Earlier this year, the United Nations headquarters in New York City erected a memorial in recognition of the transatlantic slave trade and its notorious mark on global history. The memorial, called The Ark of Return, is constructed completely from white marble and resembles a ship—a reference to the cramped, inhumane slaving vessels that transported African people as human commodities between continents. Inside the gargantuan structure lies a prone figure draped in white. Underneath, the words “Consider the legacy” are etched in the marble. On the outside of the memorial are sketches that include maps of the triangular slave trade, slave ships, and diagrams of the inside of the ships used to carry slaves.
Rodney Leon is the architect of The Ark of Return. Leon is of Haitian-American descent,and was chosen in an international competition that involved 83 countries. Leon’s previous work includes the African Burial Ground Monument, which was erected near the burial site of 15,000 African descendants between the late 1600s to 1794. Leon has often provided information about his new work that is now displayed in the United Nations, and stated that the figure in the monument was sculpted from black Zimbabwean granite and designed to appear androgynous to represent the men, women, and children of the slave trade.
As an organization with a vessel that circumnavigates the world on global voyages for peace, and that has sailed on or near slave trade routes numerous times, Peace Boat US made a special visit to the UN to pay homage to the memorial. During previous Peace Boat Voyages, the organization has also taken nearly two thousand people to Senegal,where they had a firsthand chance to learn about Senegal’s Gorée Island, a former slave-trading post that was the last sight many saw before they were taken in chains to North and South America, many not surviving the grueling voyage.
Both Leon and Peace Boat aim to raise awareness of the history of the African slave trade, and acknowledge its ongoing effects on the current world. Peace Boat also recognizes that human trafficking exists in various forms today, and its travel agency, Japan Grace, is a member of End Child Prostitution, Child Pornography and Trafficking in Children for Sexual Purposes (ECPAT), an international network started in 1990 in response to the increase of child sex tourism in Asia.
Equality, dignity, freedom and justice are essential to all human beings, and Peace Boat will continue to help raise awareness of slavery and human trafficking in its future voyages.