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Taking a Stand – Make That a Walk – Against Slavery


The more students in Jim Kendra’s social-studies classes learned about modern-day slavery, the more they wanted to do something about it.

Out of their concern came the Kenowa Hills Freedom Project, where for one day social-studies classes took laps around the school track to raise money for and awareness of the largely ignored issue. Students in the middle school’s Global Warriors group took the lead, inspired by CNN’s Freedom Project.

A 2016 report by Australia’s Walk Free Foundation estimated nearly 45 million people are in some form of slavery around the world, including human trafficking, forcedlabor and sexual exploitation.

Standing up to protest slavery are, from left, Ashley Rose, Jadea Mourer and Kayla LePage

Kendra said his students were surprised to learn of things like children working in clothing sweatshops. Such information “kind of woke them up,” he said. “There could be clothes on our back right now that are made by slaves. How do you know?”

Social-studies teachers integrated the topic into their curriculum with class activities, but students largely organized the track walk. They brought contributions of $1, more or less, and competed for most laps walked and money raised.

“If you give them an opportunity to help, there’s some good kids out there,” Kendra said.

Sixth-grader Sophia Modderman pushed her classmate Emily Flipse, who was in a wheelchair after injuring her foot in track. They said they were surprised to learn about the extent of slavery today.

“I thought maybe slavery wasn’t that big a deal, since in the U.S. we’re against slavery,” Sophia said. “But out there, there’s still many slaves.” She hoped the walk would call attention to the issue, and “get more people free from slavery and help them on with their lives.”

Students line up to begin the last hour of the “freedom walk” to raise awareness of slavery

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Charles Honey
Charles Honey is editor-in-chief of SNN, and covers series and issues stories for all districts. As a reporter for The Grand Rapids Press/mLive from 1985 to 2009, his beats included Grand Rapids Public Schools, local colleges and education issues. Honey served as editor of The Press’ award-winning Religion section for 15 years and its columnist for 20. His freelance articles have appeared in Christianity Today, Religion News Service and Faith & Leadership magazine. Read Charles' full bio

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