By Holly Austin Smith — From her column Speaking Out in the Washington Times
WASHINGTON, DC, May 23, 2012 – Meet Antonia “Neet” Childs, Founder and Executive Director of Neet’s Sweets Incorporated in Charlotte, North Carolina. Neet, a survivor of human trafficking, discusses the difficulties and rewards to being a young entrepreneur:
“[I thank] God for this day, as well as every day, that I can continue to keep fighting and pushing [for] my dream. As I embrace 27, I think about what it has [taken] for me to get to this point…I am not even supposed to be here. Just being a young black woman starting a business is tough, so I am forever grateful that I am able to use my past as my strength to inspire others to use theirs, because that’s what it’s about.”
Neet says she dreamed of having her own bakery ever since she was a little girl. Neet’s Aunt Koona owned a catering business and, as a child, Neet followed her around the kitchen.
“It fascinated me,” Neet said, “to see her so passionate about making dishes that left everyone smiling, including me.”
Neet says she was captivated not only by her aunt’s cooking and baking but also by the fact that she owned her own business. Neet and her sister lived in upstate New York where their mother struggled to provide for them.
“My mom worked hard to take care of us,” Neet said, “and I always felt like I needed to help and support her.”
Living in a low-income, single-parent family, Neet was at-risk for exploitation and abuse. After moving to North Carolina as a teenager, Neet’s vulnerability was recognized by a 38-year-old man. This man befriended Neet and began to shower her with gifts. Having grown up without a father, Neet naturally craved the attention. One day, the man asked Neet for a favor…a favor which eventually and ultimately led Neet to be recruited and trafficked through an escort service. In a recent interview, Neet said she felt “controlled and trapped.” Neet’s dreams of owning her own bakery began to fade away.
Several years later, Neet says fate stepped in.
“God, being the great redeemer, brought a special friend into my life; he encouraged me to escape.”
Neet took the first few courageous steps away from a life to which she had become accustomed- a life of exploitation- and she started a cake decorating class. Neet says it was through teaching this class that she thought of the idea to create a baking business in order to employ other survivors of commercial sexual exploitation and domestic sex trafficking.
“I chose to speak out because I felt not only was it important for me to be a voice for myself…but [also] for…young women [who] don’t see a way out of what they are doing, [who] feel like there is no hope,” Neet said, “I come from that world and want them to see that there is hope; you can overcome your past and reach your goals.”
Neet hopes to provide encouragement and support to survivors of trafficking through connections with counselors, housing referrals, mentors, and other opportunities for self-improvement.
“Getting them back on the right track [is our goal],” Neet said, “while teaching the importance of philanthropy through our ‘Market Your Mind, Not Your Body’ campaign.”
“For [survivors] to see me make it out and give back encourages them and motivates them,” Neet continued, “and all I can say is, God inspired [me], and I know he will make a way for me to employ my sisters as well.”
In recognition of her efforts Neet earned the 2011 Prevention and Intervention Survivor Award in Union County, North Carolina from the United Family Services.
Neet says her Aunt Koona was her motivation to survive and overcome the life.
“Her smile was always imprinted in my mind,” she said, “even during the lowest of times in clubs and motel rooms; she was my first investor by giving me an electronic mixer.”
Neet’s Sweets has been in business since January 2008. Recently, Neet sent a large shipment of cake pops to Mrs. Cindy McCain, wife of John McCain, for an event in Phoenix, Arizona. Next month, Neet will be delivering 500 cupcakes to a conference in Raleigh, North Carolina.
“These cakes are very important to our organization,” Neet said, “because they represent recovery and being able to bring prevention and awareness to at-risk youth…
“Neet’s Sweets stands not just for cakes and sweets, but for taking a stand for what’s right and for protecting our next generation of girls…
“Though there are days when I feel like giving up, or I feel like what I do does not matter, I get a sign or reminder every day to keep pushing, and that’s all the confirmation I need…
“As we continue, and I spread our mission, I want to say thank you from the bottom of my heart; and we won’t stop, you will see Neet’s Sweets very soon!”
As a survivor and advocate, I encourage you to think of Neet’s Sweets when planning your next event. From weddings and birthday parties to conferences and training symposiums, you can call on Neet for catering services.
To inquire about catering or to order a shipment of cupcakes, cake pops, cookies, or other delicacies, please visit Neet’s Sweets at www.NeetsSweets.com.