Past Meets Present

By Matt Hawkins
September 5, 2014

Casmeer Reyes ’15, an international studies major from Peoria, placed herself at a crossroads this summer. As an intern at Cincinnati, Ohio’s National Underground Railroad Freedom Center, she researched the modern fight against human trafficking from a city that once was a flashpoint in the American slave trade conversation.

The center uses stories of past and present antislavery activists to educate the public about modern slavery issues. Reyes worked on the center’s End Slavery Now website and wrote reports on antislavery heroes recognized in the U.S. State Department’s Trafficking in Persons Report.

Research and interaction with human trafficking victims and fighters put Reyes in the intersection of past and present antislavery movements. Those hours drained her emotionally but invigorated her passion to continue her fight.

“At times, just going through these stories can be taxing and frustrating because I want to be doing groundwork,” she said. “This made me realize I can be invested in the work that I do, but I also have to take a step back. Human trafficking is a heavy topic to think about every moment of every day, and I’ve learned how to keep myself motivated and positive.”

She routinely had the enjoyable experience of watching people walk through the center’s exhibit on modern slavery and reading visitor feedback on social media.

“Those experiences are extremely gratifying because I see we’re reaching people,” she said. “We’re raising awareness, facilitating conversations and welcoming all to become part of a community dedicated to preserving dignity and achieving freedom for all.”

Reyes discovered the internship through Dr. Stacey Robertson, Oglesby Endowed Professor of American Heritage. Robertson also is co-chair of the educational organization Historians Against Slavery.

Summer on the banks of the Ohio River also brought to life lessons from Bradley classrooms. Reyes noted she frequently information discussed in her sociology, political science and international studies classes.

“Everything counts,” Reyes said. “I can’t count the number of times I’ve been thankful for the content knowledge I gained from my courses.”

As the summer drew to a close, Reyes recognized she achieved the primary goal she set for the experience: personal growth.

“Living by myself in a city where I didn’t know anyone exposed my weaknesses and uncertainties; however, the experience also showed my strengths, grounded my values and increased my confidence,” she said. “I was able to reflect on the person I’ve become, evaluate what matters in the world and pursue the place I will serve.”

It also encouraged her to see the positive impact she and others are making as they combat human trafficking.

“There’s always progress, and we have to fight the good fight,” she said. “We can’t just regress and become complacent.”