William Wilberforce’s battle to end the transatlantic slave trade inspired moviegoers who saw it retold last year in the feature film Amazing Grace. Now a new book and television documentary aspire to use the example of Wilberforce and his Clapham Circle to ignite a new generation of social activism.
The documentary, The Better Hour: The Legacy of William Wilberforce, will air on national public television in early February, in time for Black History Month (check local listings). Paired with the study guide Creating the Better Hour: Lessons from William Wilberforce (Stroud & Hall Publishing), edited by Chuck Stetson and with a foreword by Rick Warren, it is part of a wave of Wilberforce rediscovery during the 2007-2008 celebrations of the 200th anniversary of the end of the slave trade.
“Modern-day human rights started with William Wilberforce and the Clapham Circle,” said Stetson, who initiated the book and documentary projects; the John Templeton Foundation funded the documentary. A managing director of the New York private equity fund PEI Funds, Stetson chairs the Bible Literacy Project—recently renamed Essentials in Education—and serves on the BreakPoint Advisory Board, under Chuck Colson’s Prison Fellowship ministry and until lately known as the Wilberforce Forum.
Colson contributes a chapter to the book, as do author Os Guinness (The Call); former U.S. Secretary of Health, Education and Welfare Joseph A. Califano Jr.; Baroness Caroline Cox, an international humanitarian activist and deputy speaker of the House of Lords in the U.K.; and Don Eberly, director of the Civil Society Project and founder of the National Fatherhood Initiative. The book, which includes questions for small-group discussion, covers the story of Wilberforce and his group, how they brought about change, and what is yet unfinished. It also profiles contemporary Wilberforces.
Stetson told RBL, “When I was growing up, people talked about leaving the world a better place. Over recent years you see bumper stickers such as ‘He Who Has the Most Toys When He Dies Wins.’ But I think we can return to the former goal.”
Stetson said his own model for using financial success to fund change was his late father, Charles P. Stetson Sr., who helped start Outward Bound South Africa as a uniting force, before it was clear apartheid would end. The younger Stetson’s next project deals with how generosity and philanthropy should be taught in business schools.
“In each generation, people have to do what they are called to do,” he said. “I think we’re all called to serve others, particularly the least, the last and the lost. The way I’m focusing on that is through education.”