Venture Smith goes to school in New Haven

On Friday, February 25, a new “venture” to raise awareness about slavery came to New Haven Public Schools.

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro kicked off the Venture Smith Goes to School Campaign for the first time in New Haven on Friday. Three panel discussions at New Haven Public Schools educated students on historical events and to raise awareness about contemporary slavery. The three events — which took place in the Cooperative Arts & Humanities High School, Worthington Hooker School and Clemente Leadership Academy — consisted of student questions for Robert Hall, chair of the African-American Studies Department at Northeastern University, who was role-playing as Smith.

“The Venture Smith Goes to School campaign will educate a new generation of Americans … about the days of slavery in this country, as well as working to raise awareness about contemporary slavery, such as human trafficking,” a press release from DeLauro’s office said Friday.

The event’s namesake was a slave who lived in Stonington, Conn. during the mid-1700s. Born a noble in Africa, Venture Smith was captured and sold into slavery as a child in 1739; he eventually earned his and his family’s freedom and became a prominent American citizen, said Hall.

“It is also a uniquely American tale — how, through determination and hard work, one man could overcome even the most grievous injustice and make for his family a new life,” DeLauro said.

Sandra Clark, director of Social Studies for the New Haven Public Schools, who helped organize the events said the campaign is also important because it is a Connecticut story.

“We celebrate and recognize Smith’s personal achievements, and this will never lose its freshness in this district,” she said.

Chandler Saint, president of the Beecher House Center for the Study of Equal Rights, has been researching Venture Smith for more than five years and his research contributed greatly to the campaign..

“After five plus years of academic research, the project now shifts to public engagement and outreach,” Saint said. “We’re taking what we’ve learned to teach and affect social change.”

Hall emphasized the importance of present-day awareness of forced labor. He cited that currently there are 12.3 million people in the world in forced labor, bonded labor, or forced prostitution, which is greater than the total 11.9 million Africans transported across the Atlantic. Saint added that the 12.3 million statistic from the State Department was an underestimate.

Clark credits DeLauro for bringing Smith to schools.

“The Representative recognized it was an educational tool,” Clark said. At the end of the event, students were each given an informational CD to allow them to learn more about forced labor. DeLauro helped make the recording.

Gina Ryan, a descendant of Smith, was also present at the Worthington Hooker School event. Ryan emphasized the importance of history and education. Ryan lives in Bridgeport and graduated from Northeastern.

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