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Summer of Us: South Region freedom schools challenge youth

Photo: Nerra Muhammad / AFSC
Photo: Nerra Muhammad / AFSC

This summer, the American Friends Service Committee continued its tradition of engaging youth by sponsoring freedom schools in the South Region.

AFSC has a rich history of organizing alternative education dating back to the Civil Rights Movement, when volunteers helped to arrange placement for African American students who had been locked out of schools that refused to desegregate.

Warrenton, NC was the site of AFSC’s 1963 Citizenship Education Project, which offered over 30 workshops in four counties to provide the area’s African American population with information about
voting procedures and registration.

This year, Peace by Piece (PxP) Baltimore partnered with several artists, activists and instructors for its first Summer of Us Young Advocates Camp at Mergenthaler Vocational-Technical High School (MERVO).While offering a wide wide range of lessons for youth, the camp was rooted in teaching social activism.

“I think the kids enjoyed the different dynamics that we brought to them,” expressed Meaca Downing, PxP Baltimore intern. Activities included a field trip to the American History Museum in Washington, D.C., a yoga class and a home gardening workshop as well as lectures and discussions on criminal justice, police relations, mental health and bullying.

Downing said that she fell in love with students’ excited reactions to a potting and planting exercise used to demonstrate sustainable living in a city faced with the issue of food deserts.

Nerra Muhammad, co-chair of the Education Committee for PxP, agreed that the versatility of the camp was important to its organizers. “We really wanted to give the students something that they do not receive throughout the year ... something that they had never been exposed to.”

Downing also worked with PxP program director Farajii Muhammad to develop a pledge for participants to sign at the end of the camp based on their commitment to community involvement. Muhammad has kept in touch with administrators who peronally thanked PxP for facilitating Summer of Us, and is planning on returning to MERVO to further engage the students in a new after school program.

In West Virginia, the Appalachian Center for Equality sponsored the WV Freedom School, during which participants attended a walking tour of Charleston. Grace Bible Church Rev. J. Watts led the tour, giving youth an in-depth history of racial issues in the city including urban renewal that led to displacement of minorities in the 1960s and ‘70s. 36 students from around the state took part in the three-day course of workshops focused on teaching strategies for youth organizing in the context of addressing structural racism.

With plans to nurture the seeds planted by each program, AFSC continues its deep tradition of educating with the freedom school model.

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