Anti-slavery activists visit Brooks Middle School

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By Jeramie L. Bizzle

Three hundred eighth-graders filled the auditorium at Gwendolyn Brooks Middle School, 325 S. Kenilworth Ave., as human rights activists Bakary Tandia and Biram Dah Abeid spoke to students about their push to end slavery.

Abeid, who is president and founder of the human rights organization IRA-Mauritania, is a descendant of a slave. He said that since the age of 8, his father talked to him about slavery and what it means.

"They are exposed to hard work, they are not allowed to go to school and can be physically punished and sexually abused." Abeid said. "They are taken away from their parents to be sent to these different places. Those who are the victims are black and those who are responsible are white.

Tandia, who translated for Abeid, added by saying that slaves are treated like merchandise.

"There is a system of denial that slavery still exists," said Tandia. "It used to be a crime to say it exists in Mauritania. It was abolished seven times in 2007, it is meant for public relations purposes to come in and project a positive image in handling this situation. By funding the government you are supporting slavery."

Students were given the opportunity to ask questions about their country and their mission to end slavery. Eighth-grader Connor Ostrow, 13, said this experience showed him how this differs from textbooks — talking to people with firsthand experience of slavery.

"Having a person who was a part of it makes it seem more real," he said, "more in your face and noticeable. To help transform youth makes a stronger connection with the audience, not that slavery [once] existed but has been for centuries."

The idea to have Tandia and Abeid speak at the school started with a student talking to a parent, who then talked to a teacher. Teacher Lisa Hendrix, 49, who teaches integrated studies said this shows that word-of-mouth can bring change to a school.

"This age, they are starting to think more," Hendrix said. "They need real-world experience and having them speak is a perfect example. The kids were interacting and fascinated by what they were speaking about, and they need that immediacy."

On Dec. 10, Abeid received the 2013 United Nations Human Rights Award for his work with IRA-Mauritania, which led to the release of hundreds of slaves. The award is given every five years to individuals who advocate to protect human rights. He's in good company with other human rights leaders, including Martin Luther King Jr., former president Jimmy Carter and Nelson Mandela.

Tandia and Abeid said there is more work to be done to change the world and they appealed to the students to write letters to their elected state representatives and ask them to oppose slavery in other countries.

"I was in a subway in New York, and on the wall I read that youth are 50 percent of the population and 100 percent of the future. It is up to you to make the change," Tandia said.

The assembly lasted 30 minutes as the speakers were late due to weather and traffic, but students did not seem to mind the wait. After the assembly, Tabdia and Abeid were invited to the staff lounge for lunch with teachers and students.

Reader Comments

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OP Transplant  

Posted: December 16th, 2013 12:13 PM

Additionally, traveling to Oak Park, of all places, to speak out against slavery wins the 2013 "Preaching to the Choir" award, and this is a town that knows how to preach to the choir!

OP Transplant  

Posted: December 16th, 2013 12:11 PM

Shana-I agree with you, but the key is "multifaceted". The speaker misidentified the perpetrators of this injustice in Mauritania as white, although he presumably knows that they are Muslim Berbers of Asian ancestry. Is he simply mistaken about this, or is he misleading students to further an agenda about white oppression? Either way, I'd still prefer that students' awareness be raised in a way that is consistent with the truth. Is simple accuracy too much to ask from our schools?

Shana from Oak Park  

Posted: December 16th, 2013 9:33 AM

As someone who has worked with victims of trafficking here in Illinois, I must say that I see no problem with teaching our kids the multifaceted dimensions of slavery, be it committed by whites, blacks, asians, latinos, or etc. The key issue that drives slavery is economics/profits. Power is often at play as well. Thanks to OP District 97 for at least attempting to bring the issue to the classrooms in a way that will enlighten and intrigue our students to learn more.

OP Transplant  

Posted: December 16th, 2013 8:42 AM

Sean - Can I mock the the comic self-promotion of his hilariously derivative poster? How the about his blatant falsehood that whites are responsible for Mauritanian slavery, told to a group of children at school, no less? Or the lemming-like school administrators who put this guy in front of a group of their students without doing ten minutes of fact checking? There's plenty here to mock. You just let me know what's okay, since apparently we're all running stuff by you now.

Sean from Chicago  

Posted: December 15th, 2013 3:05 AM

OP Transplant mocked the efforts of anti-slavery advocate and UN Human RIghts Prize Winner Biram Abeid -whose family was cruelly enslaved - for wasting time speaking to Oak Park students. Keeping this inhuman slavery secret is top priority of the slaveholders. As with South Africa, students in Illinois spoke out strongly against apartheid and supported a worldwide effort to help end it. Likewise, Mauritanians are mobilizing young people - including OP students - internationally against slavery

Violet Aura  

Posted: December 14th, 2013 1:25 PM

Cont. ambiguous. They are more likely to take one side or another instead of seeing a bigger picture. I realize that the demographics of the nation (and world) are changing and that the White populations of the world are declining. As someone of mixed heritage, I have no problem with this but I do think that we don't want to swing to the other extreme and become anti-White.

Violet Aura  

Posted: December 14th, 2013 1:22 PM

@OP Transplant: I think my point and yours are interrelated, though. The inaccuracy of the teaching is coupled with a push to identify Whites as the culprits. And I totally get that overall this may very well be the case. However, when we "whitewash" (not punny) historic events that deviate from the Official Story that is also being circulated, then it presents a lopsided view on things. And for children this is especially bad because they are still at the age where things are not seen as...

OP Transplant  

Posted: December 13th, 2013 4:48 PM

My greater complaint is that the claim of white responsibility for Mauritanian slavery is simply not accurate. This happened at a school. I get the need to push the agenda...this is Oak Park, but damn! Have we, as a community, actually come to the place where we'll misinform children at school to make sure they have a certain set of beliefs?

Violet Aura  

Posted: December 13th, 2013 4:26 PM

Cont. perp is White! LMAO! I recall taking a university course as an adult student about ten years ago and the professor was Black. She taught an education course on the history of public education in America and was using a very strident text by a colleague of hers. It dealt with the impact of Eurocentric ideals and behaviors. Not saying it wasn't 100% accurate but one day a male White student asked her: "So did White people do ANYTHING right?" True story and very amusing to me.

Violet Aura  

Posted: December 13th, 2013 4:23 PM

"Those who are the victims are black and those who are responsible are white." From one of the people presenting this information. Now please tell me how this will heal race relations in this country. If we had an assembly in a middle school discussing crime in America and used a statistic that claimed that the majority of crimes in America are committed by Black people (if that stat is true), everyone would be besides themselves. Hell, Wednesday Journal now omits racial descriptors unless the..

OP Resident # 545 from Oak Park  

Posted: December 13th, 2013 3:02 PM

I'm curious....which member of the Brooks faculty or staff is responsible for organizing this assembly? Was attendance by students mandatory? I'm not saying this wasn't a valuable experience for the students, it's just that it smacks of an agenda, especially in light of the speakers presenting slave owners as "white" instead of "middle-eastern" or "arab".

OP Transplant  

Posted: December 13th, 2013 1:25 PM

The message that whites are always oppressors and blacks are always helpless victims plays well in OP. Even so, I'm surprised by the willingness to misinform children at school just to perpetuate the narrative. Look, I hate whitey as much as the next guy (unless the next guy is Mr. Hubbuch, whose hatred of whitey is legendary), but how the hell do you blame white people for Arabs owning Black slaves in Mauritania?

Dan Hefner from Oak Park  

Posted: December 13th, 2013 1:20 PM

Tandia and Abeid should take their road show to Minneapolis. The government recently indicted 29 individuals who belong to three different Somali gangs for sex trafficking. Some of the victims of these predators were as young as 14!! In this case those responsible for the crimes were black and the victims were white. Slavery is an example of mans inhumanity to man. It is not always a black/white situation.

DEVO from Land of De-evoloution  

Posted: December 12th, 2013 5:07 PM

If only a movie were made about slavery in Mauritania. Then Mr. Hubbuch could write an article about it and the problem would be solved.

Uncommon Sense  

Posted: December 12th, 2013 1:52 PM

Probably hasn't gained traction because it kind of hurts the typical narrative of slavery/victimhood here if you show people of color owning slaves.

OP Transplant  

Posted: December 12th, 2013 1:47 PM

VA - And it's a stretch to identify the perpetrators in Mauritania as white, though they are lighter-skinned than the those held in slavery. They're Arab speaking people of Middle-Eastern ancestry, not Europeans. They're closer to my color, and I'm rarely mistaken for white. People tend to play fast and loose with the facts when they're trying to squeeze something into their own pre-existing narrative.

Violet Aura  

Posted: December 12th, 2013 1:29 PM

Cont. more harmful than helpful. For instance, how do young White teens process the idea of their race being the perps of this global tragedy, up until this day? By stressing the racial aspect, it will simplistically lead to connect White with being an evil oppressor, when any group is capable of explotiation if they happen to be in power. And for Black students, it is yet one more example of their race being the posterchildren for victimhood. Is this empowering ?

Violet Aura  

Posted: December 12th, 2013 1:26 PM

@Keep up the Good Work: So you believe that knowing about something= it changing? Really? How many liberal OP parents have Apple products, even though it could easily be said that their workers are veritable slaves? I deliberaly refuse to buy Apple products for this very reason. It's a thin line between slavery and long hours living at a factory. But people believe that it's enough to learn about something. No, it's just the beginning. I also question bringing race into this. While it may be...

Uncommon Sense  

Posted: December 12th, 2013 1:18 PM

I find the guy's Obama like poster creepy. Raising awareness of these issues is good though.

Keep up the good work from Oak Park  

Posted: December 12th, 2013 1:16 PM

I would say most Americans have no clue about the ongoing existence of slavery in the world. It is great to raise awareness on these types of issues, because nothing will ever happen if the more powerful nations (like the US) remain in the dark.

OP Transplant  

Posted: December 12th, 2013 12:40 PM

I'm a little perplexed that these activists are hoping to end slavery in Mauritania by talking to twelve-year-olds in Illinois. I know, I know?raising awareness. Maybe the kids could wear ribbons? That seems to be the solution to all ills.

Joel from Oak Park  

Posted: December 12th, 2013 11:31 AM

Foomer: The United States, along with most countries of the world, trade with Mauritania, do not even acknowledge the existence of slavery there, and as a result serve to buttress this system which contradicts basic human rights. Without awareness and pressure, nothing changes.

Violet Aura  

Posted: December 12th, 2013 11:17 AM

Are any pro-slavery advocates scheduled to speak, to give a balanced view? Lord have mercy...

Foomer  

Posted: December 12th, 2013 9:47 AM

"Tandia and Abeid appealed to the students to write letters to their elected state representatives and ask them to oppose slavery in other countries." Why is this neccessary? Do we actually think that some members of congress still support slavery in other countries?

Jack Hughes from Chicago, Illinois  

Posted: December 11th, 2013 11:19 PM

Slavery was abolished in the United States 150 years ago

John Butch Murtagh from Oak Park, Illinois  

Posted: December 11th, 2013 5:35 PM

Outstanding Initiative.

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