Honoring the crusade for freedom

The first-ever Freedom Awards recognize individuals who fight slavery.

by Christin Davis –

1. Archbishop Desmond Tutu (left) and Major Victor Leslie at the Freedom Awards in Los Angeles on September 15, 2008. [Photo by Nikole Lim] 2. Freedom Award 2008 recipients (left to right): James Kofi Annan, Amihan Abueva, Xavier Plassat (Comissao Pastoral da Terra), Jessica Leslie, Ricky Richard Anywar (Friends of Orphans), Aashika Damodar, and Leonardo Sakamoto (Reporter Brasil). [Photo by Nikole Lim]

The first-ever Freedom Awards recently honored individuals who risk everything to free slaves around the world at a ceremony and dinner at the University of Southern California’s Bovard Auditorium. The event included a presentation by Archbishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa.

Southern California Divisional Commander Major Victor Leslie attended the event, hosted by Free the Slavesa nonprofit organization based in Washington, D.C. that works to liberate slaves, help rebuild their lives, and research solutions to permanently eradicate slavery.

“The Freedom Awards were a stunning exposé that slavery still exists, yet ‘sustainable freedom liberation, rehabilitation and reintegration’ of the individual is possible today,” Leslie said. “The stories of survivors and of their rescuers provided inspiration, hope and encouragement for all of us who seek to fight human trafficking, refuel the anti-slavery movement and literally find ways to leverage innovative solutions to end this despicable crime against humanity.”

Kevin Bales, co-founder and president of Free the Slaves, said, “I am so glad a Salvationist is here. We really respect your work in fighting trafficking The Salvation Army understood it early, got into the game early and continues to provide care to victims.”

Recognizing deliverance
Experts estimate there are 27 million slaves worldwide today, probably more than at any time in human history. About 17,000 are trafficked annually into the U.S.

The evening focused on freedom had the feel of a revival meeting. Drumbeats led the audience from an outdoor reception into the auditorium where W.T. Greer and nearly 100 vibrantly dressed members of the Agape International Choir performed an acapella “Amazing Grace,” as striking images of former slaves filled the screens.

Guests included international dignitaries, business leaders, Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, celebrities and heroes of the anti-slavery movement, most notably, Archbishop Desmond Tutu.

Tutu is internationally recognized for his anti-apartheid activism and crusade in South Africa, which earned him the Nobel Peace Prize in 1984. He was elected Archbishop of Cape Town in 1986 and appointed in 1996 by President Nelson Mandela to chair the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to probe human rights violations.

“On behalf of the many who have been set free and on behalf of all of us that are going to be set free when all are free thank you,” Tutu said before presenting The Frederick Douglass Award to a former slave from Ghana, James Kofi Annan.

Annan was forced into slavery in fishing villages as a child. He later graduated from college and was hired by Barclays Bank. Annan established and funded the Challenging Heights Organization in 2003 to empower children through education. Last year, he resigned from his job and opened a school in Ghana where former child slaves can study and take refuge.

“My motto is to whom much is given, much is expected,” Annan said. “I look back and remember the abuse we were woken before dawn, forced under cold water, made to work long hours and physically abused. But then I was able to receive an educationit is a lot that has been given to me. I must give back to children.

“My testimony is that we can make it, we can end slavery,” Annan said. “I know what I am talking about. I did it.”

Dedicating their lives to liberation
Other awards and recipients, selected by an international board of experts following nominations from 32 countries, included:

The Harriet Tubman Community Awards Friends of Orphans in Uganda, founded by a former child soldier who now helps other child soldiers regain their lives, and to Comissão Pastoral da Terra (CPT) and Reporter Brasil, both of Brazil who work with the Ministry of Labor to free slave workers and trace slave-tainted products.

The Anne Templeton Zimmerman Fellowship Awards Designed to nurture future leaders in the movement, awarded to young adult anti-slavery activists Jessica Leslie and Aashika Damodar.

The William Wilberforce Leadership Award Amihan Abueva of the Philippines, who works in leadership roles in numerous countries to prevent the trafficking of children into sex slavery.

“The Salvation Army is ‘moved by compassion’ and by ‘word and deed’ and are harnessing the energy of our grassroots programs to design systemic, sustainable, holistic solutions, that not only educate and empower, but help survivors to find freedom both physical and spiritualas they rebuild their lives and reintegrate into society,” Leslie said.

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