Freedom Schools End Summer With Festive Finale

Tamala Mercadel, 12, of Los Angeles has spent the last three summers at the Community Coalition Freedom School at the Crenshaw Christian Center, a summer literacy enrichment program. Before her participation in the program, she considered herself a slow reader and was embarrassed to read aloud. But thanks to her teachers (called Freedom School Servant Leaders), Tamala not only enjoys reading action packed books, now she is determined to go to college.

“Freedom School is like my second family,” said Tamala. “The teachers are like brothers to me. When I’m down they will sit down with me and talk with me.”

Tamala was one of 450 young people, ages 5 to 18, from six Freedom School sites in the Second District who gathered at the Kenneth Hahn State Recreation Area in Los Angeles recently to sing, chant and celebrate the end of the program in the Second Supervisorial District.

Scholars spent the afternoon participating in a variety of fun-filled activities — trying on fire-fighting gear, climbing aboard a fire engine, learning earthquake safety and selecting books to take home from the Los Angeles County Public Library’s Urban Outreach Bookmobile. They also got their faces painted, created kites, played the drums, watched a dance performance, participated in a yoga demonstration and made yogurt parfaits.

“We are here to help you be all that you can be,” said Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors Chairman Ridley-Thomas, to the sea of young faces. The Supervisor has sponsored 12 Freedom School sites in the past four years. “We want each of you to have a healthy start, head start, fair start, safe start and moral start.”

For the past six weeks, Freedom Schools sites provided these young scholars with curriculum that is both challenging and entertaining, with activities that included reading, art, dance, music, field trips, athletics, and community service. Students began each morning with Harambee, a Swahili term that means “all pull together,” during which time the student scholars and their teachers chanted motivational songs, listened to guest readers, and closed with a moment of silence.

Cynthia Robinson, 41, of Los Angeles is the mother of returning Read Lead Freedom School scholars, one of six Freedom School sites in the Second District and 7-year-old triplets Anthony, Tyler, and Mariah. Robinson is grateful that the Freedom School program not only is free, but that it provides her kids with a rigorous curriculum that gets them excited about reading books.

“Freedom Schools has really boosted my kids’ confidence,” said Robinson. “It is different than any other day camp. “They are called scholars and they are treated like scholars and their servant leader interns expect the most from them and give them a sense of pride in themselves and their own ideas.”

The CDF Freedom Schools Program is rooted in the work of the Civil Rights movement. During the summer of 1964, college-age youths operated Freedom Schools that provided an alternative to Mississippi’s underfunded and segregated school system. Modern Freedom Schools apply that same intergenerational approach to teaching and learning. College and graduate students are trained as “Servant Leader Interns,” who teach and motivate the children to develop positive attitudes about themselves and their abilities.