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Freedom School breathes new life into anti-racism work

Shanene Herbert is Healing Justice Program Director for AFSC's Twin Cities Office. Photo: AFSC

By Shanene Herbert, AFSC Twin Cities Healing Justice Program Director

It’s been nearly three weeks since the end of Freedom School Spring 2K19: Reclaiming Radical, and we are still coming down from the adrenaline rush of the packed three-and-a-half days together. When people ask the question, “Well…how was it?” I liken it to delivering a baby. It’s that moment when you finally see your baby after your delivery and it has all of its fingers and toes and is in good health, inquisitive bright eyed and ready to take over the world. And you, you are filled with joy, but complete exhaustion.

Logistically speaking, Freedom School takes months to plan. From deciding larger details such as which local POC food caterers to use or if the date and location will yield the most participants, to the minor details such as what we will put in our self-care station or who should draw a paper sign to be hung over the existing one that offers an alternative to potential youth who do not use the male/female binary that is offered.

This year we tapped into new youth facilitators to help lead the sessions. Edith Kamau, a second year Freedom School participant, brought the heat as she delivered the curriculum on internalized racial inferiority and made talking about race, racism and institutions palatable to participants who are beginning to develop their own analysis in their personal and professional lives.

Another second-year participant and high school junior, Malaki-Milton Jackson, stepped up and was a much-welcomed presence as he facilitated several sessions. As the youngest of the facilitators, Malaki was learning just as much from the participants as he was leading.

Malaki and Edith worked with AFSC Youth Leader Citlaly Escobar and Program Associate, Dominique Diaddigo-Cash, two powerhouses in their analyses, to hone their facilitation skills and master the content to deliver engaging and thought-provoking sessions that would make the organizers of People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond proud.

I can’t forget our secret weapon, Ryan Williams-Virden, a local scholar, teacher and organizer who has studied Whiteness from its early history to the present. His presence is necessary as participants grapple with their identity and what it means to be white under the system of racial oppression.

For the final day together, we came full circle and stepped away from the comforts of the Quaker Meeting House on Grand Avenue into a robust conversation about capitalism and organizing in one of the few grassroots organizing spaces left in South Minneapolis--4200 Cedar. There we had a chance sighting of local organizer and former City Council and mayoral candidate Marcus Harcus and other local organizers who are organizing for the legalization of marijuana in Minnesota.

The end result: a baby in the form of nearly 30 young people from across the city charged, eager to analyze their place in the world, and ready to begin dismantling the system of racism. Participants generally leave Freedom School feeling a range of emotions, and this year was no exception.

Undoing racism is emotional heart work that reconnects us with our bodies. Youth are told that learning and growing as organizers and the commitment to end racism isn’t limited to the three-and-a-half days. We continue our work throughout the year through YUIR- Youth Undoing Institutional Racism. Want to participate? Join us and other youth committed to this work, every other Friday at 6:30 pm. Please contact Shanene at 612.741.9290 or check out Youth Undoing Institutional Racism on Facebook or Twitter

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