WASHINGTON (CNS) — A magazine cover story about human trafficking some years ago prompted Kenneth Morris Jr. to join the global struggle to stop it.
Morris is the great-great-great-grandson of abolitionist, orator and statesman Frederick Douglass and the great-great-grandson of educator and civil rights activist Booker T. Washington.
At a Jan. 29 event hosted by Human Rights First, Morris spoke with Catholic News Service about his long and emotional journey to his involvement in the anti-trafficking movement.
“I had always grown up knowing that I descended from those great heroes, but I never celebrated it most of my life,” he said. “I spent most of my life running away from the legacy, but it wasn’t until I came in contact with a National Geographic magazine cover story in 2005 and the headline was ‘21st Century Slaves.’”
“I reacted the same way that most people react when they hear about human trafficking for the first time,” Morris said. “I thought it had ended with the work of Frederick Douglass and the abolitionists.”
“But as I started to research the issue,” he went on, “I found that there were girls that were my daughters’ ages and younger. I have two daughters who at the time were 9 and 12 years old … and when I found out that these girls were forced to service men 20 to 30 times per day, I had this moment where I couldn’t look my girls in the eye and walk away without doing anything about it.”
Morris, in turn, found his calling to service in his heritage. “It was at that moment that I understood that I have this platform that my ancestors had built through struggle and through sacrifice and that I could do something to really leverage the historical significance of my ancestors to affect change around this issue.”
He founded Frederick Douglass Family Initiatives, “an abolitionist organization that combines lessons from the legacies of Frederick Douglass and Booker T. Washington: Abolition Through Education,” according to its website, www.fdfi.org.
“We deliver human trafficking prevention education to secondary schools in an effort to protect young girls from becoming victims,” Morris explained, adding that “we spend a lot of time talking to boys so that they can understand that the choices they make as young men and adult males can either be a part of the problem or a part of the solution.”
In addition, Fredrick Douglass Family Initiatives is launching a new, faith-oriented program.
“It’s called ‘Faith and Community,’ where we’re taking what we’ve been doing at schools and taking the same curricula to congregations and parishes,” he said. “It’s an interfaith effort to engage youth pastors who will teach the youth, who will, in turn, go into the community to raise awareness about the issue of human trafficking.”
The launch for Morris’ “Faith and Community” initiative will take place in March at Big Bethel African Methodist Episcopal Church, which is the oldest predominantly African-American congregation in the metropolitan Atlanta area.