Freedom Summer: A School for Young Community Organizers
Maile Kaneko is a Community Justice intern at the Seattle, Washington office of the American Friends Service Committee.
The Tyree Scott Freedom School is a part of the Community Justice Program in the Seattle Office of American Friends Service Committee. Since 2001, the Freedom School has worked with youth to analyze political and social structures, providing a historical view of social change and community organizing using an antiracist framework. In late June of this year, AFSC, in collaboration with the People's Institute for Survival, and the Edmonds, Washington school district, offered sessions for students. Another Freedom School session, free and open to all community youth, will take place in Seattle from July 27-31, 2009.
In 2003, inspirational community organizer Tyree Scott passed away. That year, the Freedom School became Tyree Scott Freedom School in his honor. As a community organizer, Tyree Scott worked to fight discriminatory hiring practices, break through racial barriers in trade unions, and establish worker-to-worker programs that linked the struggle of American workers with workers overseas.
Learning to Look Again
Through workshops, dialogue, role-playing, and self-reflection participants aged 15 to 21 learn to think critically about social justice issues that impact their lives. The curriculum includes workshops unraveling why people are poor. Youth conduct power analyses of policies and institutions that specifically affect people of color and poor communities. Students learn how race and racism continue to function in the United States and about historic events of community organizing and activism in the Seattle area. Field trips are taken to historic places and neighborhoods. Students take a tour of El Centro de la Raza, an educational, cultural and service agency supporting the Chicano/Latino community. The youth also explore the International District -- one of Seattle's oldest neighborhoods and the hub of its Pan Asian American community -- home to the Wing Luke Asian Museum. Students experience a guided visit to the Tulalip Reservation, created to provide a permanent home for the Snohomish, Snoqualmie, Skagit, Suiattle, Samish and Stillaguamish Tribes and allied bands living in the region. Each year they tour Seattle's Central District, historically the center of Seattle's African American community and activism.
Young people who are considered unsuccessful students by teachers and school administrators are excited to learn, when they come to Freedom School, that their experiences are validated and the curriculum is applicable to their lives.
Whose history do you remember reading about in K-12 school? While certain students' experiences and history are acknowledged, validated, and taught, invisibility in curriculum teaches other students they are unimportant.
By contrast, Freedom School facilitates activities where students' voices are heard and their stories are told. Students learn to draw connections between their individual experiences, systemic policies, and institutions, drawing upon their knowledge of how racism, classism, sexism, and militarism function and intersect in society.
Fifty years ago activism was demonstrated in sit-ins, marches, and boycotts. Today, in addition to direct actions like these, activism can be seen at Tyree Scott Freedom School. This weeklong summer program empowers young people to become agents of change. As Assistant Director John Page says, "We bring out the voice in young people. We help them know the basis of their perception and understand. We offer life-affirming knowledge." The purpose of the Tyree Scott Freedom School is to develop anti-racist leaders and organizers with their own critical social analyses. After eight years in operation, it already has a legacy of alumni who are activists and community organizers, teachers, and university and doctoral students -- change makers.
We must ensure that we continue to foster socially conscious leaders
and humanitarian organizers who will share their knowledge and
talents with their communities. We must be sure that our youth
collaborate across differences to create change. Tyree Scott Freedom
School is helping them become able to do just that.
"Freedom School challenged me to understand the power and privilege I get for being white. I learned history about race and the founding of this country that I was never taught in school. I recognized for the first time the systemic disadvantages people of color face from every system in this country. And I became aware of the psychological injuries racism causes to both people of color and white people.
The Freedom School mentors were extremely encouraging of the students
and passionate about their work. They pushed me to develop critical
thinking and self-reflection skills and inspired me to organize
against racism in my high school, then at my college and in my
community."-- Megan Wilbert