Every year on December 10 we recognize Human Rights Day—an UN holiday created to celebrate the day the United Nations General Assembly adopted the Universal Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. Today is the 70th anniversary of this historic doctrine.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the most translated document in the world (available in 500 languages) and proclaims “the inalienable rights which everyone is inherently entitled to as a human being –regardless of race, color, religion, sex, language, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status.”
This year, the slogan for Human Rights Day is #StandUp4HumanRights and encourages simple philosophies, such as the idea that we all deserve human rights, that by practicing equality and justice we prevent violence, and stand up our rights and the rights of others. So, what does Human Rights Day mean in the world of museums? How can we encourage those to #StandUp4HumanRights in cultural institutions?
Here at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center (NURFC), we encourage those to fight for inclusive freedom—an idea emphasized in the words of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Our mission allows us to discuss the difficult histories of America’s past while also encouraging inclusive freedom for her future.
At NURFC, we weave the idea of standing up for human rights into everything we do—from programming, to exhibitions, community led conversations, and guided school tours. Because of our mission, we can talk about our history and the idea of human rights. We are also a certified Museum of Conscience.
A Site of Conscience, or a Museum of Conscience, is a classification given to historic sites, museums, and memory initiatives by the International Coalition of Sites of Conscience—a global network of institutions that connect past struggles to today’s movements for human rights. Their slogan—turning memory into action—is a patch we proudly wear here at NURFC.
By being a part of this international network, NURFC can encourage those to continue the theme of Human Rights Day and encourage visitors to #StandUp4HumanRights.
Katie’s passion is sharing the untold stories of history, and she loves to think of new, creative ways to engage museum visitors. She is a graduate of Northern Kentucky University (Masters of Public History) and the University of Central Missouri (Bachelors of History). Her primary fields of study include the Underground Railroad, human rights, and early 20th century American History.
One of my earliest memories is walking through the hallways of my elementary school seeing posters with sayings like “you can’t get AIDS from a hug and a kiss.” This would have been around the time President Ronald Reagan finally started mentioning the word “AIDS” during speeches and press conferences. By that time over 5,000 residents of the United States – not to mention countless more around the globe -- had passed away from the disease. Many of these individuals were members of populations who faced widespread discrimination. Some of these groups included gay men, transgender women, Haitian immigrants and refugees, sex workers, and people addicted to IV drugs. My uncle Myron who left behind a long-term partner, Pedro, was one of these early deaths.
The vulnerability of oppressed populations to HIV/AIDS infection is a major reason why the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center (NURFC) is honoring World AIDS Day. While it is well known – or should be – that straight, white men of means can and do get infected, African Americans, LGBT folks, and lower income communities are still at higher risk. According to the CDC, in 2016 4,560 African American women received an HIV diagnosis, compared with 1,450 white women and 1,168 Hispanic/Latina women . While this rate of infection is lower than in past years, it is still unacceptably high especially when taking into account the fact that African Americans comprise 12% of the US population.
Meanwhile, while rates of HIV infection among gay men has stabilized, as of 2014 this population comprised 56% of new HIV cases . Young African American gay men – a minority within a minority -- account for more new cases of HIV infection in the United States than any other population . The reasons for this are much the same as back in the 80s when those PSA posters went up around my school; fewer official support networks, more obstacles to public health interventions, and less access to accurate information.
HIV/AIDS is also, sadly, highly relevant to NURFC’s involvement in the fight against modern-day enslavement. Sex trafficking is not only a humanitarian crisis, but also a public health one. Survivors of this atrocity are at substantial risk of HIV infection. This is due in part to the factors described above, not least of which are a lack of support networks and access to education. However, there is an even more sinister force at play. According to a 2013 study conducted by Harvard’s School of Public Health, women who are forced into sex work typically experience sexual violence. They are also unable to insist that their clients use safer sex techniques. This increases the likelihood of HIV infection 11-fold, as opposed to women who report entering the sex industry voluntarily . HIV positive trafficking victims have little hope of obtaining treatment and may even be abandoned by their traffickers once they become too sick to service clients. It is also important to remember that women and girls trapped in other forms of modern day enslavement, such as forced labor and domestic servitude, are vulnerable to sexual assault and have few avenues for recourse.
Curbing sex trafficking is a major step towards reducing rates of HIV infection. Framing the fight against modern day enslavement in this way could be a major step towards the elimination of both crises. At the same time, it is important not to demonize people living with HIV/AIDS, particularly if they are trafficking victims. Doing so is a form of re-victimization. Fortunately many organizations, such as the joint United Nations Program on HIV/AIDS, have started tackling issues such as this from a human rights standpoint.
It has been over 20 years since I saw those HIV/AIDS PSAs on the walls of my elementary school. Since then I’ve grown up, graduated high school and college, and come out as a gay man. I’ve made many friends, some of them people living with HIV/AIDS, from all walks of life. In some cases, I’ve been with them in the counselor’s office as they receive life changing news.
At the same time, I’ve witnessed HIV/AIDS go from death sentence to manageable medical condition. I’ve seen the stigma of HIV infection lessen (at least here in the US). I’ve also seen hopeful signs that there may be a cure, or at least a vaccine, in my lifetime. HIV medications have also become less hard on a person’s system.
Regardless: people living with HIV/AIDS, be they a classmate or a trafficking victim – or both – are not the enemy. They need love, support, and the occasional hug just as much as anyone. After all, you really can’t get AIDS from a hug.
As Coordinator of Initiatives against Modern Day Slavery, Jonathan oversees the site End Slavery Now and works to build relationships among anti-trafficking organizations in and around Cincinnati. He is currently a PhD candidate at the University of Oregon.
 https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/group/racialethnic/africanamericans/index.html (accessed 11/27/2018)
 https://www.cdc.gov/nchhstp/newsroom/docs/factsheets/cdc-msm-508.pdf (accessed 11/27/2018)
 Ibid (accessed 11/27/2018)
 https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3626049/ (accessed 11/28/2018)
December 1, 2018 is the 63rd anniversary of the Montgomery Bus Boycott. In Ohio, it’s also Rosa Parks Day, the anniversary date of her famous arrest on December 1, 1955. We will honor the great Rosa Parks during the month of December through a social media campaign called #381Days.
The deeper story of Rosa Parks’ life was the inspiration for this campaign. The fact that she was such an educated woman that stood up for what she believed in, despite the fact that her whole world changed is pretty remarkable. Many know that when Rosa refused to move from her seat in 1955, she became an iconic face in the civil rights movement. What many don't remember is that she was intensely active in that movement as well.
Parks had a previous run in with bus driver James Blake about a year prior to the day of her arrest. Ever since then, she worked with the NAACP to fight for the rights of the African American community. Following her arrest, the Women’s Political Council called for a 1-day boycott in which they expected 60% of the black community to participate. To everyone's surprise, 90% of the black community became involved.
Due to the large percentage of the community participation, the black leaders of Montgomery called a meeting to form the Montgomery Improvement Association (MIA), electing Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as President. At this meeting they issued a formal list of demands in which the city later refused to comply. Their initial demands did not involve changing the segregation laws, but inserting more courtesy within the existing laws. For example, hiring black bus drivers and implementing a "first come, first serve" policy where whites would fill the front of the bus and blacks would fill the back.
Responding to the denial of the demands and to keep the boycott going, the MIA created a carpool system to support the community protesters. This boycott lasted for 381 days while leaders such as E.D. Nixon and Martin Luther King Jr. suffered turmoil like death threats to themselves and their families, as well as house bombings.
We remember these strong leaders that have encouraged us and put their life on the line to stand up for what they believed in, and more importantly what is right. After the long days of the bus boycott, the buses were officially desegregated on December 21st, 1956. But the fight always continues.
Blog 1 of a 3-part series. Check back next week for Part 2.
Merrisha is a student at Northern Kentucky University. Throughout Merrisha’s internship she has worked to create content for social media platforms such as Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter for the Freedom Center. She has enjoyed learning how to communicate with different types of people in different departments around the museum and learning something new each day.
Fridays at 1:00 p.m. through December 14, 2018
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
50 E Freedom Way, Cincinnati, OH 45202
Included in general & special exhibition admission.
Join National Underground Railroad Freedom Center staff and docents for a guided tour of MANDELA: THE JOURNEY TO UBUNTU for Mandela 100, a year of commemoration engagement lead by The Nelson Mandela Foundation, challenging and inspiring organizations and individuals around the world to, "be the legacy." MANDELA: THE JOURNEY TO UBUNTU commemorates the life and legacy of former South African President Nelson Mandela through photographs by Willman as he revisited many of the locations that played an important role in South Africa’s route to racial equality and Mandela’s personal fight for freedom.
At the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, we believe in inclusive freedom – all people, everywhere enjoying rights and privileges of equal number, equal quality, and equal kind. The recent images, audio, and news coverage of children being separated from their families at the border are infuriating and heartbreaking. Many are asking – how could this happen? This practice has been inflicted upon oppressed populations in the United States for much of our nation’s existence; the legacy of the separation of enslaved families, Native American families and Japanese-American Internment are woven into the tapestry of the American experience. Sadly, today, we are watching a global crisis. The separation, criminalization, and detention of brown migrant children demands our attention and our collective action.
Call your legislators. Join a Families Belong Together rally on June 30. Do not be complicit with your silence.
According to the Global Slavery Index, there are 45.8 million slaves in the world today and over two-thirds of those slaves are victims of forced labor. Forced Labor is obtaining and transporting of a person for labor through the use of force, fraud, or coercion for the purposes of involuntary servitude, debt bondage, or slavery. Forced labor is the type of enslavement used across the world to produce many products in our global supply chains. The desire to produce a profit is the largest motivating force behind the institution of slavery.
Fortunately, we as consumers can fight forced labor by shifting the demand of our buying habits to fair trade and survivor-made goods. Fair trade is more than just paying a laborer a fair wage, however. Fair trade is a reciprocal partnership based on mutual respect that allows us to buy the products we love without taking advantage of the people who make them. By educating yourself about fair trade and debunking its myths, you can start to change your buying habits and become a smarter consumer.
Since fair trade clothing and home goods are less accessible to find than fair trade food, for example, here are five ways to build a slave-free closet. By supporting ethical brands, shopping less and choosing better, choosing quality products over quantity, buying vintage or second-hand, and valuing the clothes you have, we hold companies and governments accountable to put people before products.
Additionally, check out our list of many fair trade retailers from EndSlaveryNow.org where you can get started. You can also find your slavery footprint or download our Slave Free Buying Guide, an ethical shopping guide with many suggestions for fair trade products.
Fair trade doesn’t have to be overwhelming! From now on, take small steps such as switching to one or two fair trade products such as fair trade coffee or t-shirts. Additionally, donate your money or time to a fair trade or anti-human trafficking organization, many of which can be found here.
We hope you join the fight in ending slavery!
National Undeground Railroad Freedom Center
The volunteer program at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center allows people the opportunity to contribute to the mission while following their interests. We want our volunteers to be inspired through their passions and our exhibits. Their inspiration will reflect on our guests, giving everyone a better experience. We also want our guests to be inspired by our volunteers. Guests will take this inspiration back to their communities, making them a better place for all who live there.
Volunteers are the backbone of our organization. Their role is critical to our guests, and to the advancement of the organization. They do and accomplish things that no other employee can do. Without them, many of our guests would not receive the amazing experiences they do. Our mission is to challenge and inspire every guest to take courageous steps for freedom today, and that’s exactly what our volunteers do here at the Freedom Center. We cannot accomplish our mission without volunteers.
Have you considered becoming a volunteer of the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center?
Check out our interview detailing the volunteer program here.
Interpretative Services Manager
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
Modern-day slavery does not care who you are, what you look like, or where you come from. It can happen to anyone—any of us—at any given time.
It is estimated that 20-45.8 million people are enslaved in the world today, in every country in the world today, including the United States. Although exact numbers are difficult to pin point, in the U.S. we know that in the past eight years more than 31,600 total cases of human trafficking have been reported to the National Human Trafficking Hotline.
But what is human trafficking? Is it the same as modern day slavery? In short, yes. The United Nations defines human trafficking as, “the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring, or receipt of persons by improper means (such as force, abduction, fraud, or coercion) for an improper purpose including forced labor or sexual exploitation.”  Both the definition of “modern day slavery” and “human trafficking” deal with the enslavement of human beings.
As previously stated—slavery can happen to anyone. Not all enslaved people look one specific way, nor do all traffickers look one specific way. However, there are red flag indicators in human trafficking cases that help people correctly identify victims. And knowing these indicators do help. In 2016, the National Human Trafficking Hotline found that community members called the hotline more than any other demographic. Out of 26,727 calls made last year, 7,545 of them were placed by members in the community who knew the signs.
So, why am I telling you all of this? On June 10th, the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center held See & Say: How to Spot the Signs of Human Trafficking, a training workshop aimed at helping people understand the red flag indicators of human trafficking. We wanted to provide the general public with an introductory training of these warning sings, with the ultimate goal if you see something, you will say something. The idea for the program came after a discussion with the Freedom Center’s curator, Dr. Ashley Jordan, about how a person could receive training on the warning signs of human trafficking. This conversation stemmed from the news report on Shelia Fedrick, the Alaskan Airlines flight attendant who was successfully able to identify a victim of human trafficking on her flight last February. Because of Shelia Fedrick’s knowledge of these critical signs, she was able to help a young girl escape enslavement.
Understanding the signs of human trafficking is one of the easiest ways a person can help fight against slavery—it literally just requires you to be more vigilant and aware in your normal, everyday situations. At the Freedom Center, part of our mission is to “challenge and inspire everyone to take courageous steps of freedom today,” and that is what our See & Say program was all about. Our goal was to educate attendees on the warning signs of human trafficking and encourage “if you see something, say something.”
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
This spring, I was approached by my friend and colleague Nancy Yerian and asked if I would be interested in participating in a StoryCorps interview at their mobile recording booth. She was able to make the appointment through Vibrant Kin, one of many community partners who help make sure the StoryCorps mobile tour reaches a diverse audience. I was excited to be asked and immediately decided that I would like for her to be my partner in the conversation. We are both members of the LGBTQ+ community and I thought it would be a great opportunity for each of us to tell our own stories and contribute to LGBTQ+ oral histories, which are unfortunately few and far between in the collections of museums and libraries. While I cannot speak for Nancy directly, I feel we both felt a sense of responsibility heading into the interview on behalf of our community.
The day finally came for us to meet in the recording booth. I found myself strangely nervous. I didn’t know what to expect and the thought of our conversation being recorded with a member of the StoryCorps team in the room became a somewhat daunting prospect. I was prepared to speak honestly and openly with Nancy about whatever she wanted to ask. Knowing that we would both be sharing our coming out stories and deeply personal details about our lives in front of another person became intimidating. I felt like I was about to come out of the closet again. I was, and this time I was, we were, coming out to the entire nation.
Morgan was our StoryCorps team member and he helped us settle in. As we talked with him and did our sound tests I started to feel more at ease and I think Nancy did as well. I became excited now that we were getting this opportunity to tell America our stories; stories that need to be heard by many in our country. I hope that in doing so, we were able to make a positive difference in the life of someone who isn’t yet out to family, friends or their community. Our stories, full of joy and pain and all that comes with declaring to the world that you are proudly and unapologetically who you are, may provide some kid in rural Indiana or elsewhere, hope that it gets better. I reached out to Nancy about this post and she provided this comment about the experience: “I am used to being the listener, not the storyteller, so this experience felt incredibly personal as well as empowering. The connection we were able to make in just forty minutes (which flew by) reminded me of how powerful our stories really are.”
Participating in StoryCorps was a deeply humbling and incredibly emotional experience. I will be processing our conversation for days going forward. Nancy and I have both resolved to continue our conversation in the coming weeks, both of us feeling we have only just begun to tell our stories. This is the power of the StoryCorps project. It connects all of us as humans and as Americans. I am so honored to have had the opportunity to participate and I encourage anyone to do so if they get the chance. We all have a story to share and we all have an obligation to listen. It’s how we learn to become a better people. We have more in common than we think, and there is less that divides us. We need to come together and listen. That is what StoryCorps is all about.
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
Waking up early is not exactly my thing, let alone running. But this particular morning I woke up to start my day at 5:00 a.m. to run a 5k. Knowing it was helping to bring a woman named Asha to freedom was that motivation to get out of the bed.
Last month the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center had the opportunity to work with the Aruna Project for the third year to host the 9th annual Aruna Run in Cincinnati. The Aruna Project brings and sustains freedom through employment marked by holistic care to sexually exploited women. In short they free, empower and employ these women to assist them in leading a normal life. They do this by inviting thousands of people across the US to participate in Aruna Runs to raise awareness and money to aid in the freedom process. Asha unfortunately was a part of the monstrosity of sex trafficking. Although I was literally half way across the world from her, my efforts here were going to help get out of her situation.
The Cincinnati Aruna Run, held on May 20, 2017 at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center was one of the most inspiring races I’ve been a part of. Close to 600 runners and walkers showed up. The weather forecast was one of rain and possible storms, but that did not deter anyone. There were participants of all races and ages, with one common thread – a desire to support freedom for others. One of the most important elements of the Aruna Run is to select a specific woman to run for. These are women known by the Aruna Project that are still trapped in the commercial sex industry and that they are working to bring to freedom. Participants chose who they wanted to represent in the fight for freedom. I ran for Asha. Some ran for Sarika while others ran for Kali. While there are so many entrapped in this form of modern-day slavery, it’s important to remember that each one is an individual. These women are someone’s daughter, or someone’s sister. Each one has a name.
The Aruna Project successfully raised tens of thousands of dollars with the Cincinnati Aruna Run, not to mention the awareness raised about the realities of modern-day slavery. Additionally, this race quite literally embodied the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center’s mission to encouraging people to take steps for freedom for all. In this instance, approximately 4,265 steps.
Initiative Manager, Modern-Day Slavery
This website was funded by the U.S. Department of Education Underground Railroad Educational and Cultural (URR) Program