Alumni Spotlight was originally published on the Alumni & Friends blog on July 29, 2021.
Mikhaela Gray-Beerman (BA '14, MEd '18), one of York’s Top 30 Changemakers Under 30, is an anti-trafficking advocate, researcher, and educator, as well as a non-profit consultant. The work she does is informed by the many inspiring women and girls who have entrusted their stories with her.
Human trafficking is one of the fastest-growing crimes in the world, and there is no community that is immune from this injustice.
"When my mom was in elementary school, her best friend went missing,” says Mikhaela. “About eight years ago, they were reconnected, and my mom began to learn her story. At the age of 14, my mom’s friend was trafficked for sex in Canada.” When she heard the story, Mikhaela was shocked and heartbroken. She began asking questions and doing research to better understand the realities of human trafficking. The more she learned, the more she was compelled to fight this injustice and to find ways to prevent other people from being trafficked locally and globally.
In 2013, Mikhaela joined United Freedom, an anti-human trafficking committee, to raise awareness and funds for a local and a global anti-trafficking organization. Through their events, she learned about an organization called Mahima Homes in India. The work they were doing to support individuals post-trafficking was unparalleled. “I hoped to learn from their efforts and share their practices in Canada in order to strengthen our approaches to reintegration and rehabilitation,” she explains.
While completing her Master of Education at York University, Mikhaela travelled to India to visit Mahima Homes and listened to the stories of women and girls who had been trafficked as part of her thesis research. “They shared their stories of resilience and their dreams for the future. The freedom fighters - the women and girls who shared their stories with me - inspired me through their courage, their desire to support others, and their outlook on life.”
Upon returning to Canada, Mikhaela was invited to share with the Federal Government learnings from her research on human trafficking in India with the Standing Committee on Justice and Human Rights. “It was a privilege and honour to be invited to advocate on behalf of the women and girls who had entrusted me with their stories,” she confesses.
“During the following months, I was deeply troubled in my workplace and volunteer settings; I felt disconnected from my purpose. I believe the most important thing in life is relationships, and after the tragic passing of Tatiana Blackburn, I was moved by the immeasurable impact that she made in her 20 years of life. I wondered, “How can I use my time, skills and knowledge to fight for justice and to love other people authentically?” Shortly afterward, I left my career in the post-secondary sector to work in an environment where I could raise awareness on human trafficking and journey alongside survivors full-time.”
Today, Mikhaela is an anti-trafficking advocate, educator and researcher. She helps raise awareness as a preventive measure and conducts research to disseminate new knowledge on human trafficking. She connects with individuals who have been impacted by trafficking and supports organizations that are dedicated to ending exploitation in various ways.
In January 2020, she launched a RogersTV television program and more recently a podcast called Freedom Fighters: Code Gray which aims to inform the public on human trafficking and empower them to take action to prevent human trafficking in their communities.
“I believe that it is incredibly important to support survivor-led initiatives and to use our time and resources to partner meaningfully with individuals who have lived experience.”
Mikhaela is now the chair of Untied Freedom, serves as an advisory team member at Defend Dignity, and as a board member at BridgeNorth, a survivor-led organization committed to ending sexual exploitation in Canada. She is currently working as a consultant for Dance Awareness: No Child Exploited and Polaris. Mikhaela has been published in the Journal for Teaching & Learning, and she authored a chapter in the book Global Citizenship Education: Challenges and Successes recently published by the University of Toronto Press. Whether it’s interacting with individuals impacted by sex trafficking and sexual exploitation through care outreach, doing research, advising anti-trafficking organizations or doing advocacy work, she is always looking for ways to make herself useful in the fight to end human trafficking. “My work is rooted in the belief that every human being has value and worth,” Mikhaela explains.
“If you look at the sheer statistics of human trafficking in the world, it can be overwhelming. I want to highlight that each number represents a different person with a unique story and dream for the future. We need to continue to find ways to work together to shed light on this injustice and support individuals who have been impacted by exploitation in Canada and in the world."
To learn more about human trafficking and resources available in Canada visit: helpingtraffickedpersons.org and canadiancentretoendhumantrafficking.ca. If there is immediate danger or if you suspect a child under 18 is being trafficked, call 911 or your local police service. For information and support, call Canada’s confidential Human Trafficking Hotline: 1-833-900-1010 or visit www.canadianhumantraffickinghotline.ca.