues Saturday and Sunday for the music festival, two days of all sorts of Christian music by more than 20 bands, including headliners Kutless and Family Force 5 along with many others.
Kelsey promises that all of the proceeds from the event will fund local charities, including 3Strands Global Foundation, located in El Dorado Hills, near Sacramento; Hope for Justice (which is not listed as a local charity, but does spend funds locally); National Association to Protect Children (PROTECT, Inc.), a national charity with a chapter in California; Kern Coalition Against Human Trafficking; and Magdalene Hope, which reaches out to sex workers in Bakersfield.
Kelsey estimates that a sell-out crowd to this weekend's events could raise $250,000 for the charities.