A Youth-Driven Summit Rethinking Anti-Trafficking

Washington, DC– From June 23-28, President Lincoln’s Cottage will host its annual Students Opposing Slavery International Summit. The program was started by four local teenagers in 2013 to help young people combat human trafficking. It has grown and expanded into an award-winning student opportunity, even winning the Presidential Award of Extraordinary Efforts to Combat Trafficking in Persons.

For a week during Civic Season (that period between Juneteenth and July 4 that is beginning to be recognized by cultural institutions and Gen Z), young people from around the world gather at the Cottage, the home where Lincoln developed the Emancipation Proclamation, to continue the fight for freedom.

Every class boasts students from across the world with vastly different perspectives that merge and evolve over the week. “The Anti-Trafficking field has changed a lot since the program was founded, but what hasn’t changed is the consistent output of innovative ideas generated by the students. Each year the collective ideas developed are incredibly creative and thoughtful: sometimes aspirational, but often very practical. The field and the wider public should sit up and take note of the brave and creative ideas of these young people,” said Callie Hawkins, CEO & Executive Director of President Lincoln’s Cottage.

Ariana Zelaya Canelas, a 2023 participant originally from Honduras, explained the sense of belonging that the program cultivated, “The class was welcoming and diverse. I didn’t feel out of place because we all look and think differently. I felt challenged. The fact that we came from all over the world brought different perspectives to the discussion, and I appreciated that.” This premise of a warm and curious acceptance of differences enables the kind of creative thinking that Hawkins admires.

A major component of the program is listening and questioning. Last year’s speakers included Cindy Dyer, the United States Ambassador-at-Large to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons, and representatives from Polaris, the Wendt Center for Loss and Healing, GoodWeave, and Rising Organizers, most of whom will be returning this year.

Rhiannon Esposito, a student activist from Boston noted, “I wasn’t expecting how many different fields could tie into human trafficking. For example, we had a trauma and healing workshop to learn about the impacts of trauma, and we heard from Rising Organizers about starting a movement. Those were completely different presentations, but they both are tied into this work. All of these different kinds of organizations are working to dismantle human trafficking.”

The program has had a profound personal influence on the lives of attendees. Graduates have gone on to run anti-trafficking NGOs, pursue social work degrees to work with trafficking survivors, and study neuroscience to better understand the impact of trauma.

A local student, Nora Bruenjes from Fairfax County, reflected on the impact of the 2023 program: “The connections I made and the stories I heard will follow me throughout my life and hopefully help me make a bigger impact on the world.”

2024’s summit will bring students from Indonesia, Morroco, and the United Kingdom, as well as American students from around the country. As in past years, some of the accepted young people are already working within the field, and some are introduced to activism through the program.

These origin stories deserve to be shared.

Media contact: Rebecca Kilborne

(240) 997-6223

[email protected]

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