Pamela Butler went missing on Valentine’s Day 2009. She and her boyfriend had plans to pick up her mother for an early dinner. Butler, of the District, never showed and has not been seen since.
Her story is among those highlighted in the premiere of TV One’s new series, “Find Our Missing,” which airs Wednesday at 10 p.m. The goal of the 10-episode, one-hour docu-drama series is to spark a national conversation about African Americans who vanished - on the way home from school, after filling up at a gas station or while visiting a friend.
There are interviews with loved ones and authorities and there will be complementary content online and on social media to accompany the episodes. The show is hosted by former NBC Law & Order actress S. Epatha Merkeson.
Tonight’s premiere episode features two people who went missing in 2009, including Butler, a 47-year-old program analyst at the Environmental Protection Agency.
Craig Henry, co-executive in charge of production of TV One, spoke with The RootDC and answered these five questions:
Why this project, and why now? One of our goals at TV One is to create programming that reflects and resonates strongly with our viewing audience. Every now and then a topic of interest arises that provides us not only with an opportunity to speak to important issues affecting their daily lives, but to also help provide direction and tools to deal with them.
Media outlets in the vicinity of the cases usually make a good initial effort to publicize these stories, but the cases rarely find additional shelf life in the national media. Find Our Missing allows us do something about that.
Why do the cases of missing African Americans garner less media attention? There at innumerable societal factors that probably play a role in why stories such as these have little or no presence in the national news median since I’m not an expert I don’t want to speculate on which factors are most prevalent. But the fact of the matter is that black Americans are disproportionately affected by this phenomenon.
Though blacks comprise only 14 percent of the total U.S. population, they account for nearly 40 percent of all reported missing persons cases. At TV One, we believe with the resources at our disposal, we are ideally suited to highlight this seemingly cultural epidemic, while providing a mechanism for people to seek help, or share information that might help bring someone home or even closure to a suffering family.
What was the most difficult thing about bringing this project to fruition? One of the biggest challenges of this undertaking was selecting 18 missing persons from a high volume of cases all linked by the common thread of having too little concrete information. Despite going to great lengths to pre-screen cases, the closer we got to the core people and circumstances surrounding a disappearance, the more the stories warped and changed.
Although most of the time the deviations were small, even the slightest amount of misinformation can significantly affect the accuracy of the depictions, which was of paramount importance to our execution.
What has been the reaction of family members? Most of these people have given everything they had to find their loved ones, or at least some answers while trying to keep their families from unraveling. When we told them we were interested in sharing their stories, and calling the viewers to action to offer tips or leads, I think many of them were relieved that someone else was offering to take up the fight with them. On the whole they’ve all been very thankful and cooperative, as are we since without their complete cooperation, the program could not be done.
What can people do keep the conversation going on this issue? At the end of each Find Our Missing episode our host S. Epatha Merkerson signs off by saying, “Be safe and keep an eye out.” This is very subtle but an impassioned plea for us all to be aware, be responsible, and be involved in our communities.
To that end we have entered into a partnership with the Black and Missing Foundation as well as created a micro-site on our website where you can obtain numbers for the law enforcement agencies related to the cases, see status updates on current missing persons cases, test your memory and observation skills, and get tips on how to better protect your loved ones.
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