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Amistad America teams up with New Haven group

Amistad America has entered into a new partnership with a New Haven-based international organization dedicated to the abolition of human trafficking and child slavery, according to an article in Wednesday’s New Haven Register.

On the 174th anniversary of the 1839 Amistad revolt, Hanifa Washington stood in front of the Amistad memorial on Chapel Street in New Haven to announce the partnership with Love 146 and her appointment as the executive director of Amistad America. She had served as a cook aboard Amistad as it sailed into Cuba in 2010 and most recently worked as Amistad America’s director of education and community outreach.

“I think the fact that Hanifa has led Amistad voyages into this partnership, and wants to include the story of modern-day slavery in the story of the Amistad, she and Amistad voyages, they’re turning a corner,” said Ryan Day, communication strategist for Love 146. “They’re going in the right direction; they’re going in a very forward-thinking direction.”

The news of a partnership and new leadership comes after some troubling years for Amistad America. The Day reported last month that the organization lost its nonprofit status after failing to file federal tax returns for three years.

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.

Washington said the agency is working in “complete transparency” with the state to best expedite Amistad’s reinstatement as a nonprofit. She noted clerical errors as part of the reason for the delayed payments.

For over a decade Amistad America has used the schooner to travel from New Haven and around the Caribbean to provide educational programs about civil rights and the Amistad revolt.

The Amistad has been under repair in Maine and operated by the Ocean Classroom Foundation and has not been in Connecticut since last summer. According to the website,, the Amistad is underway, with a destination of Yorktown, Va.

The ship is scheduled to be in New London on Saturday and New Haven on July 23.

With “$8 million invested in this story, it is the most important story Connecticut has to tell,” said Kip Bergstrom, DECD deputy commissioner.

Aboard the ship, visitors learn the story of a 26-year-old captive, Sengbe Pieh, who led a revolt while aboard the ship. Pieh’s revolt on July 2, 1839 later led to the Africans being held in a New Haven jail after the U.S. government seized the ship off Long Island.

A legal battle ensued, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that the captives were legally free, and they returned to Africa.

Washington said she became immersed in the Amistad story after serving as a cook on the schooner.

“The ship creates a safe haven for the ripple effect of dialogues including slavery, racism and oppression,” Washington said.

This will be the first year that the ship will provide a venue for conversation about human trafficking.

Washington, who said her roots in social justice date back to her childhood, began researching the issue of human trafficking a year ago when she started training side by side with her predecessor at Amistad America, Greg Belanger.

The two agencies collaborated over the last eight months to develop educational material on human trafficking to present during the tour of Connecticut waters this summer. The information will include similarities among the perpetrators from the earlier years and present day, as well as how to recognize and become abolitionists.

“I think including the story of modern day slavery and modern day human trafficking is what’s going to really engage visitors this summer and beyond,” Day said.

Washington said the two agencies have worked very well together with the joint mission of freedom fighting.

“We’re like two wings of a dove of freedom,” Washington said.


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