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Dear Black Girl, Come Home: Carlee Russell & A Hidden U.S. Epidemic


A Black girl went missing today. Somewhere in America, her shoes were not placed beside the front door. A plate of collards, cornbread, and chicken were assembled but she did not come to collect. And as the streetlights lingered, a bonnet did not carefully conceal her curls. On July 13th, 2023 Carlee Russell went missing, and when she finally came home on July 15th, 2023, somebody forgot to celebrate. In the words of the late Aaliyah Haughton, “Are you that somebody?”

IMG_6379Who is Carlee Russell?

Carlethia “Carlee” Nichole Russell is a 25-year-old young lady with aspirations in the healthcare field. Having completed her BA in Psychology she is in pursuit of a 2nd degree in the field of nursing via the UAB Joint Enrollment Program. She is beloved by her two parents (Talitha and Carlos Russell), boyfriend (Thomar Latrell Simmons), loved ones, and surrounding community. In light of her disappearance on July 13th members of the Harpersville Police Department described her as smart, courteous, and honouring. It was these characteristics, among many others, that would lead to her 48hr disappearance.

What Happened To Carlee Russell?

In Alabama, on July 13th, 2023 at 9:34 PM Carlee called 911 to report a toddler walking along I-495 South near mile marker 11. She then called a family member while attempting to check on the child alone. Family members stated that a scream was heard as she seemed to have dropped her phone. When officers arrived moments later all that remained was the victim’s vehicle, wig, hat, cell phone, purse, Apple Watch, and AirPods. This series of events sparked nationwide social-media campaigns, a $25k reward, and various local vigils. The search came to a close on July 15th, 2023 at approximately 11 PM when Carlee Russell reported to her parent’s home on foot and alone. She received medical attention at UAB Hospital and was later described as “in a state of shock.” Anyone interested in future updates regarding this open investigation should consult the Hoover (AL) PD.

Hoax or Human?

The safe return of Carlee Russell has been met with great anticipation as questions erupt all over social media. Was it a hoax? Where has she been? When will she make a statement? Is there a suspect? And whatever happened to the child? All of this begs a much bigger question… Why is it so hard to believe Black women? Not even 12 hours into her return and people are demanding answers, making accusations, and simply making things up. Boyfriend Thomar Simmons reached out on Facebook thanking everyone for their, love, support, and prayers. He addressed the growing concerns by stating, “All I asked from everyone right now is to be respectful of Carlee’s situation. She was literally fighting for her life for 48 hours.” 

To the concerned and questioning… What does it cost you to care? For those whose support has turned to outrage… Where do you get your entitlement? A family is processing a trauma and the police are still actively investigating the events. So why is your curiosity more important than public safety, the well-being of Carlee Russell, and that of her family? Per the Hoover (AL) PD, only “information that is determined to be factual and pertinent to the public” will be released. So let’s practice patience and kindness as we WAIT.

Where Did All of The Black People Go?

There is a hidden epidemic of missing Black people within the United States. According to the Black and Missing Foundation, people of color (excluding Hispanics) accounted for nearly 40% of persons reported missing in 2022. Similarly, the National Crime Information Center reported that 36% of the 546,000 people that went missing in 2022 were Black. Missing minority children are the most underreported demographic in the United States. This disparity is exacerbated by historically disproportionate pro-White media coverage regarding missing persons in the U.S. In 2021 the viral nature of Gabby Pettito’s death sparked outrage when news outlets utterly failed to even mention Jelani Day (a black man) who had also gone missing. The selective coverage of missing White women in America has become so normalized that it is now referred to as “Missing White Woman Syndrome.”

Coming Home

HBO partnered with Emmy-winner Geeta Gandbhir and award-winning Soledad O’Brien to produce the Black and Missing Documentary. It follows Black and Missing founders Derrica and Natalie Wilson as they pursue justice for those marginalized by the news and media. Their work is joined by ongoing legislative efforts in both California and Minnesota. Too often Amber alerts are not issued for missing Black children because they are labeled as “runaways.” California’s Ebony Alert (Senate Bill 673) addresses this racial bias directly. On 2/20/2023 Minnesota passed House Bill HF55 establishing the nation’s first Office of Missing and Murdered Black Women and Girls. Black Women matter. And whether or not we make it home our stories matter. Our Black Girls is a grassroots organization dedicated to telling those stories. Carlee Russell’s story is still being told.

But somewhere out there a family is still waiting for their Black girl to come home. Let’s do the best that we can to make sure that they do.

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