While the U.S. continues to wrestle with racism, and inequality in the criminal justice system, one United Methodist church in Ohio is addressing the issues with young people, using a formula from the civil rights era. The Children's Defense Fund created Freedom Schools to teach literacy, self-empowerment and civic engagement.
(Locator: Columbus, Ohio)
“Circle up, circle up!”
“It’s Tuesday at harambee and Freedom School is in the house!”
Jalen Greathouse, Freedom School Scholar, 11: “On the first day of Freedom School I was shy, I remember me and my cousin came. I was like, 'Oh my God, I’m so happy right now!' It was the best place I could be!”
Sile P. Singleton, Summit on 16th United Methodist Church: “Our kids are scholars – that’s what they’re told they are. Every day. If you’re a scholar, you are a learned person.”
(reading out loud) “With the bent tree straight…”
Every summer, Summit on 16th United Methodist Church in Columbus, Ohio welcomes at least one-hundred “scholars” for 8 weeks of Freedom School – a program that “seeks to build strong, literate, and empowered children” and is modeled after schools held in the civil rights era.
King Naishawn Colbert, Freedom School Scholar, 8: “We read a book, I think last week, it was called, ‘Grandpa, is Everything Black Bad?’”
Kelis Norton, Freedom School Scholar, 6: “At Freedom School they teach us how to be nice to people and not have arguments.”
Jalen Greathouse, Freedom School Scholar, 11: “Because you never know what anybody could be going through. They could be homeless but they’re still coming to Freedom School to open that spiritual part of themselves.”
(reading out loud) “So he only has….”
Church member and recent Ohio State graduate Lamont Turner plans to become an author and teacher. As a volunteer, he has seen Freedom Schools change lives.
Lamont Turner, Summit on 16th United Methodist Church: “As an African-American male who’s at OSU, I think it’s important for them to have that so they can see it’s possible to strive for their dreams.”
Role models like Turner are just the leaders the program strives to shape, notes Marian Wright-Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, which created Freedom Schools.
Marian Wright Edelman, Children’s Defense Fund: “I hope through Freedom Schools as well, that we will begin to have a non-white teacher pipeline that can begin to infuse our public schools with a new energy and a new joy and a new higher expectation for children.”
Charis Caldwell, Summit on 16th United Methodist Church: “This is the kind of stuff I want to do when I get older, so to be able to watch scholars go from – I don’t really know how to be me to I know who I am and I’m really proud of it. And it’s really, really cool.”
Participants improve their reading skills by as much as one-and-a-half grade levels while openly addressing tough topics like racism and injustice.
Timi Townsend, Summit on 16th United Methodist Church: “The kids have said to me... 'Why don’t we get treated the way that white kids get treated?' Those are hard questions to answer.”
Nicole Williams, Summit on 16th United Methodist Church: “We’ve seen kids cry. Especially watching the videos we have to watch on the protests and different things like that. That’s the ultimate purpose is for us to be able to understand the injustice of a lot of stuff that goes on.”
Kanada Glanton, Freedom School Scholar, 14: “We don’t want our people to be scared to go out of the house, drive on the street, walk the streets, do anything. So, this has to stop.”
King Naishawn Colbert, Freedom School Scholar, 8: “I want everybody to have justice and peace and also love.”
“The higher you build your barriers… something inside so strong!”
Sile P. Singleton, Summit on 16th United Methodist Church: “It is a life-changing experience, Freedom School. It’s almost impossible to explain... Just come and read a book to a kid come and watch the magic of harambee, you’re life will be changed, for sure.”
Freedom Schools across the nation have impacted more than 137,000 scholars since 1995. Learn more or contact the Freedom School at Summit on 16th United Methodist Church in Columbus, Ohio by calling 614-291-3324.
This video was first posted on August 15, 2016.