Interview by DW McKinney
Eric Martin first captivated my attention four years ago during a youth leader orientation. What I quickly noticed about Eric–besides his undying love for Australia–is that his heart is always geared toward helping people. He is unfaltering when lending a hand or an encouraging word.
What I love most is that our conversations are so organic and what comes out of that is an exchange of ideas and a flow of knowledge that seems endless but in a way where you want to dwell in that endlessness because it is comfortable and uplifting. This is probably one of the most structured conversations we have had. (This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.)
For Langston: What inspired you to champion anti-human trafficking?
EM: My inspiration came from prophetic origins in 2008. I had two dreams where I saved children. A friend of mine also had a dream later where a man tried to kidnap her kid and after screaming for help, I was the only person who came to her aid and protected the child.
When I was younger, and I didn’t realize this at first, but I would pray for kidnapped kids [featured on] the wall at Walmart. I didn’t realize this was planting the seed for bringing awareness to human trafficking.
FL: Is that where your title of abolitionist comes from?
EM: It began when I first started working with SCTNOW (Stop Child Trafficking Now). The title of abolitionist didn’t register with me until this year. I wanted to honor the 19th-century abolitionists through their work and wanted to use this word as a catalyst.
I’m trying to bring abolitionist to the forefront as a powerful word and movement. I want to be a liaison between those doing the work and those who don’t understand what being an abolitionist is. We need to refocus the significance of it and how it is relevant today.
FL: How does your heritage as a black man affect the work that you do?
EM: It’s powerful to see what black men in slavery went through trying to be an abolitionist. Just seeing how they struggled to survive and educate themselves. I feel like I have to have a unique voice because I am black. I want to bring the past back up to help us deal with today. And when I talk about enslavement, it doesn’t just mean being captured physically but mentally as well.
FL: How do you see yourself breaking mental enslavement?
EM: I like to ask people, “What do you dream about?” It hurts me when people say they don’t know or don’t dream any more. I want to take a minute to help people dream again. I want to speak to people and bring out that motivation to dream.
I enjoy speaking to students at schools about how important dreaming is. People think that your circumstances prevent you from dreaming. I want to go to students and tell them that regardless of ethnicity or circumstance they can [realize their dreams] and speak truth to them that their dreams shouldn’t be stifled by their circumstances. I want to speak to and encourage them to dream far into their future.
FL: Have you thought about creating a youth program where you can get students involved [with ELM]?
EM: Ideally I would love to have a conference where you walk in and the screen says “Engaging Life’s Moments presents….” I want to do a conference or a march and bring a catalyst for change. I don’t know what that looks like, or what it will take. I’m just waiting on God to bring some resources my way. I need to sit down and figure out what I need to do to start a movement that will allow me to do everything I want to do and for my voice to be heard.
When I was staying at a bed-and-breakfast in D.C. [during a return trip from England], the door to my room at the bed-and-breakfast read “Together for the Gospel.” No other doors had anything on them. I’ve been keeping these words in the back of my mind. I am getting to do this for the Gospel.
FL: Tell me about Engaging Life’s Moments. Do you see it as more of a form of inspiration or a resource?
EM: I want it to be both. I want it to be for people who are naïve to [human trafficking] or don’t quite know. I hope to bridge the gap between work that is being done and people who don’t know anything. I want to really address the issues of dreaming or people who don’t dream or the dream has been delayed because of things that are happening. I want to motivate them and inspire them.
“I hope to reawaken people’s dreams.”
There are so many agencies dealing with human trafficking that no one is talking to each other or sharing information. It’s all bureaucracy. My hope is to create or motivate an agency that solely focuses on addressing all aspects of human trafficking and unites them all.
FL: What’s your opinion on the current administration’s efforts to curb human trafficking?
EM: I think that it’s done quite a bit. It gets muddled underneath everything that’s taken place. Trump signed a bill dealing with human trafficking on a state and federal level. But again, it’s small potatoes because it doesn’t get enough attention that something is being done. The work that is being done, not many people know [about it].
FL: What’s a moment when you found yourself enslaved?
EM: Maybe not knowing or seeing my future past my current circumstances. It’s happened multiple times. Most recently was 2011 when I was in Sydney, Australia. I had a feeling that God called me to be in Australia. Everything leading up to it hit perfectly. Then I got to a low point of no money, nothing was coming in at all. I was like, “God, what is happening?” I spent a month or two just depressed, losing my hair. I didn’t want to hang out with anyone at all. I felt so trapped. I couldn’t do anything. I couldn’t encourage myself. I wasn’t eating.
What catapulted me past that enslavement was when a cousin told me about a prophecy that was given to me about the future God has for me… If you want to hear the story, I can tell you.
EM: I spent a week fasting and praying. I started writing letters to friends and family encouraging them. No one knew what was happening to me, but I kept writing letters. At the same time, a prophet at a church event in Austin asked if there was anyone there by the name of Eric. My family was there at the church. I was in Australia. Of all the Erics out in the world, no one named Eric stood up. My aunt nudged my mom to go up for me. [The prophet told Eric’s mother about what God had in store for him.] Hearing this later pulled me out [of my depression].
The constant enslavement is when I feel like things aren’t progressing like they should progress. Or when I can’t see past my current circumstances, I get in the biggest depressive funk.
“Freedom is to be had, but it’s only until you realize that it’s there that you can have it.”
It’s only when I start doing things for other people, like me writing and creating [ELM] to encourage other people that motivates me. Doing things for other people is how I am designed.
FL: It’s great to have that self-realization that you know yourself and how to best love yourself. That is going to help you get to where you need to be down the line.
EM: Ya know, it’s hard…I mean I’m 36 and I see kids who were in high school when I first knew them and they’re married now in their 20s. I’m like…hello?
There is some frustration. In order for things to be catapulted where they need to be, I need to continue moving forward. I started doing daily affirmations and it’s really helped me. Like “I am courageous. I am a child of the Most High.” I do “I will” statements like “I will do [specific goal]” or “I will be successful.” Having those daily affirmations encourages me and puts me where I am today.
FL: What other projects are you working on? I thought I saw something on Instagram about desserts.
EM: [laughs] Yes. I have this thing: Sweet Dreams, Savory Results. I now have an opportunity to go and talk about food, which is something I’ve always wanted to do. I went with a local musician, Tje Austin, to try out different desserts around Austin. We went to Sugar Mama’s and we checked out different eateries and we’d go and discuss food.
I was inspired by Man vs. Food and other travel shows. I want to continue to do that in other local places and when I travel [internationally] as well.
FL: What brings you black boy joy in this current social climate? How do you practice self-care?
EM: It’s hard….
One thing I have learned as a black male is how important education is. I feel like I need to be just as educated as everyone else. By learning as much as I can, that helps put me in a different category than other people. I just try to bring truth. You can’t bring truth and justice until you do research. I want to learn as much as I possibly can. I don’t want to take things for face value. Information can be misinformation and that’s not good in this culture.
FL: And that’s what you would call your self-care?
EM: Absolutely…If I can’t be hungry for information, then that will [set] me back. If I can’t do that for myself, then the progressive movement can’t happen.
Eric L. Martin is an abolitionist championing human rights and spreading a message of empowerment along the way. In his spare time, he posts on Instagram (@EricLMar23) about food. Send him some vegan desserts or check out his site, Engaging Life’s Moments. Proceeds from his merchandise will go to International Justice Mission and local charity organizations in Austin, Texas.