TARRYTOWN, N.Y. -- Justin Okamoto, like most American college students, spends most of his time absorbing a curriculum with a degree in his future, but learning that millions of people were victims of human trafficking has challenged his heart and pushed him into action.
Okamoto, a native of Rockland County, a Tarrytown resident and student at nearby Purchase College, has been organizing Stand for Humanity Benefit Concert to help victims of human trafficking. The event is set for Friday, June 20, in Tarrytown.
"It's the first time I've taken on a project like this," Okamoto said. "With all the news about Nigeria (kidnapped women) everyone is talking about this issue now, but it's been going on for so long and is going on all over America."
An anthropology student who works two jobs as a waiter and volunteers at his church, Okamoto, who is married, spent a year in Korea last year learning the language and culture. His father is Japanese, and his mother is Australian.
Okamoto said he was first motivated to take on a fundraiser after seeing a documentary a couple of years ago and hearing stories from some friends who went to Thailand to investigate the trafficking situation there.
"When I saw in this documentary these kids as young as 5 and 6 being used as commodities, it brought me to tears," Okamoto said. "This is a problem that we have to do something about or else women and children will always be in danger of getting caught up in the system of trafficking."
The concert will feature Ossining High School band Quarter Royce with frontman, rapper and singer/songwriter Jeremy Kitchens; New Jersey Indy rock band Sail the Boat, with lead singer Glenn Haider; and funk, neo-soul group Vinyl Canvas, made up of Purchase college students.
Okamoto said he hopes to raise $1,000 to benefit White Plains-based organization My Sister's Place, which provides support for victims of domestic abuse and human trafficking. My sister's Place will have a representative at the event as a guest speaker.
"I know raising $1,000 or more won't end the problem, but I really just want to get people aware on what's going on and get people involved on taking this on," Okamoto said. "The bands are really great, we'll be selling snacks and beverages; it's going to be a great event."
Okamoto said his inspiration for the effort is his strong belief in the value of every person and that an estimated 21 million people worldwide are subject to some kind of slavery
"I always wanted to take a stand against this, and finally with the support and encouragement of friends and family I found the courage to move forward," he said. "No one should have to go through such suffering, and everyone deserves a shot at freedom and prosperity."
There is a suggested $5 donation for the event, which is being held at 723 S. Broadway in Tarrytown.
For more information or to donate or sponsor the event, log on to the event Facebook page.