Jason & Kevin backstage in Myanmar

Jason & Kevin backstage in Myanmar

If you’ve ever wondered how far FTS co-founder Kevin Bales will go to end slavery, Sunday’s anti-trafficking concert in Myanmar will tell you.

He’ll give the shirt off his back to spread the word that SLAVERY SUCKS.

That’s literally what Kevin did for Grammy-winning singer-songwriter Jason Mraz, who was ready to perform a first-of-its-kind anti-slavery concern in Myanmar at the Schwedagon Pagoda on Sunday.

In Kevin’s estimation, Jason lacked the proper wardrobe.

Jason describes the experience this week in his online journal:

Moments before taking the stage I ran into Kevin Bales, an economist and hero of mine, whose TED talk introduced modern-day slavery to the social network. I consider Kevin one of the leaders of the ongoing anti-slavery and sustainable-freedom movement and it was seeing him backstage, a long way from California, that I began to experience the important significance of the event. This is a global crisis, and our concert was continuing to bring it into light.

Kevin was wearing a black “slavery sucks” t-shirt and he insisted I wear it during my set. It was already damp and odorous with his sweat from the day’s scorching heat, but I didn’t flinch when he gave it to me. I was honored. He literally took the shirt off his back for me.

Jason performed in SLAVERY SUCKS attire. And the concert was a terrific success. MTV covered it online, and plans to broadcast it next year.

For Jason, it was a profound experience. He writes:

Here were 50 thousand attentive people, observing, raising their hands in the air, shouting freedom! They did everything I invited them to do; dance, play and participate…Still, I never turned my attention away from the real issue. I was there as a messenger, helping to spread peace, prevention tools, and protection from the horrors of human trafficking…Anyone can rise to fame and fill an arena. Anyone can go on tour and impress audiences with their unique sound, catchy lyrics or beautiful voice. It happens every season on the latest re-invent of Star Search. But very few get the opportunity to be a first international artist to sing with tens of thousands in a movement to bring an end to human trafficking. I got to do that here in Myanmar. And it was awesome.

You can read more about Jason’s inner journey in Myanmar in his online journal.

Esperanza Spalding at FTS Benefit 2012

Esperanza Spalding at FTS Benefit | Adriana Mateo photo for City Winery

Lightning struck Manhattan last night.

A good kind of lightning. The kind that sparks magic.

It struck at the City Winery, scene of our first-ever benefit concert in New York.

And it was breathtaking.

Esperanza Spalding, a long-time FTS supporter, organized an unbelievable musical event to raise awareness about slavery and raise funds for Free the Slaves.

She called it, simply: “A Night for Freedom.”

Esperanza’s elegant jazz performance was spellbinding.

So was her deeply personal talk with the audience about why she has chosen to take a stand against slavery.

A surprise guest — Paul Simon — dropped in to perform two classics for the packed house, including Sound of Silence.

Esperanza receives socks from Prince

Esperanza receives box with sock from Prince

The evening’s silent fundraising auction brought even more surprises.

Esperanza donated one of her bass guitars to be auctioned.

Prince dropped by to donate one of his guitars, too.

Esperanza had asked Prince to donate anything – even a dirty sock.

And, before the show, a box arrived from Prince, with his sock inside.

Esperanza entertained the crowd with the story of Prince’s sock. But she auctioned off his guitar instead.

Bobby McFerrin at FTS Benefit

Bobby McFerrin at FTS Benefit | Adriana Mateo photo for City Winery

The evening ended with a powerful improvisation by vocalist Bobby McFerrin, whose personal tagline says his singing can be “hazardous to your preconceptions.”

He riffed to a series of smiling photos we showed of slavery survivors who’ve been helped by FTS.

I’ve never seen anything like it.

It reminded me that our work on the frontlines helps to change people’s lives.

Last night’s benefit generated remarkable exposure about modern-day slavery and trafficking.

Esperanza was featured yesterday by NBC News, talking about her music, her heritage, and her efforts to help FTS end slavery.

Esperanza Spalding on NBC Cafecito

Esperanza Spalding on NBC Cafecito

I’d like to extend a huge FTS hug to Esperanza and all the people who made our New York benefit a success. Something special began last night. Everyone in the room could feel it. A new community formed. Many in the audience came for the music, but they left with a commitment to help people everywhere move from slavery to freedom.

Thank you, all!

Marie was rescued from slavery in Haiti during the holidays last year.

What is the greatest holiday gift you can imagine giving?

How about freedom?

That’s the gift Marie* received last year, thanks to your continuing support of Free the Slaves.

Marie was a restavèk slave in Haiti. Restavèks are children sent away by impoverished families to live in wealthier homes.

They work difficult and demanding jobs as maids and nannies. They endure physical and sexual abuse, and are denied proper nutrition, sleep or education. In short, they are domestic slaves. Marie was enslaved at age 8.

Fortunately, Free the Slaves and our Haitian partners were training residents in her town to recognize slavery, to protect and rescue children, and to help vulnerable families find ways to care for their children at home. They formed a child protection committee, which they call a KomAnTim.

The KomAnTim learned about Marie’s situation. Malnourished and hungry, she had been caught taking a snack without permission from the woman who enslaved her. As punishment, the woman burned Marie’s hand in an open fire.

Members of the KomAnTim sprang into action, contacting a local court. The slaveholder fled town, leaving Marie behind. One member of the KomAnTim adopted Marie into her home to give her the love and care that every child deserves. Marie is now enrolled in school.

Your contributions allow Free the Slaves to work with groups like the KomAnTim in 600 communities around the world—in Haiti, India, Nepal, Ghana, Brazil, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. These groups are transforming their communities, eradicating slavery, rescuing children and adults. They are the vanguard of a global movement for freedom.

Last year, Free the Slaves supporters like you gave Marie the greatest gift a child can receive. Will you give that gift of freedom to another child this year?

Please donate to Free the Slaves this holiday season.

Thank you!

(*Marie is not her real name.)

We’re all excited that Esperanza is arranging an evening of remarkable music on December 4th in New York to benefit FTS. Buzz is building in the media, too! We hope you can join us. There are still tickets available for the event at the City Winery.

Esperanza just recorded a personal video invitation for her friends and supporters in New York, and for abolitionists like you too!

This concert is an amazing opportunity to see a Grammy-winning jazz musician performing up close. Esperanza will host a meet-and-greet reception with VIP ticket holders, and she’ll be auctioning off personal items – all to benefit Free the Slaves.

I was asked by a journalist the other day why we “chose” Esperanza to be our “spokesperson.” The truth is that she chose us! She was quietly contributing to FTS when we noticed her name in the database. So I gave her a call – and she picked up the phone herself in the middle of a photo shoot. It turns out that Esperanza was already a fan of the FTS model of community-based action to end slavery. She immediately volunteered to help us do more. And that’s how the December 4th benefit concert was born.

If you live in the New York area, get your tickets now, or buy a ticket for a friend. It will be a night you’ll never forget.


FTS Hero Now a CNN Hero

FTS considers all our donors and supporters to be heroes. We’re proud to report that CNN also recognizes one of them as a hero, too.

Scott Strode, a longtime friend and supporter of FTS, has been named one of the 10 CNN Heroes for 2012. You can view Scott’s CNN Hero profile here, and vote for him to be named CNN Hero of the Year!

Scott was chosen by CNN for founding Phoenix Multisport, a Colorado nonprofit that creates a physically active lifestyle for recovering substance abusers.

“Through such pursuits as climbing, hiking, running, swimming, road and mountain biking,” Scott’s group says, “we seek to help our members develop and maintain the emotional strength they need to stay sober.”

Scott founded Phoenix Multisport because he knows firsthand that recovering substance abusers need to change their lifestyle and circle of friends. It helped Scott put his own drug and alcohol abuse behind him.

“I want to help people find a better life being sober,” Scott says. “I had completely redefined myself, so I thought how could I give this to other people.”

It was Scott’s attraction to outdoor sports and the wilderness that took him high into the Himalayas of Nepal, where he came face-to-face with human trafficking.

Because of what he had seen, Scott’s family foundation became a dedicated supporter of our work in Nepal.

Now, you can support Scott, just like he has supported so many others!

The public determines who will become CNN’s Hero of the Year. Voting is underway now through November 28th.

Vote for Scott! Then watch him on CNN on December 2nd at 9 p.m. ET.