William Wilberforce helped end the British slave trade exactly 200 years ago. A movie celebrating his achievement and a book chronicling the return of the global slave trade have brought three Westmont graduates together in unexpected ways and united them in a common cause.
Mark Tauber ’90 is vice president and deputy publisher at HarperSanFrancisco, a division of HarperCollins that publishes books on religion, spirituality and personal growth as well as works by C.S. Lewis. When Walden Media produced the movie “The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe,” Mark coordinated marketing efforts with them. Hearing their plans for “Amazing Grace,” a film about Wilberforce, Mark decided to develop two related books, including a biography of Wilberforce by Eric Metaxas.
For the second, Mark focused on activism. How would Wilberforce respond to human trafficking in the 21st century? What can people do today to end slavery once and for all? He recruited his friend and fellow alumnus David Batstone ’80, an author, journalist and professor at the University of San Francisco, to write “Not for Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade and How We Can Fight It.” Mark had worked as David’s literary agent and knew he would relish the project.
To prepare for the launch of the books and the movie, Mark also met with Erik Lokkesmoe ’95, the project manager from Walden Media and Bristol Bay Productions responsible for “Amazing Grace.” During the course of their conversation, the two were surprised to discover their Westmont connection.
Erik left his position as director of communications for the National Endowment for the Humanities to work on “Amazing Grace.” “I came to D.C. initially to fight the culture wars thinking it was the center of power,” he says. “But I learned it wasn’t as powerful as I thought — the real power comes from the arts and from those who shape the moral imagination, stories and songs of our culture. My passion is no longer for a career in politics, but for encouraging and funding artists with a redemptive, global vision.”
Erik started Brewing Culture (www.brewingculture.org) to have conversations about creativity and support a new generation of artists and filmmakers. One of his goals is building a “community of creative professionals who will explore and express the good, the true, and the beautiful in and through art and media.” Erik notes that Wilberforce and his friends provide an example of like-minded people doing God’s work through their vocations. “Their lives dispel the myth that one person alone can make a difference,” he says. “It’s remarkable to see the way Wilberforce draws people together even today.”
The request to write a book about human trafficking changed David Batstone’s life. “Everything I have done led up to that moment,” he says. “It became much more than an exercise in journalism, it became a vocation. I resigned from Sojourners to start an international campaign to stop slavery.”
His book, “Not for Sale: The Return of the Global Slave Trade and How We Can Fight It,” documents the shocking extent of human trafficking in the modern world. Traveling to five continents, David found child soldiers in Africa and young girls enslaved in Asian brothels. But he was astonished to discover slavery close to home: the owner of a favorite Bay Area restaurant practically imprisoned undocumented workers.
Throughout his journeys David discovered small pockets of people who were undermining the slave trade, and they inspired him. “Reporting on these heroes became the focus of the book,” he says. “But they need help from people of every vocation working together to free the captives. This is the message I am taking to Christian colleges: Use your vocation for God’s service — everywhere is a mission field. How will you respond to slavery? Wilberforce faced a choice between pursuing a life of faith full time or getting involved in politics. But he discovered it was possible to do both, that a life full of faith engages the world.
“In the last six years at Sojourners, I saw how important the faith community is going to be in making global change. That’s where the abolitionists will come.”
David has launched the Not for Sale campaign (www.notforsalecampaign.org), seeking to involve athletes (Free to Play), artists and musicians (Free to Create), businesses (Free to Work), students (Free to Learn) and the church (Free to Be). The five major international organizations fighting trafficking have joined the effort, as has Amazing Change, an outreach tied to “Amazing Grace” (www.theamazingchange.com). Mark, Erik and David have all become part of a growing movement. They want to see how many alums will join them.