The statistics are startling. An estimated 64,000 Black women and girls have disappeared in the United States without a trace, according to the Black and Missing Foundation.
The urgent crisis of missing Black women and girls doesn’t grab the attention it deserves. The history of neglect and invisibility of missing Black girls should rightfully cause widespread panic about what is happening to these innocent Black girls.
But for Madison activist Lilada Gee, she has found fewer police alerts and even less media coverage contributes to the lack of any sense of urgency. Fed up, Gee has turned to the internet to spotlight the missing-person stories through a podcast series called Defending Black Girlhood.
She starts the series telling the tragic death of Erika Antoinette Hill, a 15-year-old who was murdered in a Madison suburb in February 2007. Hill’s damaged body was found in Gary, Indiana on Feb. 26 that year, and her identity was not discovered until 2015. Police and court records show Taylin Hill, the victim’s adoptive mother, was charged with taking her life.
“This is a story that needed to be told not just because I feel like Erika’s story had been buried beneath the facade of who her mother was believed to be, but there are a lot of people getting stuff wrong when it comes to working with our girls,” said Gee.
The Story of Erika
Erika Hill was born in 1992 and resided with her adoptive mom, who was also her cousin, in Fitchburg. The high schooler’s adoptive mother reportedly abused Hill and the other children who lived with her. Despite reports of the abuse, investigations always fell short. Taylin Hill’s daughter told the police that her mother would force Erika to stand on one foot and beat that foot until it bled. She also starved Erika, among other things, according to a site called Our Black Girls.
As Gee took interest in knowing what happened to the young teen, it became clear to her that Erika was battling something, or in this case someone. Yet no one did enough to save her, Gee said.
She was slain, set on fire and dumped like trash on the side of the road.
Hill was an innocent girl who became a victim of a system put in place to help her. No one followed up regarding her abuse. No one questioned her sudden disappearance. No one thoroughly did their job as a worker or as a human in her life.
One person could have saved Erika’s life.
Defending Black Girlhood
Gee has been in radio for years, but contractual agreements forced her to hold her tongue on topics she was passionate about. Her brother encouraged her to do a podcast because she would have more freedom and be able to reach more people. She followed the advice and started the podcast, which allows her to reach more viewers and give them the opportunity to be encouraged and challenged by Hill’s troublesome story.
“We keep waiting on someone else to do something or someone else to care,” Gee said.
Gee ran an after-school program for girls at James C. Wright middle school during the time Hill was a student there. Hill’s life and ultimate death became personal to her.
“My goal is to save the next Erika,” said Gee. “And as tragic as Erika’s story is in terms of things being missed by so many people I’ve never seen that so common in one story. So, I’m hoping people will listen and consider the Black girls that they are not seeing clearly right now that they can save.”
The Defending Black Girlhood podcast is a series that includes a dozen hour-long conversations, plus a few bonus commentaries. Those interviewed have intimate knowledge of Hill’s life including school principals, school counselor and church members.
Black girls go through this world with a different lens, Gee said. Black girls and women’s lives are often not seen as important as white girls and women, especially in the media. This lack of urgency when it comes to reporting on missing Black girls is known as “missing white woman syndrome,” which is a phrase created by the late Gwen Ifill, the former PBS news anchor. Ifill described this syndrome as a fascination with white women that also means a failure to report on missing women of color, according to a report on National Public Radio.
Gee wanted to amplify the voices of Black girls.
“I grew up understanding how important Black girls are to this world, but I also grew up understanding how ignored we are by society,” said podcast producer Alexandra Lewis. “So, it’s important to me to be a part of this as a Black woman who was once a Black girl. Also, to be able to really share my voice and the voice of the voiceless and shed light on things that are so often ignored.”
Defending Black Girlhood premiered online on April 26. This podcast is available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify and Castbox.