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Youth to host Freedom School to commemorate anniversary
Published Thursday, July 3, 2014
by Latisha Catchatoorian

1964 was a special year for blacks in America. Not only was the Civil Rights Act of 1964 passed into legislation, but it was also the year of “Freedom Summer.”

Hundreds across the nation gathered in Mississippi to fight segregation, setting up dozens of Freedom Schools, Freedom Houses and community centers for the black population. Student groups, the NAACP and other organizations rallied to fight against unfair practices and harmful legislation aimed at African-Americans.

This year, the Youth Organizing Institute, a local education leadership development program centered on empowering the lives and experiences of young people, will host its fifth summer program. In honor of the 50th anniversary, the YOI is calling it the Summer Freedom School. The program of workshops will run July 8-25.

“In the summer of 1964, hundreds of youth converged in Mississippi to expose systemic violence and change the national dialogue around racism in the south,” a YOI press release stated. “This summer the Youth Organizing Institute is honoring the 50th anniversary of the Freedom Summer and continuing the legacy by running a Freedom School in Raleigh.”

Participants will travel to Mississippi for a national gathering. The school will also include “trainings, field trips, and cultural activities that uplift social movements, help young people find their place within that historical context, teach concrete organizing skills, and create space for creative expression and collective learning about political topics that directly impact their lives.”

The program is catered predominately towards high school minorities. The YOI takes into account an applicant’s immigration status, race, age, and/or level of marginalization. Members then follow up with a phone interview to gage the student’s political standing. They try to focus on teaching students who are under systemic oppression.

“I had the opportunity to travel to Mississippi this past week, and it was the most emotional experience of my organizing life,” said Monserrat Alvarez who was part of the YOI’s first summer program graduating class and is now on staff. “When we talk about the history of Freedom Summer in Mississippi, we often jump to voter registration work and (the) Civil Rights Act. I cannot deny how important this work was for the nation, but 1964 Freedom Summer had other projects – Freedom Schools. These schools were operated within the community by SNCC students and community folks who risked their homes and lives to make sure their young people had an education. We often forget how underfunded schools were, and continue to be, and just how impactful Freedom Schools were in educating black students.” 

Sanyu Gichie, who helped head up the local moratorium for the Summer Freedom School’s campaign, said they wanted to uplift the Freedom School legacy.

“A big pillar of this program is looking back on people’s history, but we want to emphasize to our students that each person has power,” she said. “History books often focus on the leaders of a movement, while giving little or no attention to the communities that devoted their time and made sacrifices for change. Young people have been at the fore of winning gains for gender, race, class, immigrant, ability and voting rights.  Freedom School allows youth to tap into their unknown reserves of strength and power which are vital to creating the systemic change needed for our communities."

During the YOI’s Summer Freedom School, a documentary on the historic Freedom School will be shown. An elder will also Skype in with students to relay his experience during that time. The school is a three-week program.

“The first week of the program we focus on grounding people in history, putting a name to different systems of oppression, putting a name to those experiences. The second week is focused on political analysis, like why things are that way. The third week focuses more on concrete skills such as screen printing, media training (how to write a press release), how to facilitate a meeting, how to deal with different group dynamics,” Gichie said.

Students receive a $100 stipend for sticking through the program. Gichie said after students graduate, the YOI stays with them to connect them with other organizations they might be interested in.

Alvarez, who is now in her 20s, began organizing at 12 years old. She realizes how important it is to work with young people.

“Freedom Schools strive to uplift our own people's histories, stories and accomplishments as a means to build our individual and collective power,” she said.



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