Sep 15, 2013
06:58 AMThe Connecticut Story
Schooner Amistad to Return to New Haven, Mission of Freedom, After Troubled Waters
2008 file photo/Peter Casolino, New Haven Register
The Amistad makes its way into New Haven Harbor with the New Haven Lighthouse in the distance in this
Through years of treacherous fiscal waters, the Freedom Schooner Amistad’s owner never abandoned the ship’s mission as Connecticut’s flagship and ambassador to tell its powerful story of freedom to the world, embattled present and former leaders of Amistad America say.
Schooner Amistad’s home port is New Haven, but it has spent less than two weeks here since suffering major damage to its bowsprit and rigging on the way back from a trip to Cuba in 2010.
But the organization’s new executive director, Hanifa Washington, called suggestions that Amistad America had abandoned or failed to fulfill its mission “absolutely ludicrous.”
The idea that “the ship is hijacked or that we gave it away is not true at all,” Washington said. “A cornerstone of what I’m doing is to bring Amistad back to New Haven and Connecticut — because she HAS been absent.
“But the ship was broken for two years” and being fixed at Mystic Seaport, Washington said, adding that she looks forward to the results of an outside audit the state has commissioned.
“The audit will report the financial goings-on of the organization and it ... will show a struggling organization operating at a deficit and underpaying its staff and struggling to stay afloat,” Washington said. “It will very clearly show where the funds went to.”
Three new partnerships — one with the Maine-based Ocean Classroom Foundation to operate the boat, one with a Hollywood production company that is using it for the filming of a TV mini-series and one with Love 146, a group that aims to spotlight and end modern-day human trafficking — are helping to put Amistad America back on solid footing, she said.
Washington and former Executive Director Gregory Belanger, who ran the organization for much of the time it was in trouble, including when it lost its nonprofit tax status after failing to file necessary paperwork three years in a row, both have been largely absent from recent public conversations and coverage of Amistad’s problems.
Both agreed to talk to the New Haven Register, however, in the wake of what they called repeated and widespread misinformation, including with regard to how much state money had been spent on the ship and for what purposes.