Portland’s Youth Walks to End Slavery


Members of YES walk downtown holding signs and chanting

By Mia Johnson, Reporter

On Saturday, Sept. 30, Youth Ending Slavery (YES) held their sixth annual “Walk to End Slavery” in downtown Portland. Participants said the walk made them feel empowered as they marched the streets shouting chants and holding signs with statistics proving modern day slavery still exists.

YES is a student-run, non-profit organization that started  in Portland at St. Mary’s Academy in 2012. The organization has now spread to many schools around Portland, including Cleveland.

Junior Gwen Kaliszewski started our Cleveland chapter last year, and is now on the state board for the organization as communications director, a position she was elected to last spring. The application process involved a written application and interview, since YES wanted to choose board members based on character before they determined positions. In her position Kaliszewski keeps social media outlets up to date, writes the monthly newsletter, and updates the website.

Kaliszewski said the Walk to End Slavery was what originally inspired her to start her own chapter at Cleveland. “I think the purpose of the walk is to empower people to become more involved in the issue and help them realize their voice is powerful. We try to raise our voice in the most literal way possible — by yelling in the streets,” Kaliszewski said.

Although Kaliszewski has handed off leadership of the Cleveland chapter to junior Olivia Sheen this year, she continues to stay very involved in all that encompasses YES. For example, on Oct. 3, the organization had the opportunity to speak on KBOO, the local community based radio station.  KBOO is helping to make a series of podcasts called “The Sex Industry in Portland” that YES has been asked to be a part of. Kaliszewski was asked a series of questions with Cleveland senior Emma Christensen, a YES board member, about the organization, which to their surprise were then aired live. They took turns answering questions such as, “How did YES get started and why do girls like you want to get involved?” and “How is slavery still an issue and why should people care?”

“It’s important for people to know that slavery isn’t dead and isn’t a thing of the past. Sex trafficking happens all the time in Portland, right under our noses. Young people need to be educated on this issue because it connects to us more than anyone and raising awareness is a part of ending that cycle,” Kaliszewski said. She again emphasized the importance of taking action. Getting to speak on the radio was a big step for the organization. Opportunities like these help the non-profit broaden and grow stronger.

The impact of the Cleveland’s own chapter of YES so far has been a step in the right direction. Last year, members of the Cleveland chapter spoke to two survivors of sex trafficking and got to hear first hand why educating young girls is so important.  The chapter was able to reach out to these young women through Cleveland’s own Tiffany Morris, a campus security worker who is passionate about getting girls out of the life of sex trafficking and works to help them in recovery. This year, the chapter is led by Sheen, as YES regulations do not allow members on the board to lead a chapter at the same time.

Sheen and Kaliszewski have made it a priority for YES members to have a clear understanding of what modern day slavery is. YES defines slavery as “any unjust practice in the name of profit.” Sex trafficking falls into the category of slavery but is defined as “involving the use of force, fraud, or coercion to obtain some type of labor or commercial sex act. Referring to Portland’s involvement in this industry, Sheen said, “We need to remind people that this is an issue that is prevalent, real, and isn’t going anywhere. It just might not look like what you picture when you think of slavery.”

According to Sheen, “The main intent of the walk is to raise awareness of the public and keep the issue alive. We will continue to raise our voice as long as slavery is an issue.” Cleveland was well represented with six chapter members present.

The walk featured guest speaker Molly Mc-Dade Hood, as well as police officers who specialize in the area of sex trafficking. Kaliszewski said, “I definitely think the walk was successful. There weren’t as many people there as last year since we did have to reschedule it (due to potentially violent protests at the beginning of September), but quality over quantity always. I could tell everyone there really cared about this issue.”

If issues like these interest you and you want to join in YES’s mission, the Cleveland chapter meets on Fridays at lunch in Julia Blattner’s room 125. Sheen mentioned some goals for the school year.

“We hope to continue events from last year like holding another documentary screening and hopefully bringing in new speakers as well as holding a bake sale and potentially an ethical clothing swap,” she said.