06/24/2010 04:44 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

5 Weeks for Freedom on the Underground Railroad

A team of bike riders, all ordinary people, will attempt to cycle 1,800 miles of the Underground Railroad over five weeks to raise awareness about modern day slavery.

The campaign, a program of the International Justice Mission, an anti-slavery organization, will kick-off on June 26, 2010 in Mobile, Alabama at the University of Mobile. The kick-off event will feature a performance by recording artists The Wrecking, the 5 Weeks for Freedom riders, and a screening of the anti-slavery documentary Call + Response, with a lineup including Ashley Judd, Nicholas Kristof, Natasha Bedingfield, and others.

The riders, from the U.S. and Canada, include students, an engineer, a nurse, a teacher, and a small business owner. They will stop for events at cities along the Underground Railroad: Birmingham, AL, Nashville, TN, Louisville, KY, Cincinnati, OH, Columbus, OH, Cleveland, OH, and Buffalo, NY, where the campaign will conclude on July 30.

The 5 Weeks For Freedom campaign will begin in the wake of the U.S. Department of State's 10th annual Trafficking in Persons Report, which, for the first time, included the United States as one of the countries that are ranked according to how they have handled the abolition of slavery within their borders.

The campaign is relevant. As stated by the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center:
"Slavery still exists today. Whether it is called human trafficking, bonded labor, forced labor, or sex trafficking, it is present worldwide, including within the United States and, increasingly, in your local community.

An estimated 12 - 27 million people are caught in one or another form of slavery. Between 600,000 and 800,000 are trafficked internationally, with as many as 17,500 people trafficked into the United States. Nearly three out of every four victims are women. Half of modern-day slaves are children.

Contemporary slavery has been defined and banned in international treaties and within nations around the world. But outlawing slavery has not prevented its expansion into a multi-billion dollar global industry on a par with drug trafficking and illicit arms sales. Efforts to combat slavery will have only limited effectiveness unless anti-slavery laws are recognized, implemented and enforced by law enforcement officers, courts, and political leaders. Public awareness is also critical: slavery will remain an invisible scourge unless or until an informed public becomes actively engaged and committed in helping identify situations in which some form of slavery is suspected. An aroused public also can bring public pressure to bear those in power to address those cases."