JUBILEE: using the arts to fight human trafficking

30 Aug

Curtis & Grace. Courtesy of JUBILEE.

The Justice Conference featured a wide-array of musical performers including the non-profit band, JUBILEE. I was instantly drawn to them because of their folky-style of music, because they’re from Seattle and because their message was powerful. JUBILEE uses what they love (music) to fight what they hate (human trafficking).

I contacted the band after the conference and set up a meeting with band founder, Curtis Romjue. Curtis and his wife Grace opened their home to me and we talked about JUBILEE’s mission as well as their other non-profit, Arts Aftercare. They are an amazing couple with an amazing message.

Here is my story:

JUBILEE is not after the designer labels and riches that come from rock band status in the city known for birthing Nirvana and Pearl Jam. The Seattle band was founded by Curtis Romjue, a product of the Hawaiian as well as San Juan Islands, with a specific purpose: to use what they love (music) to undo what they hate (human trafficking).

Many bands claim to be a non-profit band, playing shows and making just enough in sales to extend their tour a few more states. But JUBILEE is an official 501(c)(3) organization, giving 100 percent of their sales to aid in the fight against human trafficking.

“It’s a connection of enjoying music and knowing that music puts you in connection in a unique way in community,” Romjue said. “And using that music and voice to impact social change.”

JUBILEE isn’t just another band that plays at the occasional charity concert. They are the charity and connect the message with others through their passion for music. The five band mates that make up JUBILEE are devout Christians, but they are not a “Christian band.” To avoid the niche of performing only at churches and Christian events, they perform secular music self-described as beach-town folk rock.

“We wanted to be able to connect with people and share life with people outside the Christian community,” Romjue said. “We wanted a cause that we could connect with a lot of people in and outside the church.”

Courtesy of JUBILEE.

The group formed around Christmas of 2003 and received their official non-profit status the following spring. Romjue is the primary songwriter who draws inspiration from daily experiences and life with his wife and band member, Grace, and their young daughter. Curtis and Grace share a love for 1960’s Brazilian Jazz, Russian Literature and a passion to serve with their musical gifts.

“God has led us and connected us to allow this mission and band to succeed in the modest and amazing ways that we have seen so far,” Curtis said. “That just gives us a sense of wealth far beyond any payments we could have received at a more typical job.”

JUBILEE’s mission was inspired by a message heard from International Justice Mission President Gary Haugen. Curtis heard stories of slavery, the exploitation of children and how IJM was rescuing girls as young as five from brothels. It made his blood boil and he used that anger to fuel JUBILEE’S purpose to help fight the war against human trafficking.

“The question for us was how can I give who I am and what I have to do something about this problem that I’m passionate about and God is clearly passionate about?” Curtis said. “The band was the first artistic response to play music to raise awareness at concerts, to raise financial support, to influence the political systems.”

It’s been through JUBILEE’s commitment to their mission that word continues to spread as more people become educated about what is happening outside their own worlds.

“At first we thought bands are good at raising awareness and raising money,” Grace said. “Then we realized that just being musicians is an example to other people, encouraging people to be whoever they are and use that against whatever they hate in the world.”

JUBILEE’s message is powerful and conveyed in such a way they are able to connect with generations across the map. After a performance at the University of Wyoming, students in attendance felt inspired to start an IJM chapter on campus.

Nursing student Rachel Marie Dowd was moved by JUBILEE and assisted in bringing the college chapter to Wyoming.

“I was encouraged by JUBILEE that I can (do something about it),” Dowd said. “I can be a part in ending slavery by being a student, a nurse and a member of my community.”

This fall the chapter is hosting a Justice Week on campus to raise awareness and to empower the student body. The event will include a JUBILEE performance.

JUBILEE’s mission doesn’t start and end with its music. The band is one arm of a two-part organization. Curtis and Grace also started Arts Aftercare, an organization that brings healing and restoration back to survivors of human trafficking through the arts.

“Our band is an example of ways musicians can get involved,” Curtis said. “With Arts Aftercare, we are an on-ramp for the arts community to join the abolitionist movement as artists. Over time we learned how not only could music raise awareness and raise money, but music itself and art itself are incredibly valuable and underused tools in the aftercare process.”

In parts of the world where western-style talk therapy and counseling are less effective because of the cultural disconnect, it was learned victims were more likely to open up about their traumatic stories and begin the healing process with art therapy techniques.

But for many organizations that work in aftercare around the globe, a trained art therapist on staff doesn’t fit in the budget. Working with Kathy Stout-Labauve, Vice President of Aftercare at IJM, Arts Aftercare developed a toolkit that includes art therapy and music therapy exercises. Curtis and Grace continue to hear success stories.

“It’s unlocking the door for the healing process to begin,” Curtis said. “Bringing it in a basic way that can be used around the world by people who don’t have access to those techniques yet.”

Curtis and Grace work tirelessly as Arts Aftercare expands. But their efforts have proven successful as they tackle a waiting list of organizations eagerly waiting to receive toolkits.

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