The Freedom School Movement
African people have had a love and respect for scholarship and good conduct that was manifested in ancient times in civilization like Kemet and Nubia. This love for knowledge and belief that the acquisition of knowledge is for the health of the collective was so strong that they even survived the horrors of the great Maafa (Enslavement). Thus, from the organizing of the
Free African Society in the 1700’s to the Philadelphia Freedom Schools of the 1990’s to the newly birthed Sankofa Freedom Academy Charter School, people of African descent in Philadelphia have linked the acquisition of quality education and the struggle for freedom. There has never been a time where African people, did not organize in their communities in order to give their children the skills they needed to participate as full human beings in the wider village or society.
In the summer of 1964, African people throughout the south joined with whites and blacks from other parts of the country to fight against the horrific forms of discrimination against Blacks throughout the United States. During that amazing summer, young people joined with their elders and organized their communities to stand up for the rights of Black and Brown people to vote, to end laws that enforced segregations, and to get rid of laws that perpetuated the mistreatment of Blacks in the areas of housing, education, and the criminal justice system. In that summer there were Freedom Rides, Freedom Trains, Freedom Songs and of course, Freedom Schools.
Freedom Schools were established throughout Mississippi and beyond. In these schools, children came together with college students from all over the country along with young people from their own communities. In the Spirit of Umoja (unity) and Ujima (collective work) they worked to strengthen reading skills, improve math, and learn about the history and culture of African people and the importance of standing up for freedom and justice.
In 1993 the Black Community Crusade for Children in collaboration with Children’s Defense Fund organized a new generation of Freedom Schools in South Carolina. They worked to develop the model with Harambee, DEAR time, and a curriculum that focused on reading and social action. In 1995, two community organizations opened up Freedom Schools in the city of Philadelphia, Friends Neighborhood Guild and Cunningham Family Center. In the following year, Women’s Christian Alliance joined the movement. In 2009, Friends Neighborhood Guild and Women’s Christian Alliance are the longest running Philadelphia Freedom Schools.
In 1999, the Philadelphia Freedom Schools city-wide movement began. Philadelphia Freedom Schools took the movement to another level by introducing its Junior Servant Leadership program, which placed high school students in the classroom with college interns to help develop the scholars. Philadelphia Freedom Schools worked with Children’s Defense Fund/Black Community Crusade for Children from 1999 to 2005. In the summer of 2006, the Philadelphia Freedom Schools launched their very own curriculum model and became a network of independent freedom schools. Always looking for ways to better serve its community, Philadelphia Freedom School created pathways that rooted its scholars in classical African ways of thinking and being. It also reclaimed the original freedom school model and included numeracy in the Philadelphia Freedom School curriculum. In the summer of 2006, members of the freedom school community formed a coalition to apply for a charter school based on the Philadelphia Freedom School model. Freedom School scholars, JSL’s, and SLIs wrote letters, signed petitions, and testified before the Philadelphia School Reform Commission. As a result of their hard work and the hard work of their elders, Sankofa Freedom Academy opened in September of 2009. What an amazing journey. Philadelphia Freedom Schools’ movement continues to grow and glow. Continuing the legacy of the freedom fighters of the past, PFS continues to work to uplift scholars, families, and communities for over a decade here in Philadelphia. With lots of good energy, and by using the principle of Harambee (pulling together), Philadelphia Freedom Schools and now Sankofa Freedom Academy Charter School will continue to be a movement that can be counted on to work for excellence in scholarship, community, and culture, while standing for justice both locally and globally