Broward-FTS_logo (1)In you live in South Florida, this event next Thursday is for you!

In recognition of National Anti-Slavery and Human Trafficking Awareness Month, Broward College, in partnership with Free the Slaves, will host a day-long conference titled “Human Trafficking: Exposing the Crisis, Devising Strategies and Solutions.”

It’s on Thursday, January 30th, from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Broward College’s Bailey Hall, 3501 S.W. Davie Road, Davie.

The event, which is free and open to the public, will bring awareness to the magnitude of human trafficking in Florida, the United States and around the world, while promoting discussion on effective responses and encouraging participants to join the movement to end modern slavery.

“This conference will educate and engage community leaders, Broward College students and faculty, law enforcement professionals, and members of the community at-large by discussing issues and increasing awareness of a problem that is rampant in Florida, the United States, and around the world,” says FTS board member Gregory A. Haile, who is general counsel and vice president for public policy and government affairs for Broward College. “We are pleased to be partnering with Free the Slaves in an effort to put an end to human trafficking, and we encourage everyone to attend so they can not only learn of the problem, but learn how to identify it and solve it.”

Speakers attending the event include U.S. Representative Ted Deutch; U.S. Senator Marco Rubio (by video); Maurice Middleberg, executive director, Free the Slaves; Sara Gilmer, U.S. State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons; Dawn Thompson, assistant executive director, Kristi House; Ed Potter, director, Global Workplace Rights, Coca-Cola Company; Guerda Constant, director, Fondasyon Limye Lavi, Haiti; Leonardo Sakamoto, president, Reporter Brasil; Detective Nick Masters, Strategic Investigations Division, Broward County Sheriff’s Office; and many others.

Topics of discussion will focus on state and local law enforcement issues, the scope of human trafficking in Latin America and the Caribbean, and the role of multinational businesses in the effort to remove slavery from product supply chains.

“Modern-day slavery is one of the greatest human rights challenges of our time, but it is an evil we can overcome if governments, corporations, academic institutions and members of the public all get involved. The Broward College conference will help people learn what they can do to bring human trafficking to end,” says FTS Executive Director Maurice Middleberg.

Registration is required to attend the event. For more information, visit endtraffickingsymposiumfl.eventbrite.com.

Will you help End It in 2014?

This month marks the official re-launch of End It, the campaign to shine a light on slavery. 

End It began last year as two-month public awakening project to remind young adults they have resources to fight slavery, such as spreading the word through social media. This year, the campaign’s message is simple but powerful: draw a red X on your hand and tell people what it means. Especially on February 27th, End It’s official “Shine a Light on Slavery Day.”

The End It website is filled with resources to learn more about slavery, and it provides  a way to donate to End It coalition partners, including Free the Slaves.

Many young people wonder what they can do to fight one of the greatest injustices of our time. End It provides an answer. Get smart about slavery by learning the facts. Then mark your calendar, and mark your hand. Take a stand.

Two years ago, President Barack Obama delivered the longest presidential speech on slavery since Abraham Lincoln. In his address to the Clinton Global Initiative he committed to three steps to strengthen the fight against human trafficking.

First, he promised to increase awareness by training teachers, police officers, and transportation inspectors to be better equipped to handle trafficking victims. Second, he vowed to use technology and the Internet to stop the predation by traffickers. Third, he signed an executive order to prohibit federal procurement of goods or services that are rooted in slavery.

Federal Strat Act PlanThis week, during National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, the White House unveiled specific plans for the protection trafficking victims and survivors. It’s called the Federal Strategic Action Plan on Services for Victims of Human Trafficking in the United States.

Because modern-day slavery touches all corners of the world, a combative strategic plan was needed, according to Domestic Policy Council Director Cecilia Munoz. She says the White House plan includes services that are “comprehensive, trauma-informed, and responsive to the needs of all victims, regardless of the type of trafficking they endured or immigration status.”

The administration is also focusing efforts on increasing the federal government’s capacity to identify trafficking victims and to help them “recover and rebuild their lives.” Slavery survivors assisted in the plan’s development.

Maurice holds photo of Owen Lovejoy while speaking at Plymouth church | FTS photo/Fitzmaurice

Maurice holds photo of Owen Lovejoy while speaking at Plymouth Church | FTS photo/Fitzmaurice

Last Saturday, I was standing on hallowed ground. As I rose to speak to hundreds of people gathered for a benefit concert at Plymouth Church in Brooklyn, I had to take a deep breath. That’s because on that very spot, 150 years ago, anti-slavery activists were attending the funeral of one my wife’s ancestors, the noted abolitionist and congressman, Owen Lovejoy.

I knew that my words could never be as powerful as the eulogy delivered in 1864 by Plymouth Church’s founder, the Rev. Henry Ward Beecher.

“Owen Lovejoy was evidence that a man might become heroic,” the New York Times quoted Rev. Beecher as saying about Lovejoy and his dedication to ending slavery. “He was built broad and square and healthy and resolute, fitted to fight this battle.”

As I stood where Rev. Beecher had, I noted that our movement today is just as strong, just as resolute. My words stressed our connections to the past, and commitment to finish the job that our predecessors had started.

Saturday’s concert was an extraordinary combination of reflection, song and prayer, thanks to the kindness of Plymouth Church, which put on the benefit concert for Free the Slaves, and the Brooklyn Historical Society, which organized a panel on modern day slavery the night before.

Plymouth Church was founded in 1847 by Henry Ward Beecher, one of the most prominent abolitionists of the pre-Civil War era.  The fight against slavery was, in fact, a family cause. Henry’s sister, Harriet Beecher Stowe, was the author of Uncle Tom’s Cabin. His brother, Edward, was a leader of the abolitionist movement in Illinois, where he worked closely with another famous set of abolitionist brothers – Owen, Elijah and John Lovejoy. Owen Lovejoy was Abraham Lincoln’s closest friend in Congress. Edward Beecher was a staunch defender of Elijah Lovejoy, who was eventually murdered by a mob for publishing an abolitionist newspaper.

Plymouth Church was a key link in the Underground Railroad. Abraham Lincoln attended Plymouth Church in 1860, the day before he gave an anti-slavery speech in Manhattan that helped secure his Republican Party nomination for the presidential election. It was thrill to sit briefly in the Abraham Lincoln pew at Plymouth Church!

Brooklyn Historical Society Panel Discussion

Brooklyn Historical Society Panel Discussion | FTS photo/Fitzmaurice

On Friday evening, the Brooklyn Historical Society, which has mounted a wonderful exhibit on slavery and abolitionism in Brooklyn, hosted a panel on modern-day slavery. Dr. Timothy McCarthy, a well-known historian of social movements who is on the Harvard University faculty and the FTS board, gave an erudite and passionate talk on the lessons that modern abolitionists can draw from the antebellum abolitionist movement. Tina Frundt, founder and executive director of Courtney’s House, gave a moving presentation on her experience as a slavery survivor. I had the opportunity to speak about the lessons we have learned at Free the Slaves about combating modern day slavery. Loretta Lynch, U.S. attorney for the eastern district of New York, moderated the panel. More than 125 people came to the session and engaged the panel in a lively discussion.

The following evening, Plymouth Church hosted the concert. The truly incredible line-up of performers consisted of The Inspirational Voices of the Abyssinian Baptist Church, Naomi Shelton and the Gospel Queens, and The Impressions. The people who braved a stormy night to attend received a rare treat. There is no way for me to capture the beauty and power of the singing. All I can really share is that the entire evening was a deeply moving and captivating experience. We are so grateful to Plymouth Church, the organizers and the performers for a truly unforgettable experience.

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The Impressions graced Plymouth Church with the sounds of freedom at the Let Freedom Ring! benefit concert for Free the Slaves | FTS photo/Fitzmaurice

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Workers demolish earthquake-damaged building | FTS photo/FitzPatrick

Haiti’s devastating earthquake hit on January 12, 2010. It affected everyone in Haiti, and continues to affect those who lost friends and family as well as homes and businesses.

While significant money and effort have been marshaled to rebuild, much remains to be done. Solving one of Haiti’s most important human rights challenges must remain a priority. Impoverished families are vulnerable to child slavery.

The 2013 Walk Free Global Slavery Index lists Haiti as the world’s second-worst spot for slavery prevalence, with more than 200,000 people enslaved today. Most are children sent from poor homes to wealthier ones to work as “restavek” domestic servants.

FTS has been working with our Haitian front line partner organization, Fondasyon Limye Lavi (FLL), to combat the deeply-entrenched restavek system. When the quake hit, we supported the deployment of a team to train humanitarian workers on how to recognize victims of restavek slavery during the family reunification process. This has kept many children from entering or re-entering domestic slavery.

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Children in earthquake refugee camp | FTS photo/FitzPatrick

Since the earthquake, FTS and FLL have worked to empower rural communities to bring restavek children home to their families, provide them with aftercare and education, and prevent many more from entering into domestic slavery.

On this anniversary, it’s important to reflect that while progress has been made on restavek slavery, much more is needed.

Two-thirds of restavek children are girls, and passage of an International Violence Against Women Act in the U.S. Congress would focus resources and programs on preventing violence before it starts as well as addressing existing cases, according to our colleagues at Women Thrive.

As well, they say, Congresswoman Frederica Wilson’s resolution on reducing gender-based violence could have a significant impact in Haiti.

Editor’s note: Christy Gillmore is Free the Slaves program manager for Haiti. Learn more about our work in Haiti on the FTS Haiti webpage.