By Michaela L. Duckett on August 1, 2013—
In a culture where women like Kim Kardashian, Draya Michelle and Amber Rose have not only become famous, but have made millions off flaunting big butts and pretty smiles, it’s apparent that even the illusion of sex can be lucrative.
It’s a trap that 15-year-old Kaliyah Fountain, a junior at Berry Academy, said many of her peers have fallen into.
At parties, she says it’s not uncommon to see girls “bending over and shaking their butts on people and wearing little itty bitty shorts and shirts up to here or going to parties with just a bra on.”
As for Kaliyah, she said she would never exploit herself that way.
“I think high of myself,” she said. “I think that’s just degrading. Sometimes it hurts to see girls do that because they have low self-esteem. Then somebody boosts them up telling them they’re all this and that, but I don’t need anybody to tell me that. I know I’m pretty.”
When Kaliyah was looking to make a few dollars, she didn’t rely on her body or looks. She relied on her skills in the kitchen, baking and selling custom cakes, cake pops and cupcakes as owner of Sophistikakes.
Kaliyah keeps a ledger of every penny she’s earned. It gives her pride to know that she’s earning money by marketing her mind, not her body.
It’s a concept she learned from her mentor, Antonia “Neet” Childs, owner of Neet’s Sweets, a dessert catering company that operates out of the storefront of Wow Factor Cakes on Park Road. Kaliyah is her summer intern.
A different world
Childs said her life would be much different had she been as wise as Kaliyah is at her age.
Although they share a lot in common, their lives were very different.
Like Kaliyah, Childs began baking at a young age and wanted to own a bakery. Baking was a skill she’d learned from her aunt Koona.
“It was something that made me happy,” she said. “(Knowing) somebody else was going to eat something that I enjoyed making. It was just awesome to be able to share that with someone.”
However, her childhood dreams and sweet reality were interrupted when her family moved to North Carolina from Buffalo, N.Y. Her mom was a single parent with four children. Money was tight.
“My mom was struggling,” said Childs. “She wasn’t a bad mother. She wasn’t on drugs or nothing like that. She wanted better for us, but she was just struggling. I didn’t want to see my mother struggling.”
Childs began working after school, where at 16, she met a man 22 years her senior. Childs describes him as handsome, educated, well-dressed and connected with businessmen, CEOs and other professionals in the community.
He took an interest in her. During a five-month courtship, she confided in him about her family situation, and he started giving her money.
“I thought he was my friend,” Childs said. “This person came into my life and helped me help my family… That’s how I got caught up.”
Soon she developed a sense of dependency on him. That’s when he introduced her to the world of sex trafficking and became her pimp.
By the time she was 22, Childs had gone from being trafficked to recruiting other girls and profiting.
The money was good.
“I was making money for him, but I was making money, too,” she said. “It was a lot of money. My pimp was profiting a million a year off of selling us girls. We are talking about a $32 billion industry.”
Childs got caught up in a lifestyle of luxury, fancy cars and expensive things. In many ways, she was addicted to those things, but they came at an extravagant price. She felt that she had sold her soul.
“I didn’t feel good about it,” she said. “I started knowing and seeing that I had a responsibility that woke me up because you don’t see the different things that are happening when you are in it. When you are outside and can look at it, you realize that it’s not right.”
Childs committed to changing her life. She focused her energy on owning a bakery, but admits the transition was not easy.
“It was a struggle and a fight to get out of that,” she said. “But I started taking accountability for myself and realizing that I had to do this.”
She went from making $800 an hour to baking birthday cakes for $35. At one point, she lost everything and found herself back at square one – broke and struggling.
Late one night, she received a text from an old client offering to “donate” a large sum of money to her organization if she would sleep with him.
“This was at 3 o’clock in the morning,” she said. “It was tempting because it was a lot of money involved… But I decided not to. By making that decision, I put my faith in God that he had my back.”
A week later, Childs received a donation, a check written for the same amount of money she had turned down.
Bitter turned sweet
Childs launched Neet’s Sweets in 2008.
In addition to baking, she also works extensively with girls through cake-decorating classes in shelters, community centers and schools.
As a survivor of human trafficking, Childs has made it her passion to raise awareness and advocate for victims commercial sexual exploitation.
She founded the Market Your Mind Foundation. The non-profit’s mission is to encourage and support survivors of commercial sexual exploitation and domestic sex trafficking by providing resources and services to help them overcome their past, realize their dreams and find other means of earning an income.
Childs also wants to do what she can to prevent other girls from falling into that lifestyle by teaching them to “market their minds, not their bodies.”
She wants to inspire them to dream big.
“I got away from my dream,” she said. “But I was able to revisit that dream and start baking and finding my passion again… I feel that my story represents resilience in that I was able to get out of that and go back and help other girls.””
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