Freedom School Fights for Rights
Four-day teaching sessions revive classic Civil Rights Era schools
Lisa Loving of The Skanner
July 17, 2008
What can you do to fight racism? Why are people poor? Why are so many people of color in prison?
Organizers with the American Friends Service Committee and the Peoples’ Institute for Survival and Beyond have answers, and they’re holding their annual Freedom School to teach youth about their history and their community power.
The Freedom School is scheduled July 21 through 25 from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Beacon Hill in Seattle.
The goal is to empower young people to learn about racism and organize to undo it.
“The Freedom School is based on the kind of Freedom Schools that took place in the Civil Rights movement and the Freedom Summer of 1964,” says Dustin Washington, the director of community justice programs for the AFSC and core trainer for the PINW. “We just felt like young people need to get more of a social consciousness so they could deal with the issues impacting their lives.”
The project was started in 2000, when communities around the Seattle area were grappling with race and racism issues in the schools and law enforcement.
Today, Freedom Schools are held around the greater Seattle area that draw kids from as far away as the Tulalip Reservation and the Mukilteo, North Sound area. Every winter, they hold one as well.
“Our Freedom Schools are multiracial with about 85 percent students of color,” Washington says. “The participants are ages 15 to 21, kids in universities, kids who have been kicked out of schools — it’s pretty diverse.”
In 1964, thousands of students attended Freedom Schools in Mississippi. The goal, organizers say, is to teach students information that was excluded from public schools because of institutional racism.
Today’s Freedom School students are learning about the history and the philosophy of the Civil Rights Movement, and community organizing skills.
Washington says the same information is left out of schools today — and students have to go elsewhere to learn about their cultural histories.
“One of the things we want to do with the Freedom School concept is expand it so this style, this method we use can be used in the public schools,” Washington says.
“And,” he adds, “it’s not just the young people who’ve been mis-educated – the adults need anti-racism education as well.”
Freedom School students take field trips around the city, learn anti-racist community organizing skills, and listen to community elders.
Organizers say they want to create a fundamental understanding about the nature of the education system, the media, and the criminal justice system, “to create change and share culture.”
The group is part of a national network operating Freedom Schools around the country, including Oakland, Calif.; New Orleans, La.; Duluth, Minn.; Philadelphia, and Farrell, Penn.
The weeklong programs evolved from 2-day Undoing Racism workshops, based on a model developed by the Peoples’ Institute for Survival and Beyond.
“This year we’ll have over 150 who’ve participated,” Washington says. “We’ve probably had, over the past 8 or 9 years, well over 2000 people – and we’ve drawn people from Philadelphia and California.”
He is eager for the program to grow into other regions. The school is named after one of the most loved and respected community activists in the history of Seattle.
Tyree Scott was a labor organizer, a community leader and a poet. In the late 1960s, Scott – a 29-year-old electrician who worked for his father’s company — led a long but ultimately successful drive to break the color barrier in the city’s construction industry trades.
In the 1970s, Scott helped start the Northwest Labor and Employment Law Office – where his two Phillipino co-founders were reportedly assassinated in Seattle by Ferdinand Marcos.
Over the years, Scott became increasingly focused on linking the ongoing civil rights movement for Black workers in the United States with the issues affecting workers around the world; he also organized material aid campaigns benefitting Mozambique and South Africa.
In 1999, Scott helped organized the huge public rejection of the World Trade Organization that led to street rioting that shut down the international WTO Conference held that year in Seattle. He died of cancer four years later.
For more info, or to host a Freedom School, contact Washington at email@example.com, 206-632-0500, ext. 14.