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Amistad America to reveal new administrator, long-term plan

Amistad America plans to reveal its long-term strategic plan, including the identity of its new executive director, on Sunday.

Fredrica Gray, board chairwoman of the nonprofit that owns the schooner Amistad, said Wednesday that she would not comment on the details of the long-term plan until then. She said the organization has been working on the plan for about a year.

Multiple sources have confirmed for The Day that Hanifa Washington will replace Greg Belanger as the nonprofit's executive director. Washington served as a cook aboard the Amistad — the Mystic Seaport-built replica of the 19th-century schooner that brought captive Africans to Connecticut — on its historic voyage to Cuba in 2010, and most recently worked as Amistad America's director of education and community outreach.

The Amistad is now in Maine, where it is being repaired and operated by the Ocean Classroom Foundation. It is slated to visit New London early next month.

Belanger, who also is director of the Ocean Classroom Foundation, is slated to leave his position at Amistad America Monday. He could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

According to Washington's biography on the social and professional networking website The Grove, she studied communication theory and Russian and Soviet studies at Beloit College in Wisconsin; she founded a worker-owned cooperative in Portland, Maine; and she has worked for Ocean Classroom.

Washington also helped create Amistad's Connecticut-based summer programming, according to her biography.

The Day first reported in May that the state was continuing to give Amistad America more than $350,000 a year even though the foundation had lost its Internal Revenue Service nonprofit status for failing to file tax returns for three consecutive years. The schooner also has not been in the state since last summer.

State Rep. Diana Urban, D-North Stonington, has been pressing the state Department of Economic and Community Development to detail how Amistad America has spent the $8 million in state funding it has received.

As a result of Urban's inquiry, the state's two auditors of public accounts are preparing to look into Amistad America's finances. DECD plans to make payments totaling $359,000 a year to Amistad America during the next two years.

Meanwhile, the foundation is appealing the loss of its tax status with the IRS. The office of the state Attorney General said last week that Amistad America is "acting within its rights in a timely manner to seek this review."

The attorney general's office also said it would continue to monitor Amistad America's activities to ensure it meets all state and federal filing requirements. Belanger has said Amistad America has spent the state's money wisely.

The mission of the replica schooner, which was built at Mystic Seaport and launched in 2000, is to tell the story of the civil rights struggle of the Africans who took control of the original Amistad in 1839. That has not been done in several years.

Belanger has said Amistad America is working on three partnerships but has not said how much money those efforts could generate for the financially struggling organization.

Besides the Ocean Classroom affiliation, these include using the ship to film a 10-part NBC miniseries about the pirate Blackbeard, starring John Malkovich, and an unspecified arrangement with Love146, a New Haven-based nonprofit that raises awareness of human trafficking.


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