Wilberforce: Inspiration for a New Generation

By Payton Hoegh | July 7, 2008 | 8:06 PM EDT

(CNSNews.com) - The anniversary of a 200-year-old event is encouraging a new generation to take up the torch of past heroes and "work toward cultural change."

The Better Hour, a campaign launched by the Wilberforce Project, wants young Americans to get involved in bringing change to their communities, using the work of abolitionist and philanthropist William Wilberforce as inspiration.

The movement's launch this week coincides with the anniversary of the 18th century Englishman's drive to end the trans-Atlantic slave trade in 1807.

The campaign includes a contest inviting students to initiate a project to "make [the] world a better place" and to document the process online. The winner of the contest, which is sponsored by the John Templeton Foundation, will receive a $10,000 prize.

A documentary in its final stages will also be aired on PBS affiliates later this month.

Two centuries after Wilberforce's mission, slavery is a continuing concern in parts of the world, with Sudan and Mauritania among countries where slavery is still being practiced, according to anti-slavery campaign groups.

According to the State Department, up to 800,000 men, women and children are trafficked across international borders each year, including up to 17,500 into the United States. Victims are exploited for labor, prostitution or other forms of servitude, the department said in its 2006 Trafficking in Persons report.

"[The Better Hour] is part of a larger effort to bring modern-day effects from recognition of William Wilberforce's role to end the trans-Atlantic slave trade, and eliminate suffering and injustice through efforts in the non-profit sector, volunteerism, civil service, and business," the campaign on its website.

Chuck Stetson, chairman of the Wilberforce Project, told a press conference in Washington, D.C., that the campaign provided "an unusual opportunity to be rewarded for philanthropic measures." It was also an opportunity in which "this generation can launch amazing new efforts locally and globally."

Stetson said that the campaign would continue in the effort to make Wilberforce a household name, following the release of the Bristol Bay film on his work to end the slave trade, "Amazing Grace."

"[The story of Wilberforce] needs to become part of the culture and part of the new generation," Stetson said.

Marshall Mitchell, vice president of Wilberforce University in Wilberforce, Ohio, joked that he has "never had the luxury of forgetting the name [of William Wilberforce.]"

Mitchell, also addressing the press conference, described Wilberforce as an important symbol for change. He had showed that "if you do what is right it will reverberate throughout history."

Mitchell said the movement will help a new generation "build a stronger America and a better world."

Zach Hunter, a 15-year-old youth spokesman and modern-day abolitionist, said that he is confident in his generation.

"I am impressed by the passion I see in them to change the world," Hunter told the event. "My dream is that my generation would be a generation of peace, love ... and justice."

"Today is the day," Hunter said. "Together we can make this the better hour."

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