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)
You only have until Sunday, July 15 to see the powerful exhibits Confederate Currency: The Color of Money presented by BB&T, and Confederate Memory: Symbolism, Controversy and Legacy.
Since April, the work of artist John W. Jones has been on display here at the museum showcasing images of slavery depicted on Confederate bank notes in Confederate Currency: The Color of Money presented by BB&T. These paintings gave the statement of how powerful the enslaved were to the economy of the South. As Jones says, “history informs art, which in turn artfully reveals more history”.
Confederate Memory: Symbolism, Controversy and Legacy offers insight on how the ideals of the Confederacy are still prevalent in our country today as it addresses the revisionist history and the national Confederate symbols debate.
See these exhibits here at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center while you still can. #MyNURFC #RevealStories
PR & Social Media Coordinator
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
We are open Wednesday, July 4th from 10:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. You have the opportunity to see our exhibits during operating hours including Confederate Currency: The Color of Money, Confederate Memory: Symbolism, Controversy and Legacy, The Rosa Parks Experience and The Columbus Crossing Borders Project sponsored by Catholic Charities of Ohio. #MyNURFC
In honor of Black History Month we want to recognize the many contributions and triumphs African Americans made to America throughout history. What better way to show this than to highlight the pieces of the Kinsey African American Art & History Collection?
Married for over forty years, activist couple Bernard and Shirley Kinsey have built a world-renowned exhibition that challenge and redefine African American identity and representation in history and arts. What began as a third grade project for their son Khalil – turned in to one of the largest privately owned collections of African American art, artifacts and manuscripts in the country. Spanning over 400 years, their collection feature works from Zora Neale Hurston, Romare Bearden, and Elizabeth Catlett – to name a few. Guests can even find pieces that have local ties to the city of Cincinnati such as the “Autumn Landscape” by Robert S. Duncanson, who spent the majority of his professional career in the Queen City.
This is the second time the exhibit has made its way here to the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center. It was originally the second location the collection appeared when it began traveling in 2006. Since then, it has been displayed at the California African American Museum, The Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Epcot Center at Disney World and The Hong Kong University Museum and Gallery to name a few, and has won many prestigious awards including the President’s National Award for Museum and Library Services.
Throughout February our staff, volunteers and docents will highlight pieces of the collection as well as give you first-person accounts of their experiences in the gallery. See the Kinsey African American Art & History Collection, presented by Macy’s, at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center before it closes on Saturday, March 3. #MyNURFC #KinseyatNURFC
Public Relations & Social Media Coordinator
National Underground Railroad Freedom Center
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
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
January is National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month and with more than 21 million people enslaved around the world, efforts to combat human trafficking are more important than ever.
“…in too many places around the world -- including right here in the United States -- the injustice of modern slavery and human trafficking still tears at our social fabric. During National Slavery and Human Trafficking Prevention Month, we resolve to shine a light on every dark corner where human trafficking still threatens the basic rights and freedoms of others.”
– President Barack Obama
Human Trafficking is defined by the United Nations as the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harboring or receipt of persons, by means of the threat or use of force or other forms of coercion, of abduction, of fraud, of deception, of the abuse of power or of a position of vulnerability or of the giving or receiving of payments or benefits to achieve the consent of a person having control over another person, for the purpose of exploitation. Exploitation shall include, at a minimum, the exploitation of the prostitution of others or other forms of sexual exploitation, forced labor or services, slavery or practices similar to slavery, servitude or the removal of organs. In short, it is compelling someone, thru force, fraud, or coercion, to work or engage in a commercial sex act.
Human trafficking takes on many forms, including sex trafficking, domestic servitude, forced labor, and bonded labor. Any enslavement of a child, whether sex trafficking, domestic servitude, forced or bonded labor, is considered child labor. Regardless of the form, human trafficking robs people of their freedom, strips them of their dignity, and subjects them to unimaginable suffering.
While much has been done globally and in the United States to fight the injustices of modern-day slavery, there is still much to do. And that begins with awareness. After all, we cannot fight an injustice until we first know about its presence. We all have a role to play in ending slavery, and there are many ways to get involved:
Please join the fight. Until all are free
Initiative Manager, Modern-Day Slavery
This website was funded by the U.S. Department of Education Underground Railroad Educational and Cultural (URR) Program