This story originally appeared in the April issue of Historic Heights Living, a neighborhood magazine published by the company behind N2GIVES. To learn more, visit N2 Publishing.
A bustling Heights-area Houston eatery and retail block has been achieving a growing, powerful community purpose.
At the northeast corner of 11th and Studewood Streets, business owners and nonprofit entrepreneurs have banded together to eliminate human trafficking. Leading the effort through the creation—or volunteering or funding—of programs that bolster survivors and educate the public about modern-day slavery have been Elijah Rising, A 2nd Cup, and Carmalita’s Cuisine.
This block has become the “epicenter of the human trafficking movement in Houston,” explained Jennifer Hohman, an Elijah Rising board member and previous years resident of the historic Heights neighborhood.
“A 2nd Cup was the first organization on the street and has become popular and known as a socially conscious coffee shop,” Jennifer said.
“I had a vision about the block becoming the lynchpin where citizens could learn about the sex trafficking epidemic in our city.”
Jennifer chronicled the evolution of the issue’s focus. When Elijah Rising needed a space for its office, modern-day slavery museum, and retail store, she knew her friend, the owner of the space adjacent to A 2nd Cup, had space for lease. When Jennifer next learned that Dacapo’s Pastry Café was closing, she contacted another friend, Carmalita Batiste, owner of Carmalita’s Cuisine, who’d envisioned opening a high-end take-out restaurant. They shared a friend who was a human trafficking survivor.
“It Woke Me the Hell Up”
In addition to her board of director’s role with Elijah Rising, Jennifer is the director of information technology at ConocoPhillips and has long been a community organizer and volunteer on diverse initiatives. When she learned about sex trafficking, Jennifer decided to dedicate her volunteer energy there. "It woke me the hell up to one of the most complex epidemics my city has ever seen."
She started collaborating with anti-sex-trafficking nonprofit leaders in the area to understand the services, gaps, and areas that needed strengthening. As she immersed herself in the issue and pinpointed ways to make an impact, she helped create various organizations, including the Houston Area Against Trafficking Initiative (HAAT); The Houston 20, to raise survivor housing and facility-related funds; and Oil and Gas Trafficking Advocacy (OGTAG), to mobilize the energy industry to join the fight against sex trafficking. She has also advocated for the issue to impact federal and state legislation.
The Importance of Empowerment
Heights resident Samantha Hernandez works as mobilization director at Elijah Rising, whose mission is to end sex trafficking through prayer, awareness, intervention, and restoration. The organization’s storefront on the block also operates a retail shop, which Samantha helped launch. It sells Texas-made, ethically sourced goods whose sales fund its programs. “As I helped develop programs in Elijah Rising, I realized survivors of sex trafficking need not only housing and counseling, but also economic assistance and opportunity to grow. They need a resume and job history.”
Samantha’s career at Elijah Rising dovetailed naturally from her education at Houston Baptist University and degree in mass communication and theology. “After college I knew I was passionate about fighting sex trafficking. I’ve been here ever since.”
Serving Coffee with a Cause
Known for her love of humanity (and animals), Erica Raggett founded A 2nd Cup with a vision of a brick and mortar coffee shop that would fight human trafficking. At the organization’s first board of directors meeting in 2011, the former middle school science teacher announced the shop would be up and running in six months. A more challenging road than expected, she started with pop-up settings, serving coffee and information about human trafficking one day and one place at a time. The initiative evolved as a Heights church offered a rent-free space to establish an incubator shop. The current cafe opened in October 2015 and has grown to be included on many Houston “best of” lists.
A 2nd Cup’s proceeds help fund its program Brazen Table, which is a culinary training course for human trafficking survivors to prepare them for meaningful employment in the culinary and hospitality industry.
Another Road to a Healthier Life
Carmalita created Carmalita’s Cuisine to share her approach to healthy eating. That knowledge was born from earlier personal health issues that she combated with her own lifestyle changes.
Having grown up in Lafayette, Louisiana, Carmelita described her family as “known for loving others through food and hospitality.” She moved to Houston and has spent many years cooking. She had published her own cookbook. When her friend, Jennifer Hohman, phoned about an available restaurant space, she said, “I decided to take a leap of faith.”
Born was her corner café serving all-organic and gluten-free meals, “while not compromising flavor and taste,” she assured. “We are dedicated to helping anyone wanting to change eating habits that are not allowing them to live in their full potential.”
Through her volunteer work with and business donations to Elijah Rising, along with the teaching of life skills in women’s prison and feeding the homeless, Carmelita exemplifies her own advice to others: “Always remember to serve others in love no matter what business or services you are offering.”
What the Future Holds
Connections through community service and heart-felt collaboration run deep in that block at 11th and Studewood Streets. The teams working there are excited to see what comes next.
“I am approached on a weekly basis by fledgling entrepreneurs with big ideas,” Erica said. “I really believe that one of the key components to converting those big ideas into realities is the network of people surrounding you. You never know who you are going to meet in a crowd. It might be that person who adds the last piece to your puzzle you need to move forward.”
Article contributed by Carmalita Batiste, Samantha Hernandez, Jennifer Hohman, and Erica Raggett, and written by Danni Sabota. Photo taken by Kolanowski Studio.