Interview with Rachel, Founder of Stop Modern Day Slavery!
Bio: Rachel is a student at Columbia University studying American Studies and Hispanic Studies. She is the founder of Stop Modern Day Slavery, an anti-human trafficking organization that can be found at https://stopmoderndayslavery.org. She is passionate about education, human rights, and serving her community. Above all, Rachel is a firm believer in the power of youth to change the world!
Interview by Lois Chan
So let’s start off with an introduction! What is your name, age and interests?
Hi, my name is Rachel and I am a student at Columbia University. I am passionate about education, human rights, and serving my community. I am the founder of Stop Modern Day Slavery, an anti-human trafficking organization that can be found at https://stopmoderndayslavery.org. Above all, I am a firm believer in the power of youth to change the world!
Great! So tell me more about Stop Modern Day Slavery's mission. How did this movement come to life?
I have always been passionate about studying the American Civil War. My middle school actually had a ‘Civil War Day’ in which the students dressed as Union soldiers and heard from Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass reenactors. This sparked my interest in abolitionism. I have since studied different abolitionists and their work to end slavery more extensively in college. I had always thought of slavery as an institution of the past. It existed only in the black-and-white photos of my history textbooks. My world turned upside-down when I came across a news article talking about modern-day slavery. I remember thinking, “Slavery? Today? How?” I was so shocked and angered. “Why had I not been aware of this sooner?” I was upset by the general lack of awareness of modern-day slavery and decided to do some research. As I was trying to find articles to read online, I realized just how little information exists about human trafficking. When you compare the anti-human trafficking movement to other social movements like climate activism or women’s rights activism, it becomes clear just how few people know about the issue and just how few speak out against it. This galvanized me to start an organization that would educate others about human trafficking while providing tangible ways to decrease the demand for slave-made products. I have since written countless articles about modern-day slavery and have amassed a readership of over 10,000 people. I have also collaborated with many ethical companies to encourage my audience to buy ethically made products from companies that pay their workers fair wages. The response I have received from the public has been overwhelmingly positive. Many readers have reached out to say they never knew that this was an issue and that they have shared my articles with their friends and family. It makes me so happy to see that I have made such a strong impact on other people’s lives.
What is the mind and skill set one needs in leading an organization like SMDS?
Above all, passion. If you’re not passionate about the activism work you are doing, your ability to make a difference will be hindered. I do not think there is any specific skill set necessary, but the ability to write clearly, manage a website, and create content for social media pages are very helpful.
Would you say there’s a big difference in past slavery compared to the present, other than some of the methods?
Absolutely. Slavery during the Civil War period of American history was a race-based institution that affected black people. Today, human trafficking knows no race, gender, or nationality.
Why would you say it’s important to educate yourself about these issues nowadays, for people who may not understand/see a reason to?
To start, human trafficking affects 40 million people worldwide and is a 150-billion-dollar industry. This is a massive problem that affects people in every country, state, and city. It cannot be ignored any longer. Furthermore, there’s a great quotation by Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. that states, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” I think this perfectly explains why we all need to care about human trafficking.
What are your tips for teens who want to start making a change in their community, regarding issues in modern slavery?
My biggest piece of advice to anyone looking to make a difference regarding modern-day slavery would be to just go for it. If you have an idea for change, do your research on the issue and make it a reality. Do not let anyone hold you back. Additionally, if anyone reading this is interested in writing about human trafficking, please reach out to me. I would love to have you onboard.
What do you love/enjoy about the work you do with SMDS?
I love being able to teach others about an issue they may not know about. The ability to make someone care about modern-day slavery is so powerful. I also love reading and writing, so the research aspect of my articles is very enjoyable. Every time I write an article, I learn more and more about human trafficking. I don’t think I’ll ever stop learning about this issue!
What do you wish you knew before going into this work? Whether it's about running the organization, etc.?
I had initially been nervous about cold-calling ethical companies for collaborations, but quickly found that they were all so supportive of my work and eager to help. I have worked with over twenty by now! I wish I had known this going in so I would not have been so worried about their saying no.
Lastly, what is your general advice to teens all over the world about life?
Something I wish I had learned earlier in life is not to care so much about what other people think. It helps so much with self-confidence and is truly empowering. If I had listened to what others thought when I first started this journey, (“it’s a weird subject,” or “no one will want to read about this,”) I would not have gotten to where I am today with an organization that reaches thousands of people each month. If you truly believe in yourself and your goals, no one else’s opinion can stop you.