Freedom School Operating Thoughout Ohio

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It’s been 50 years since Freedom Summer, the civil rights movement that focused on getting African Americans, particularly those in the South, to register to vote and become politically active.

In an interview with Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles, Reverend Laura Young with the Children’s Defense Fund of Ohio explains some of the spirit embodied in Freedom Summer can be found throughout Ohio today in what is known as Freedom Schools. The transcript of that interview is below.

Young – Freedom Schools are a program that are based and inspired in the original Freedom Schools movement that started in Freedom Summer, 1964, 50 years ago, which we are celebrating this summer where students and professors and clergy people were trained to go to Mississippi in the South in the heart of the civil rights movement when only about 6% of Mississippians who were African American were registered to vote. So there were 40 Freedom Schools all over Mississippi to empower citizens to talk about reading, literacy, and the importance of voting and to also register to vote. So folks went door to door, registering to vote. And that Freedom Schools initiative carries on today. Mrs. Marian Wright Edelman, founder and president of Children’s Defense Fund, was counsel to the Poor People’s campaign when Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated. And so she picked up that mantle and started Children’s Defense Fund and in 1995, brought back the Freedom Schools movement and started six week summer programs throughout the summer all over the country, all day, for students K-12.

Ingles – You have some of these Freedom Schools going on right now, right? Young – We have Freedom Schools all over the state of Ohio. We have 23, including 3 in the maximum security juvenile prisons in Ohio sponsored by the Ohio Department of Youth Services.

Ingles – So tell me what these Freedom Schools are doing.

Young – Freedom Schools are empowering children and they are helping them fall in love with reading. It’s a literacy program but it’s much more than that. It’s teaching the child that they can make a difference in themselves, in the world, in their family, their community through hope, education and action.

Ingles – And how do they work?

Young – College student interns are trained by Children’s Defense Fund to mentor and implement the curriculum. So instead of their regular teacher throughout the year, they have these high energy, hip, cool college students, many of whom came from communities of poverty and minority communities where we target this program to come and relate really well to the children and help them see that reading is cool, reading is fun and they are worthy of being educated and learning.

Ingles – So what do they do when they are in Freedom School for that six weeks period?

Young – Well they come in the morning, they have breakfast, they have gathering time, they have a read aloud guest from the community. And then they have the entire morning of reading curriculum. It’s called the integrated reading curriculum that we developed. And the stories are largely based in the civil rights movement of our country but the themes are overcoming oppression, freedom, overcoming obstacles so the children are feeling empowered and learning about the entire history of this country that they may not have learned in the regular school year. And then they have afternoon activities that supplement the curriculum in the morning. And those are from members of the community – maybe African drum, TaeKwondo, swimming pool, COSI….we have many, many (community partners who come in and build relationships with our families. 

Young says most, but not all, of the children in the program are African American. There are 10 cities throughout Ohio where Freedom Schools are being held this summer.