2020 is a year we will not soon, if ever, forget. Each of us has felt the burden of the COVID-19 pandemic, but none more than the world’s religious minorities. Pew Research reports that 80 percent of the global population lives in nations that restrict religious freedom. Those restrictions have been amplified and persecution intensified during the pandemic. Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback has said, “Malign actors have tried to use COVID-19 to restrict religious freedom. The need to expand religious freedoms and protect religious minorities has become a global priority.”
At 21Wilberforce, we refuse to accept this as our new normal. We press on, working with grassroots communities around the world and engaging the upper echelons of leadership at home and abroad. We have made an impact. And it’s because of you.
Many of you have not remained silent. You conquered fear and doubt to take action. You dedicated your prayers, time, and generous contributions to stand together with those marginalized and persecuted for their beliefs.
Today, we reflect on 2020 with sober but steely determination, acknowledging all we have accomplished together:
- United States Holocaust Memorial Museum Event:Partnered with USHMM to host Religious Freedom event during week of National Prayer Breakfast (February)
- Baptist World Alliance Partnership: Officially entered into a legal partnership with the BWA (March
- Providing access to a grassroots network in 126 nations
- Granting two 21W staff members credentials for the UN in New York, Geneva and Vienna
- Establishing 21W ambassadors for six regions in the BWA global network to coordinate programs with the BWA Commissions and 21W’s advocacy network
- 21Wilberforce Global Leaders Fellowship: Launched the Global Leaders Fellowship, the third and most comprehensive level of student and young professionals training within 21Wilberforce’s leadership training portfolio (March)
- Center empowering network partners: Provided the digital infrastructure on the Freedom Center for online weekly coalition meetings (IRF Roundtable, working groups, etc.) to advance religious freedom (despite the global pandemic), where 800+ individuals from nearly 60 countries have participated (March to present)
- 21Wilberforce Global Freedom Center – Inaugurated/launched 21Wilberforce as the 21Wilberforce Global Freedom Center (May)
- Coalitions Advocacy (Ongoing):
- Argued for consideration of religious freedom issues in meetings with U.S. government officials within the State Department, National Security Council, intelligence community, USAID, and more
- Spurred the passage of the Uyghur Forced Labor Prevention Act in the House of Representatives
- Briefed hundreds of religious freedom advocates on issues in Nepal and Ethiopia, two countries where religious tensions and challenges go under-reported
- Global Impact Partner Engagement: Began online conversations between pastors and key FoRB officials, including IRF Ambassador Brownback (May)
- Emerging Leaders Conference: Conducted the 4th Annual Emerging Leaders Conference, expanding the program to include a summer leadership cohort series (connecting students with top policy makers in Washington D.C.), followed by an intensive training practicum in religious freedom advocacy (Summer/Fall 2020)
- Associates: Recruited two college students for our Fall semester internship program to work on policy research and communications outreach on IRF issues (September through November)
- Voices of Internet Freedom Website: Built the website as a service from the Freedom Center for a coalition of diverse organizations working to advance internet freedom, the next frontier of human rights (October)
- 2020 Ministerial:
- Coordinated Civil Society Side Events: Provided the digital platform for 67 civil society events associated with the 3rd Annual Ministerial to Advance Freedom of Religion or Belief, the premier global religious freedom event of 2020 (November)
- Launched Future Leadership Event: Partnered with the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum to host an event focused on exploring how faith communities can educate and mobilize youth to form multi-faith advocacy support networks that build mutual respect and work to prevent actions that give rise to intolerance and violence (November)
- Frank Wolf IRF Virtual Award Ceremony: Honored Ambassador-at-Large for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback (November)
- Global FoRB Center of Excellence: With initial funding from the Templeton Foundation, and contracted by the IRF Secretariat, built a FoRB Center of Excellence for the IRF Roundtable DC and the growing global network of 33 FoRB roundtables and parliamentary business forums (November and December)
In partnership with 21Wilberforce, you are fighting to stop crimes against people of faith, release prisoners of conscience, repeal laws restricting freedom of religion or belief, and protect the oppressed—pandemic or no pandemic. You understand that when governments effectively defend religious freedom, their nations are safer, more prosperous and secure.
Thank you for all we accomplished this year. Together, we will engage where we can and confront where we must for freedom of religion or belief.