March 15, 2007 — -- To the casual observer, 15-year-old Zach Hunter is a typical ninth-grader. He loves listening to music, reading and playing tennis.
But one of his interests is anything but ordinary. Hunter is a 21st century abolitionist. His mission is to abolish slavery in the world, to liberate the millions of men, women and children forced to work uncompensated or indentured.
Ending slavery been a passion of Hunter's since he was 12 years old, when he first learned about it from his mother, Penny Hunter.
"There are actually 27 million slaves in the world. I was really surprised [to find that out]," he said. "And I had all these emotions about it and I wasn't sure what to think about the idea of having modern slavery, you know. But I didn't think it was enough to just have emotions."
So instead of just feeling, Hunter sprung into action. He started the campaign Loose Change to Loosen Chains, a student-run fundraiser to help free modern-day slaves.
Hunter estimates that Americans have roughly $10 billion in loose change lying around their houses. In just two weeks of fundraising at his high school, he raised $6,000.
Addressing his fellow high school students and speaking before huge crowds of adults, Hunter travels the country spreading his message. Through his campaign, Hunter has heard about the horrific experiences of many modern-day slaves. He often tells people the story of an Indian boy named Rakesh.
"He was a rug loom slave making rugs because his parents were poor or may have gotten into a debt," Hunter said. "A rug loom slave often cuts his fingers on the strings that are pulled so tight across he loom."
On top of that, if Rakesh came to work late or didn't perform the way his master wanted, he faced the possibility of being beaten. Through the help of Free the Slaves, one of the partner organizations Hunter supports, Rakesh was freed and many of his fellow slaves are back in school.
Hunter credits Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as one of his heroes.
"He really empowered a whole race to carry out a peaceful revolution and that was really what he led, a peaceful revolution and that's what we're basically trying to do," he said.
To his parents, watching their once-shy and introverted son enthrall huge crowds and become a leader is nothing short of amazing.
"Knowing that he comes from a background where he struggled with anxiety and nervousness earlier in his life, and knowing that he puts himself aside, puts aside those feelings to step out, to speak out for others who don't have a voice, is truly remarkable to me and I can't believe he's my son," said his father, Gregg Hunter.
Hunter believes in empowering people his age and helping them find a greater purpose in life by fighting slavery.
"It's so true about people my age," he said. "It's almost sort of an invincibility mentality. Even if it may not be true, we really believe that we can do anything, which is why a lot of stuff really does get done."
To that end, he has written a book, "Be the Change," encouraging kids to get involved in abolishing slavery.
"It's about world-changers -- people from the past and some from modern day -- but people who have really made a difference," he said. "It's to inspire kids to get involved. I have questions at the end and personal reflections about it. Each of the chapters has a theme like courage or influence or compassion. It's geared toward teens but I'd be glad to have anyone read it."
Hunter is grateful that his school is supportive of his unconventional extracurricular activities. In between being an abolitionist crusader and author, he finds time to be a normal teenage boy.
"My high school is very supportive of this. It's almost like a traveling athlete. My principal doesn't see why I can't get out of school a little bit to do this," he said. "And also my parents are very supportive. But in my spare time I like a lot of music and books and I'm working on my tennis. It's going OK but I really need to work on [my] serve."