Mohawk Valley Freedom School Promotes Social Activism
Brendan Dunn introduces the class to the syllabus as The Mohawk Valley Freedom School holds its first class Thursday evening at the Plymouth Bethesda United Church of Christ, Mar. 6, 2014, in Utica, N.Y. The school focuses on social and economic justice. (Photo by Mark DiOrio / Observer Dispatch)
Used to affect social change during the Civil Rights Movement, freedom schools are back with a renewed focus on intergenerational social activism.
And the Mohawk Valley Freedom School already is starting the discussion.
“It’s open to everyone,” said Brendan Dunn, school educator and founding member. “We really want to have a serious discussion about economic inequality, politics, about racism, about all of these things that affect us.”
Spawning out of the Occupy Utica movement, the school, operating at Cornerstone Community Church in Utica, is offering a three-month program geared toward high school students called “Social Movements, Social Change.”
The goal is to identify the needs of the community and empower students to influence change, Dunn said.
“That’s one thing that we see as really key to a successful freedom school is having students have a very direct say in their education and be part of the process of shaping their education.”
The group next will offer a summer program, and is discussing the possibility of opening a private school accessible to low-income students in grades kindergarten through 12th, Dunn said.
Freedom schools came out of the Civil Rights Movement in 1964 in Mississippi, providing summer education that was culturally and politically relevant to black students, and encouraging them to become active in the movement, he said.
In 2013 there were 181 sites nationwide, including six in New York, to offer a six-week summer program through community agencies, schools and the Children’s Defense Fund, a nonprofit child advocacy agency.
Each program is different based on the needs of the community.
The Chicago Freedom School, which started in 2007, focuses on creating new generations of independent, critical-thinking young people, said school Coordinator of Youth Programs Tony Alvarado-Rivera.
“(Throughout) history, young people have always been at the forefront of movement building and social justice,” he said.
Thomas R. Proctor High School senior Marquis Palmer, 17, has been instrumental in the formation of the school and is taking the first class.
Palmer, who was part of a student rally to protest Utica school cuts in 2012, said it’s his duty to help his community find solutions when problems arise.
“I really thought this was my way to help the progression of Utica, of the community,” he said.
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* The school is at Cornerstone Community Church, 500 Plant St., in Utica.
* It’s a community-lead school dedicated to social justice and social change.
* The school has after-school and summer programs and is free to the community. Classes are listed on its website (mvfreedomschool.wordpress.com).
* Those starting the school include educator Brendan Dunn; Thomas R. Proctor High School student Marquis Palmer; and Susan Johnston, Mohawk Valley Community College, College Science Technology Entry Program project assistant.
* Activists from Occupy Utica, local educators and high school students also are involved with the program.
* To get involved as a volunteer, or for information call 732-2382 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
* The Mississippi Freedom Summer Project of 1964 was organized by leading Civil Rights organizations to engage black students and community volunteers in a variety of strategic activities to ensure basic citizenship rights for all Mississippians.
* The freedom schools provided reading instruction; humanities curriculum emphasizing English, foreign language, art and creative writing; and a general mathematics and science curriculum.
* The schools were structured to motivate young people to become critically engaged in their communities and to help them identify and design authentic solutions to local problems.
* The movement was reborn in 1992 with leader Marian Write Edelman and the Children’s Defense Fund’s Black Community Crusade for Children program. It included an increased focus on literacy, parent involvement, conflict resolution and social action.
* In 2013, there were 181 sites nationwide, six in New York, to offer a six-week summer freedom school program through community agencies, schools and the Children’s Defense Fund, a nonprofit child advocacy agency.