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Robert J. Benz

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David Asks Goliath to Quit or Leave

Posted: 06/07/2012 3:59 pm

"Money is Power.." -- Andrew Jackson

"Character is Power..." -- Booker T. Washington

One man was the wealthy, slaveholding seventh President of the United States. The other was born a penniless slave that founded what is now Tuskegee University and became known as the "Great Educator." It's hard to say who was right, but there's a Phoenix fracas in the works and it may be up to you to decide.

As often happens in life, money and character are at the root of this conflict and, interestingly enough, the drama stems from how each player in the controversy sacrificed one for the other. In this corner is Village Voice Media (aka Goliath), the publishing giant that built its name on gritty, hard-hitting journalism. Now much better known as the owner of Backpage.com, one of the largest sex trafficking websites in the country according to the National Association of Attorneys General, Goliath profits more than $20 million annually from sex ads alone.

In the other corner is Kenneth B. Morris, Jr. (aka David). He is the great great grandson of the aforementioned Booker T. Washington, as well as the great great great grandson of Frederick Douglass, the famous former slave-turned-abolitionist. Mr. Morris walked away from his thriving business in 2007 when he discovered the extent to which slavery still exists and he co-founded the Frederick Douglass Family Foundation to help raise awareness about the crime that is now called human trafficking.

One can clearly see the clouds of discord gathering: Goliath is allegedly making a killing off of the modern slave trade and David has vowed to confront those that exploit others for profit by means of the various forms of contemporary slavery. David, however, is not the only one concerned about Goliath's reported online pimping for profits. 46 state Attorneys General have signed on to demand that Backpage.com stop facilitating sex trafficking. So have U.S. Senators, Mayors, the Clergy, anti-trafficking experts and many others. (Click the name on each group for a link to their letters of protest against VVM.) But there's yet another twist that makes this struggle even more personal for our David character, Mr. Morris.

In 1910, Phoenix opened Frederick Douglass Elementary School for "colored children." Eleven years later, that school was renamed Booker T. Washington Elementary School. In 1928, the Phoenix Elementary School District built a new school just down the street on East Jefferson and moved the old Booker T. Washington Elementary into this freshly cast building. In 1984, BTW Elementary was officially closed but has since been beautifully restored to a state befitting its original honorable intent. Unfortunately, this is exactly where you will find the headquarters for Goliath Inc. today!

That's right, in the same place that generations of children learned about freedom -- - fought for by the likes of Frederick Douglass and the building's namesake, Booker T. Washington -- a Backpage.com employee may be accepting fees for ads that facilitate a contemporary form of slavery and boost the robust bottom line of Village Voice Media. I guess this is what my English Lit professor would have called "tragic irony." (That's only a guess because I wasn't paying close enough attention to be sure.)

So, where does our David v. Goliath saga go from here?

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Kenneth B. Morris, Jr. at Village Voice Media in Phoenix, AZ

I call upon Village Voice Media to abandon the business of hosting sex trafficking ads on Backpage.com or immediately abandon your headquarters building that was constructed in honor of my great great grandfather, Booker T. Washington.

Kenneth B. Morris, Jr.
We have a choice to make when faced with the things that we believe are wrong. We choose to be indifferent or we choose to do something. How else can we make our communities a better place for our children if not by caring what happens to all of its citizens, especially when so many are vulnerable to the ancient and contemporary crime of slavery? How else can we set examples for our children so they learn that bullies don't always get their way than by organizing and acting?

On June 20th, groups and individuals that care about claims that Backpage.com is facilitating sex trafficking on their site will demonstrate at the Village Voice Media headquarters in Phoenix and at the VVM offices in New York City. It's an opportunity to show character as a powerful transformative agent and that we won't stand for seeing people sold for any amount of money.

You can bet I'll be following this one closely and, in case it's not obvious enough, I'm rooting for David. I hope you will too.

You're invited to join the demonstrations in Phoenix and New York City or help spread the word on Facebook and on Twitter. Contact Christina to learn about connecting to the Backpage demonstration online: cgreenwood@fdff.org.

Follow us on Twitter: https://twitter.com/#!/douglassfamily

Like us on Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/FrederickDouglassFamilyFoundation

 
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