Late June at the Cottage brings warm weather, beautiful weddings, and our award-winning Students Opposing Slavery Summit. As I write this, we are expecting Cindy Dyer, Ambassador-At-Large for the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons at the US Department of State. She will be briefing the students about the current challenges in human trafficking and how the US government is addressing them.
Beginning July 9, we will host the Washington Civil War Teachers Fellows, who come from across the nation to visit historic sites like the Cottage and deepen their understanding of the Civil War. Many describe their visit to the Cottage as a high point in this program, which we co-sponsor with the Ford’s Theatre, the Frederick Douglass National Historic Site, Tudor Place, and the National Mall. As one teacher explained last year, “I am left feeling hopeful about the year ahead and ready to engage more deeply with my students.”
That same week, we will begin an ambitious, new program we are calling Cottage for Community. We are training 12 university students—most of them local—to document the social and cultural activities that matter most to residents. Over the course of four weeks, we hope to interview 200 people to understand more deeply what they care about and how the Cottage can serve their needs and aspirations. The interviews will be shared with a local archive to become part of the city’s historical record. In the fall, we will host public meetings to share what the community has told us and discuss how these new insights might lead to new collaborations and programming. We know the Cottage holds a special place in many residents’ hearts, and we are committed to being good neighbors. If you live in the neighborhood, we welcome your participation. Please reach out to me at [email protected].
All of these programs reflect the rich legacy of Abraham Lincoln. Lincoln’s personal and political struggle to come to terms with the deep contradiction of America’s ideals of liberty and constitutional endorsement of slavery is well known. His conviction that the American Union was “an inestimable jewel” worth fighting for is a hallmark of American history. And his commitment to asking questions, listening to interlocutors, and changing his thinking makes him an important model for today.
This openness to dialogue is particularly appropriate during Civic Season, a new tradition meant to turbocharge American democracy. From Juneteenth through July 4, many cultural organizations are sharing specific programming meant to ignite and inform younger generations, the future inheritors of the United States. Together, we seek to explore and celebrate our collective efforts to forge “a more perfect union” in a way that reflects the whole American story.
Thanks for your interest and support of our work.
Rebecca Kilborne: Hi Rhiannon and Ariana! Thanks so much for speaking with me today. How would you describe the program to someone reading our blog?
Rhiannon Esposito: I would say that it’s a space for young people with similar passions and interests, aspiring change-makers, and people looking to get more involved in modern politics to come together in a shared discussion space.
Ariana Zelaya Canelas: It’s like a college experience, a chance to develop your ideas and passions. For me, as a positive person, it has expanded my ideas about what positive change can look like.
RK: Speaking of positivity, you seem to have a really positive view of this year’s class. Can you describe the group?
RE: We are a really diverse group of people from all over the world. It’s been awesome to hear different lived experiences and be in a space where everyone has a shared goal, but each person is bringing something completely different to the table.
AZC: This year’s group is welcoming and diverse. I don’t feel out of place because we all look and think differently. I feel challenged by them. The fact that we come from all over the world brings different perspectives to the discussion, and I appreciate that.
RK: What is one thing that you’ve learned so far that is sticking with you? That you have kept thinking about after the sessions were over?
RE: The trauma and healing workshop spoke to me. We learned about developmental trauma and how it impacts the brain which in turn impacts how someone walks through the world. This gave me insight into victims of human trafficking, and also into my own self and my own anxiety.
I came into the programming not knowing much about human trafficking, and learning the basics has given me a lot to think about and explore.
AZC: I have learned what human trafficking is and how the victims are affected even after the experience is over. I am looking forward to going back to the classroom and sharing what I have learned and being a leader on this issue.
It was also important to learn that, while human trafficking can happen to anyone, the victims are most often from vulnerable communities. It changed the way I think about the issue.
RK: What are you looking forward to most over the next few days?
RE: Well, the basketball game tonight sounds like it will be a lot of fun. But thinking long term, it’s really cool that there are three of us from the Greater Boston Area, and I look forward to working with them to get the work done faster. I’m nervous too because it’s a big task, but I’m looking forward to seeing it come to life.
AZC: I agree! There are strong-minded people in this class, and I am looking forward to seeing what other groups come up with for their group projects and how I can use what I learn from them to impact my school and my community.
Also, I am excited to see how everyone has grown by the end of the summit.
RK: What is something you have found surprising about the program?
RE: I wasn’t expecting how many different fields could tie into human trafficking. For example, yesterday we had a trauma and healing workshop to learn about the impacts of trauma, and today 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.
AZC: I was surprised by the age gaps. There are people ages 14 to 26 with all different levels of expertise, but we all have such different life experiences and a shared responsibility to the issue that we don’t feel the age gap.
RK: What would you say to someone thinking about applying to the program?
RE: Don’t be hesitant to apply because you don’t know anything about human trafficking. Turn it into your motivation to apply. If you come with no experience, you will learn a lot. If you’re already an expert, you will still learn a lot and also reach more people by sharing your perspectives. No matter your experience level, you will gain a lot from the experience.
AZC: Come with an open mind because there is a lesson in everything. And don’t be afraid to speak up!
RK: Do you think the program has or will impact your life?
RE: Yes. We are halfway through the program, and it’s already impacted my life forever. The info from the speakers will stick with me, and outside of that content, it gives me hope. I walked into the program not knowing a lot about human trafficking, and a lot of what I learned is frightening. I won’t forget what a bubble I live in, and that this is not the world.
Also realizing that we are all committed to this thing serves as a rallying cry for me. It gives me hope and will be a motivator for the rest of my life.
AZC: Yes! My life was impacted from the very first activity. It has given me a different way of thinking about US History and how I can change the course of history because I am young. To be honest I am really happy I came here. There is so much I want to apply to my own life and school. I will definitely be recommending this program to a lot of people.
The July 4th Holiday on Tuesday has us thinking about what it should mean to be truly free. We returned to this Q&Abe Episode to explore the differences between liberty and freedom, and being the self-proclaimed ‘Land of the Free’ historically and in today’s world. Available wherever you listen to podcasts.
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