Descendent Of 19th Century Civil Rights Leader Visits Elizabeth School

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ELIZABETH–All of Benedictine Academy’s ongoing efforts to fight against modern day slavery in the form of human trafficking segued with a recent visit by Ken Morris, the great-great-great grandson of Frederick T. Douglass, the former slave who became a leader of the civil rights movement in the 1800s.

Morris, who is also a descendent of Booker T. Washington, visited students at the Academy on Feb. 24 to laud them for their current anti-slavery efforts and encourage them to continue their campaign to raise awareness of the 21st Century abomination.

Morris, who heads the “Frederick T. Douglass Foundation”, told the students he is working to “carry out the legacy” of his ancestors, whom he described as “two historical giants”. He is also educating citizens around the country about how terrible human trafficking is today. He and Foundation partner Robert Benz both spoke about the difficult challenge ahead.

“Many people don’t know what human trafficking is,” Benz told the students noting the many forms it takes- children sold as soldiers, laborers, sex slaves and chattel slaves (treated as personal property). “People need to connect that human trafficking is slavery, just like in the past,” Benz said. He emphasized the necessity to “understand history to comprehend what is going on today.” Morris added, “I want to stress the importance of where we’ve come, to know where we are headed.”

Both Morris and Benz noted that “Benedictine Academy is doing great work in support of what we’re doing…attempting to end modern day slavery in the form of human trafficking.” “BA is on the cutting edge of what the Foundation is doing,” they added, noting that they are using the Academy’s anti-human trafficking efforts as a “model” to address the issue. “We have used some of BA’s ideas to incorporate into plans we have suggested to other schools,” Benz said. Both stressed that “awareness is key”. “Students have the power to reach more people through social networks and the Internet- this is key to addressing the issue,” he noted.

Benedictine Academy has done just that. Last academic year, the Academy received the Top Youth Volunteer Group in the State of New Jersey Jefferson Award. The Academy’s SHAC (Students Helping All Children) SQUAD, was honored for working tirelessly to raise awareness to stop human trafficking. The group was recognized at a NJ State Governor’s Jefferson Awards dinner and ceremony at the Newark Museum in June.

The SHAC SQUAD, comprised of ten Benedictine Academy sophomores, joined the United Nations’ “Blue Heart Campaign against Human Trafficking” last year and enlisted the aid of peers, teachers, and families to get the word out about the horrors of trafficking. Attempting to raise awareness and bring the crime out of the dark and into the public eye, the SHAC SQUAD worked with fellow students to paint a banner and develop printed materials to distribute to schools in local communities. They met with the United Nations Office of Drugs and Crime to learn more about the human trafficking issue and to deliver their banner and pledge materials. They reached out to their school’s alumnae on Facebook and student activists at Kean University. In addition they helped spread their message through Skype; by speaking at a dinner of over 100 people; and appearing at a Seton Hall University rally in April. Their efforts still continue.

Morris became emotional at the start of the presentation at Benedictine Academy, when senior Chloe Easton presented a slide show highlighting the history of slavery and the scars it left, literally and figuratively; along with the efforts of the abolitionist movement; and representations of Douglass and Washington. “I was touched deeply by what I learned about Frederick Douglass”, Easton stated, especially his quote- “without a struggle, there can be no progress”.

Morris then spoke and explained that he began his fight against human trafficking four years ago, when he was made aware of the extent of the problem in a magazine article. The horrors of what he was reading, juxtaposed against the laughter of his two young daughters being tucked safely into bed in the next room, left him “stunned- I couldn’t even look my daughters in the eyes”, he said, thinking about the great difference in living conditions. “Reading about the millions enslaved, being forced to become sex slaves in brothels in Southeast Asia”, gave him a “platform for today to stand up and do something together about trafficking and the exploitation of human lives,” Morris explained.

He told a story of visiting the Frederick T. Douglass House/Museum and seeing a pair of his great-great-great grandfather’s shoes preserved in a room there. Having always wanted to slip into those shoes, the opportunity presented itself one day during a tour when he found himself standing right next to them. “But I didn’t”, he said. “Because I can’t ever fit into the shoes of Frederick T. Douglass or Booker T. Washington,” Morris stated. “But I can step into MY shoes and lead the way to a brighter future, a better tomorrow, and make a difference in the lives of people around me,” Morris concluded.

“You are doing incredible, impressive work, out of thousands of students in the country,” Morris told the Benedictine Academy students. “You should be proud of your work, which will be a model for our Foundation’s work to fight modern-day slavery.” The students at Benedictine Academy presented Morris and Benz with a check for their Foundation, in the amount of $710.96- the same amount that was paid by a group of Europeans who befriended Frederick T. Douglass and purchased his freedom.

“Two men who were born slaves, rose above their circumstances through the power of education,” Morris noted. Douglass, who escaped his bonds at the age of 18, “never sat in a classroom”, Morris pointed out, however, he “knew that knowledge is power”. “He was a self-taught scholar who used to say “my education is written on my back”, referring to the scars on his body from daily whippings and beatings as a slave. Booker T. Washington attended school, and eventually went on to found Tuskegee Normal School in Alabama, now known as Tuskegee University. “He felt that if you obtained an education, if you knew something, you could help the country,” Morris pointed out. The bloodlines of the two former slaves were united when Frederick Douglass III married Nettie Washington, granddaughter of Booker T. Washington. Nettie Washington was Ken Morris’ grandmother.

“These men showed how they could change themselves, rise up, gain self-esteem, and face challenges,” Morris stated. “That is why we are talking to young people at a time when they are forming their identity, so they make good choices,” he continued. “We feel it is our mission to be before you and tell you these things (human slavery) are not right.”

Ken Morris, the great-great-great grandson of Frederick T. Douglass, the former slave who became a leader of the civil rights movement in the 1800’s, visited Benedictine Academy in Elizabeth recently. Morris, who also descends from Booker T. Washington, visited students at the Academy on February 24 to laud them for their current anti-slavery efforts against human trafficking and to encourage them to continue their campaign to raise awareness of the 21st century abomination. The students at the all- female Catholic college prep high school presented Morris and Foundation partner Robert Benz with a check for the Frederick T. Douglass Foundation in the amount of $710.96- the same amount that was paid by a group of Europeans who befriended Douglass and purchased his freedom. Pictured (l-r) with a replica of the check are: Robert Benz of the “Frederick T. Douglass Foundation”, students Cynthia Pizarro of Elizabeth, Ariana Taveras of Newark, Dannah Laguitan of Woodbridge, and Caroline Antonio of Newark, and Ken Morris.

Students at Benedictine Academy in Elizabeth enjoyed lunch with Ken Morris (at head of table) and Robert Benz following their talk at the school on February 24. Morris, who heads the “Frederick T. Douglass Foundation”, told the students he is working to “carry out the legacy” of his ancestors (former slaves Frederick T. Douglass and Booker T. Washington), whom he described as “two historical giants”. He is also educating citizens around the country about how terrible human trafficking is today.

A suitcase filled with carefully selected gifts was presented to Ken Morris and Robert Benz of the “Frederick T. Douglass Foundation” during a luncheon in their honor at Benedictine Academy on February 24. Both Morris and Benz spoke to students at the Academy earlier in the day, noting that “Benedictine Academy is doing great work in support of what we’re doing…attempting to end modern day slavery in the form of human trafficking.” The Academy’s Campus Minister, Linda Michalski (left) is pictured with Morris (right) and Benz (center) presenting the gifts. They included a first edition of the Academy’s “North Star” newspaper that contained articles about Frederick Douglass; the value of education and faith; and information on human trafficking. Frederick Douglass was the editor of a paper called the “North Star” in which he spoke out about human rights.

Benedictine Academy sophomore Imani Greene of East Orange chatted with Ken Morris during the luncheon in his honor on February 24.

Benedictine Academy senior “Globe Changers” enjoyed meeting Ken Morris and Robert Benz of the “Frederick T. Douglass Foundation on February 24. Pictured (l-r) are: Ariana Taveras of Newark, Dannah Laguitan of Woodbridge, Robert Benz, Andrea Mendoza of Union, Ken Morris, and Caroline Antonio of Newark. (All photos courtesy of Benedictine Academy)


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