The name Amistad and the historic slave ship itself are familiar to many people here in Connecticut.
Kai Perry is a board member of Discovering Amistad.
“I like to call the Amistad Incident of 1839 the first human rights case in the United States, because it was the first time people of color were tried as human beings and not as as property,” Perry said.
The story of the Africans of Amistad is the inspiration for the “Discovering Amistad” program, which won one of NBC Connecticut‘s 2021 Innovation Project Grants.
While so much has changed since 1839, the program aims to change even more.
“They learn about the history of racial injustice in the United States, and then they arm themselves and use that information to work on a group project,” Perry said. “Where they identify a problem in their communities, a social justice problem, and then come up with a solution.”
Kaden Wooten first took the program two years ago when she was a freshman at Hamden High School and the pandemic suddenly forced the Discovering Amistad program online.
Wooten and Perry say moving the program online has allowed students from anywhere to participate, not just Connecticut.
What at first seemed like a setback, turned out to increase Discovering Amistad’s diversity and inclusion as people from as far away as Puerto Rico joined the virtual sessions.
Last year, Wooten says she and a friend went to see the historic schooner in person.
“It was quite emotional to see because to realize that so many people were being brought onto such a small ship, with little or nothing, and they were all struggling together, it was kind of overwhelming,” she said. .
Whether online or in person, Perry says part of their mission is to inspire young people to see what they can do today to help create positive change.
“We want to be able to create a safe space for those conversations and for young people,” Perry said. “Give them the tools they need to keep carrying the torch.”
This torch shines through student group projects, such as a petition to bring Black history teaching to more schools in North Carolina, where one of the online participants lived, or a website interactive tool making it easy to find and support small, black-owned businesses in Connecticut in just two weeks.
These are changes made in the minds of the Amistad Africans who came to Connecticut nearly 200 years ago.
NBC Connecticut‘s Innovation Project provides grants to local nonprofits using technology or innovative solutions to local problems. The application deadline is March 25.
For more information on the Innovation Project and to find the app, click here.