Saturday, May 25, 2024

Stepha’s story not heard

September 3, 2007 by  
Filed under News, Weekly Columns

( It’s been three months since Stepha Henry vanished while visiting South Florida, and I’m still waiting for the vociferous community outcry, massive searches, daily police news conferences and the throng of media camped out her mother’s front door.

But it’s not coming, I know, because Stepha doesn’t fit the profile of a damsel in distress — at least not in America.

Stepha, a 22-year-old Brooklyn resident, is a black young woman from Trinidad. She’s not blonde, with hazel, green or blue eyes. Attractive as she may be, she doesn’t meet European standards of “beauty.” She comes from a working class family.

Stepha disappeared May 28 after last being sighted at Pepper’s Cafe, a reggae club in Sunrise. Relatives said she left her aunt’s North Miami home with a male acquaintance driving a dark Acura Integra.

A video shows Stepha at the club that night, but no one has seen or heard a peep of her since. The car is also missing.

Stepha has received sporadic coverage on stations like CNN, MSNBC and local media. But she hasn’t received the perpetual attention given to the Natalee Holloways, Lacie Petersons or Jessie Marie Davises of the world.

All, by the way, are white women whose stories dominated the airwaves after their disappearances. And that’s when the media wasn’t obsessed with the lives of Anna Nicole Smith, Paris Hilton and Britney Spears.

Davis, 26, disappeared from her home in Canton, Ohio, about two weeks after Stepha. Yet, a news search of Davis’ name returned almost 20 times the results of Stepha’s, recently reported in an article about the disparity in media coverage. Thousands of volunteers helped with the search, and the FBI offered a $10,000 reward. Davis’ body has already been found, and her boyfriend charged with the murders of her and her unborn baby.

In Stepha’s case, the FBI is nowhere on the scene, and the family had to raise its own reward money. The reward recently jumped to $15,000 with donations from the family, Miami-Dade County Commissioner Barbara Jordan, Esserman Nissan in Miami and the National Congress of Black Women. Crime Stoppers donated $1,000.

The case is in the hands of an “incredible team” of investigators, said Commander Linda O’Brien, of the Miami-Dade Police Department, the agency handling the case. They have searched canals and interviewed a number of people, including the man who Stepha drove off with. But he’s not a suspect, O’Brien said.

In some of these stories, there’s a faster pace of breaking information,” she said. “Unfortunately, we have a little slower pace on this case, but we aggressively follow up on every lead.”

The big thing we need is more help from the public or anybody that knows anything.”

But police and the media are the ones that can help make that happen. The more they keep it before the public, the more likely it is that someone will help solve the case.

Yet, we’ve received so little information. If it wasn’t for Stepha’s desperate mother, Sylvia Henry, who relocated to South Florida to search for her daughter, and a few sympathizers in the Caribbean-American community, we probably wouldn’t even know Stepha existed. It doesn’t matter she had graduated from college with honors, and was headed to law school. Her accomplishments have done little to elevate her to the level of her white counterparts in the eyes of the public.

But why am I surprised?

Sojourner Truth, the anti-slavery crusader, exposed America’s double standard on this subject 156 years ago at the Women’s rights Convention in Akron, Ohio.

Ain’t I woman?” she asked, while pointing out the discrepancies in courtesies bestowed upon white women versus black ones.

Today black women still fight against negative perceptions that try to devalue them. Don Imus, the shock jock who called a group of black female athletes “nappy headed hos“, isn’t the only culprit. The disrespect is in the music, videos, movies, ads, television shows and magazines that pervade our society. And it’s in the lack of attention that we give missing women like Stepha Henry.

Her story never had a chance.

Alva James-Johnson

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