January 6, 2015
Sixty-four youth packed Bethany Church last week for a two-day Freedom School about racism, poverty and community organizing. Freedom School is a project of the American Friends Service Committee and is modeled on Freedom Schools started in Mississippi during Freedom Summer of 1964.
Freedom School offers a place where youth can learn about the history and systems analysis that students aren’t taught in school. It is also a place where youth can take their own experiences of discrimination and prejudice and see how these experiences fit within larger systems. Youth leaders of Youth Undoing Institutional Racism (YUIR) led these discussions in a way that channeled the group’s collective knowledge toward an understanding of how we can organize to undo racist systems and build a more just and equitable society. It was truly incredible to be a part of the experience.
A key component of the ongoing organizing work done by YUIR is focused on the school-to-prison pipeline, which is the way students of color are systemically channeled from school into the juvenile justice system. It was appalling to see how my white privilege protected me at every point along that pipeline from harsh and punitive experiences that youth of color shared during Freedom School. I had teachers who looked like me and related to me, curriculum that was designed for me, parents with resources to help me navigate the system and an environment of high expectations for my future. The school-to-prison pipeline wasn’t my reality. But it is the reason we see such disproportionate rates of discipline, expulsion, graduation and incarceration. Through anti-racist organizing, led by youth of color, we will see the systemic change we need. It’s inspiring to see those leaders developed at Winter Freedom School. –Jenn Hagedorn, Social Justice Liaison
The Community Service and Social Action Board of Plymouth Church recently granted $10,000 to help expand the YUIR internship program.