VINTON–In August, history teacher Cristy Spencer announced that “William Byrd High School has been chosen to launch an initiative called Globalize 13–part of the efforts of the Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives organization to abolish modern-day slavery (human trafficking) through education.”
The common perception is that slavery ended in the United States in 1865 with the 13th Amendment. The Globalize 13 Initiative says that is not the case at all. Slavery is more prevalent now than in the times of the Civil War with conditions as bad or worse than those suffered by slaves in that era.
The National Human Trafficking Resource Center defines human trafficking as “a form of modern-day slavery in which traffickers use force, fraud, or coercion to control victims for the purpose of engaging in labor services or commercial sex acts against their will.”
It is estimated that there are over 27 million persons living in some type of forced servitude in the world today. The goal of the Globalize 13 program is to make people aware of the issue and then to “re-abolish” slavery.
WBHS became involved when Spencer had the overwhelming desire to meet an actual descendant of Frederick Douglass. Through her research she discovered Ken Morris. In speaking with him by phone, emails, and with her class via Skype, she became aware of the Globalize 13 initiative and was eager to jump on board.
Globalize 13 had its beginnings in 2007 when the Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives (FDFI) was founded by Nettie Washington Douglass, Ken Morris, and Robert Benz. Morris is the great-great-great-grandson of Frederick Douglass and the great-great-grandson of Booker T. Washington. Nettie Washington Douglass is his mother; Benz is a close friend.
Morris spent much of his life making a good living as an entrepreneur in the travel business, living comfortably with his wife and two daughters. He was proud of his heritage, but somewhat intimidated by the idea of being expected to advance some world-changing cause himself–until he and Benz encountered a 2003 National Geographic article on “21st Century Slaves.” He found himself unable to read about the travesty and injustice of human-trafficking and then look his young daughters in the eye.
The family decided that this was not something they could walk away from “especially considering the platform granted to them by their lineage.” They determined that “education and awareness are the ﬁrst steps to ending human trafﬁcking in our lifetimes, and that the best starting point is with young people in schools.”
Spencer was not deterred by a rigorous application process for the program. Almost through sheer force of will, she convinced the Globalize 13 initiative to select WBHS as one of their three nationwide launch sites to commemorate the 150th anniversary of the 13 Amendment through its service-learning curriculum.
Morris said that a factor in Byrd’s selection as a launch site for the program may have been a photo Spencer “coerced” her husband into taking of her standing in the pouring rain next to the Booker T. Washington sign on Route 122—which she included with the application.
WBHS was notified in June that they had been selected for the program with a launch date of Nov. 18. In fact, Vinton was the number one choice. Schools in South Carolina and New York City were also selected.
Morris said that, “Globalize 13 consists of three parts–historical lessons about how and why the 13th Amendment came to be; human right lessons about how and why slavery still occurs in labor markets around the world, even in creating many of the products Americans consume every day; and “The Power of One”–how students can work together to help citizens spread understanding and end slave labor.”
“This initiative teaches about the 13th Amendment, modern-day human trafficking, and empowering students to make a difference,” said Spencer.
“I truly believe this is a community dilemma from sex trafficking to products made with slave/child labor, and with the help of people on every level we can spread awareness, help prevent, and be a part of the solution to this global epidemic,” said Spencer. “We can empower ourselves and our youth to make a difference and make history together.”
Over 150 schools have signed up to use the curriculum thus far. The goal of the FDFI is to enlist a thousand schools to adopt the program in the efforts to re-abolish slavery around the world.
After months of painstaking preparation, Globalize 13 was launched in Vinton on Nov. 18. Morris and Benz traveled to WBHS and addressed the student body and faculty in two sessions, along with Anthony Giorno, First Assistant United States Attorney General in the Western District of Virginia.
Students were put in charge of the initial launch program. They planned speeches, presentations, entertainment, an art show, exhibits on human trafficking and fair trade, and receptions.
Students Hannah Neidigh and Will Spotswood emceed the assemblies. William Byrd alumnus Zach O’Neal from the Class of 2014 and junior Rachel Mann wrote and performed songs created especially for the occasion.
Virginia Tech student Wes Williams from the WBHS Class of 2010 spoke about his own contribution to solving the problems of human trafficking—his development of the AboliShop app which allows consumers to quickly identify products which are made with slave labor.
Roanoke County Schools Community Relations Specialist Chuck Lionberger facilitated live-streaming of the day’s activities to other schools.
During the assemblies, Morris spoke of former slave Frederick Douglass who has been called “the father of the civil rights movement.” Douglass was a slave who was taught to read by his Master’s wife who did not know it was illegal to do so; having learned to read and write, he wrote his own pass to freedom in the North. He discovered that “knowledge was power and a way to freedom.”
Washington was born a slave but freed at age 9 with the Emancipation Proclamation. He went on to found Tuskegee Institute which later became Tuskegee University.
He spoke of the evolution of the Globalize 13 project and of the importance of students recognizing their “power to affect the change which can reverberate in the community and around the world.”
Benz pointed out to the students that slavery in the 1800’s was not just a moral question; it was an economic issue as the abolition of slavery and loss of free labor might ruin the economy. He asked the audience to consider whether they would be willing to pay more for products today to choose those not produced by child and slave labor–to make a decision to wear clothes and eat food produced by people who are not exploited.
Giorno spoke of his work prosecuting those involved with sex trafficking.
Morris and Benz took the opportunity to present WBHS and Spencer with the Douglass Freedom Partner Award as the student body raised $711 to help educate young people about human trafficking. That is the amount of money friends of Frederick Douglass raised to purchase his freedom.
More information is available on the Globalize 13 Initiative at www.fdfi.org.