Elizabeth Melendez Fisher Good on Reclaiming Stolen Voices and Dreams

As the founder and CEO of anti-trafficking organizations Selah Freedom and the Selah Way Foundation, Good is helping survivors start anew
February 6, 2020 Updated: February 6, 2020
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Elizabeth Melendez Fisher Good was a church-going girl; she was known as a “good girl.” Then at age 12, she was molested by a trusted family friend. Afterward, he arranged for her to ride with him to church, and molested her more on the way there.

From that sudden loss of innocence, the walls of her life would gradually start crumbling—alongside her self-worth. At age 14, she was raped. It was only the start of what would be years of descent into a personal hell, where she was all but “dead on the outside.”

What happened to Good triggered a pattern in her life: alcohol abuse, hooking up, pornography. It would take the better part of two decades before Good would find her way and her purpose in life.

Now, as the founder and CEO of anti-trafficking organizations Selah Freedom and the Selah Way Foundation, Good works to prevent human trafficking and to rescue children from it.

Today, Good looks like your “every mom,” and she has an easy laugh and a vivacious personality. But there is something else about her: When people are around her, they feel free to unburden themselves with secrets they’ve carried for years.

If you were to ask her, she’d tell you it’s because she has so freely told her own story—to her family, to her children, to media outlets—because she knows that unaddressed trauma festers and may even repeat across generations. And that part of the process of healing from trauma is to shed light on it.

‘Everybody Has a Destiny’

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Survivors in Selah Freedom’s Outreach Program in Chicago.

When Good moved from Chicago to Florida, she found out that Florida was one of the top states for human trafficking and that kids were being sold in her own community. It was then that she felt compelled to found Selah Freedom. “Selah” is a Hebrew word, meaning to rest or to reflect.

When girls are first brought in to Selah, some of them stay at an “assessment house” for about four to six weeks. It typically takes seven or eight interventions before a girl will even agree to receive help.

“They are scary-looking, because they’re trying to scare people away,” Good said. “They look hard, they dress hard and make everything hard. Their aspect is hard.”

Once at the assessment house, the girls enter a transition period. It’s during this selah, after years of being abused, not having control over either life or body, that they can stop, pause, and think about their next move. There are discussion groups and staff members to help them, but it all starts with their choice to grow and change and to set their own direction.

After a couple of years, at graduation, you hardly recognize them.

“The softness, it’s amazing. … These are girls that were left for dead and they wanted to die like there was no hope. … They’re doing great.”

One girl she recalled came in making zero eye contact, “couldn’t speak to save [her] life,” had no sense of self-value, and harbored “1,000 percent shame.” She is now a brand ambassador for a national company.

Good points to this as a dramatic example from sex trafficking, but she said there are parts of us that we’ve allowed to go dormant—our dreams, talents, and perhaps even our purpose in life.

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Good at a speaking event. (Courtesy of Elizabeth Melendez Fisher Good)

Grooming

Through years of listening to girls, to survivors of sex trafficking, and to women around her around the country, Good noticed that they often—like her—had a defining moment when they lost their voice and identity. And that even in cases when a woman hasn’t been sexually abused, there were ways in which she might have been manipulated in subtler ways.

It opens your eyes to many different ways people’s talents are stolen, their voices are stolen—their purpose, identity—and just replaced with shame and different things,” she said.

She was compelled to write her newly released book “Groomed: Overcoming the Messages That Shaped Our Past and Limit Our Future” to use her personal story to illustrate how different types of grooming can affect people.

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“Groomed” by Elizabeth Melendez Fisher Good (W Publishing, an imprint of HarperCollins/Thomas Nelson; softcover, $17.99).

Over the years, Good has found that grooming doesn’t occur just in the realm of trafficking or sexual abuse. There are far subtler ways that people are shaped and manipulated.

Perhaps it was remarks from family members about your weight, or controlling people who made you feel invisible. Maybe it was a fear of not having enough money, or feeling that you could—or had to—handle it all. In the process, you may have surrendered your own identity or your voice and lost sight of your purpose in life.

Taking a page from the survivors at Selah, Good prescribes exactly that: selah, a time for reflection. A selah looks like a quiet retreat from the routine, a bit of intentional time set aside—whether an hour or a few days—without external distractions.

Good poses a number of questions people can ask themselves, such as:

Who am I when no one else is around?

Is there a secret from my early memories that I’ve been carrying with me?

What are three things that you can change today about the way you live your life? What’s stopping you?

It’s about discernment, not judgment. All these questions serve to clear your way, from reflection to a new start.

In her book, Good quotes C.S. Lewis: “You can’t go back and change the beginning, but you can start where you are and change the ending.”

Selah

Good is now focused on building her organizations, which are growing. A big focus of the Selah Way Foundation is its prevention initiative.

Good said that one of nine kids will be approached on social media with ill intentions.

People are like, ‘Oh, my kids are fine, they’re home or in their bedroom.’ If they’re on Instagram or Snapchat or some social media, you don’t know what they’re doing,” Good said. “People are out there trying to become their friend … feeding the lines like, ‘Oh, wow, did anyone ever tell you you’re so handsome? Hey, do you want to just send me one picture?’ And before you know it, these kids are down this secret pathway.”

Another priority is working with first responders, who survivors say often miss signs that they are being abused.

Good explained: “We’ve had so many girls who said, ‘Law enforcement pulled the car over. They never thought that it was the trafficker. They could have rescued me.’ They didn’t know what they’re looking at. Or at [the] ER … kids are being brought in with broken noses, all this different stuff, and then they’re fixed up and given right back to their trafficker, who brought them in.”

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Good embraces a survivor of sex trafficking. (Courtesy of Elizabeth Melendez Fisher Good)

Faith

Reflecting on her darkest moments, Good says her faith sustained her through her suffering.

“I almost feel like I was very specially protected, because for some reason, even when I was dead on the outside, and appeared like the hardest, the worst, didn’t care, I had such an intimate inner dialogue,” Good said. “I have journals upon journals just crying out to God, ‘You know who I am, help me.’”

When she got a job at a restaurant in her teenage years, there was an older woman there, a waitress named Gloria, who’d given her a nickname, “Tish.”

“She’s like, ‘You’re just a Tish. I look at you, you’re just beautiful, you’re so sweet.’ I was able to be myself with her. I was the sweet little part of me that had been dead for so many years, you know?

“I feel like that’s what God has done to help me, is put people in my path when I didn’t even believe in myself anymore, to remind me of who I am, that they see me the way that He sees me. … That’s why I feel like we have to do that for others, because that’s what got me through.”

Good has been using her story on behalf of thousands of abused children and women.

“Being honest about my story—the good and bad parts, the pain and the grace—has opened the door for so many other women to explore their own and write their stories of redemption,” she wrote in “Groomed.”

“What’s your story?” she asked. “When the time is right, I hope you’ll feel empowered to share it.”