Monday, June 30, 2008

Corona Businessman Draws on Famous Ancestry to Fight Human Trafficking

From the Press-Enterprise:

By Janet Zimmerman

As a boy, Kenneth Morris Jr. used to sit at the top of his family's Maryland beach house overlooking the fields where his ancestor, abolitionist Frederick Douglass, once toiled as a slave.

Morris, a Corona businessman, grew up surrounded by stories and relatives of Douglass and his other famous relative, Booker T. Washington, his great-great-grandfather and founder of Tuskegee University in Alabama.
Until recently, Morris, 46, left public appearances and speeches about the family legacy to his mother, Nettie Washington Douglass, who was the first generation to join the two bloodlines. Her mother was from Washington's side of the family, and her father from Douglass' side.

It is only in the last few years that Morris began talking about his heritage.

"A friend of mine came to me and said, 'With your lineage and the platform your ancestors built through struggle and sacrifice, you have an obligation to help people,' " Morris said.

With his newly formed Frederick Douglass Family Foundation -- on the Web -- Morris is working to end human trafficking, from factories and fields to prostitution. "It's slavery as horrific as the slavery we're familiar with in this country," he said. "It will take millions and millions of people to rise up and put an end to this."

The group raises awareness and money for organizations that rescue and help some of the estimated 27 million victims worldwide, he said. The foundation encourages public lobbying of lawmakers on human trafficking legislation and urges states to put such laws on the books. Morris' friend and former co-worker, Robert Benz, alerted him to the subject of modern-day slavery after reading an article about it in National Geographic. He knew Morris, whom he describes as up-front, congenial and likeable, was the one to spread the message.

"Frederick Douglass doesn't have to survive only in the history books. He can become relevant again in the persona of Ken Morris, who is taking up the cause of abolition in his stead," said Benz, executive vice president of the foundation.

Douglass, who taught himself to read and write, escaped slavery at age 20 and went on to become a revolutionary journalist, speaker and writer. He was influential in Abraham Lincoln's signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.

Washington was born a slave. When he was freed at age 9 under the Emancipation Proclamation, he worked in a salt mine and saved his money to attend Hampton Institute in Virginia. He later became a teacher and established Tuskegee for freed slaves.

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