While the rest of the country is still stuck on Gabby Petito, Jada Pinkett Smith & fam are using their Red Table to highlight missing persons of color from all across the country.
Pinkett Smith, 50, and her mother Adrienne Banfield-Norris, 67, have opened up their Facebook Watch show Red Table Talk as a platform for those searching for missing loved ones.
“Many times people from marginalized communities just don’t have the same access and resources,” the actress, who also serves as an executive producer on the show, tells PEOPLE exclusively. “So we really wanted to take this time to amplify that idea and really spotlight families that needed a platform to speak about their missing loved ones.”
Red Table Talk is dedicated to the cause this week, with co-host Elizabeth Smart — who was kidnapped from her bedroom at 14 — stepping in for Willow Smith while she is on tour with her band.
Those featured in the episode include Daniel Robinson, 24, who disappeared in Arizona in June, 18-year-old Brian Ward, who vanished near his Washington, D.C. home in September 2020, Mary Davis Johnson, 40, who was last seen on the Tulalip Reservation in Washington State just before Thanksgiving last year, and Maya Millette, 40, who disappeared from her home in Chula Vista, California in January.
“One of the aspects of the stories that we did hear is they’re just constantly trying to prove that their children or their loved ones are worthy of attention because they contributed to society, or ‘Daniel was a good boy,'” Pinkett Smith says. “Trying to convince everyone to don’t just look at the color of his skin and the stereotypes that come with.
“He wasn’t the only one – we had several other families that it was a constant idea of like, ‘She was a really great mother. She was such a good woman. She went to church.’ It’s not just enough that this person that we love is missing. And I think that’s another aspect of the conversations that we had with these families – that there were people of color that really had to prove that [their loved ones are] worthy of your attention. That was probably one of the most difficult aspects.”
The idea for the focus of this week’s episode was inspired by Petito’s father Joseph, who has dedicated himself to ensuring that his daughter’s death was not in vain.
Shortly after her body was found in September following an ill-fated road trip with her fiancé, Joseph Petito issued a statement pleading with the public to show all missing persons cases the same amount of attention hers attracted. He also started a foundation in his daughter’s name meant to aid in the search for missing persons.
“I want to ask everyone to help all of the people that are missing and need help,” he said at a press conference. “It’s on all of you, everyone that’s in this room, to do that. And if you don’t do that for other people that are missing, that’s a shame. ‘Cause it’s not just Gabby that deserves that.”
The attention brought to the Petito case sparked nationwide conversation over the media’s tendencies to highlight only the plights of white missing persons and not missing minorities.
Pinkett Smith says that Joseph Petito’s message — and the fact that he shared it so soon after losing his daughter — struck a nerve with her. She felt compelled to broadcast it to a wider audience.
“I was really moved that during such an intense and very tragic time for his family that the family would put this foundation together,” she says. “If I’d lost Willow, Jaden or Trey, I just don’t know if I would have the wherewithal to be generous in that manner.”
Among those featured on Red Table Talk this week are David Robinson and Melissa Edmonds, who discuss the difficulties they’ve faced in getting the police to take seriously the fact that they cannot locate their son Daniel.
David tells PEOPLE that having Daniel’s story featured on the show was “extremely important,” not only to them as a family, but to their search.
“To have Daniel’s story be featured on Red Table Talk simply means that the show understands our pain, our suffering, and they will do everything they can to make sure our story is being told,” he says. “It’s very important to have people on our side. We love Jada and her family. They are a part of our own family now.”
David adds that as he continues to look for Daniel, his eyes have been opened to the many other families out there going through similar things.
“A lot of families of missing persons never get answers, or they never get heard,” he says. “Their loved ones are still missing. I encourage everyone to join me and other families of missing people to try to make changes in a way that police approach missing persons. For instance, having a sense of urgency and an expedient response to every missing persons case. The Petito case should be a template of how all cases should be handled when a person is missing.”
In addition to the expertise of Smart, 33, who became a child safety activist after her 2002 abduction, the Red Table also welcomes former federal prosecutor Laura Coates.
“This is a discussion that we’ve been having for a while, but it’s nice when you have people who have been in these circumstances that also flow power towards those, like I said before, that just won’t have the access in the same way,” Pinkett Smith says of Smart. “When you have people who have had the access to the resources and attention, that are saying, ‘Hey, don’t forget. Everyone deserves this,’ that’s when people are willing to listen.”
‘Red Table Talk’ airs on Facebook Watch.