(Photo of Bronx Freedom School meeting: photo by Mark Naison)
By Mark Naison (July 27, 2017)
This summer, I decided to use the Freedom School model from the civil rights movement to promote solidarity among people looking for inspiration and direction, in part out of frustration with the many social media groups that I participated in and in some cases helped to start. Don’t get me wrong, those groups played and continue to play an important role in our political life and in the lives of many individuals
But in the face of the despair so many people felt during and after the Presidential election, and the challenges many experience as a result of events at their schools and workplaces, I felt face to face encounters were needed to give people the energy and support they needed to move forward.
So I decided, as an experiment, to organize three meetings at my home with great speakers, talking about important subjects, with lots of food and beverages to make people feel comfortable The sessions were:
Michael Partis on “Bronx Hip Hop and Bronx Communities”
Jamaal Bowman on “Revolutionizing Public Education”
Melissa Castillo-Garsow on “The Radical Mexican Diaspora in NYC”
The results were extraordinary. All the sessions were filled, with a multiracial audience that varied markedly in age and life experience, with discussions that were inspiring, honest, sometime painful, and deeply appreciated. On each occasion, people stayed long after the scheduled time and not only created valuable connections; in some cases they started new friendships
When word of this got out, several friends in Eastern Long Island asked to create Freedom school sessions there, and the first one held there, featuring Justin S. Williams talking about Race and Immigration Issues in Long Island Schools and Communities, was, if anything more powerful than the ones in Brooklyn! People, many of whom had only met for the first time, stayed for five hours and probably would have slept there if they had been offered the opportunity.
Clearly, this model has met a powerful need. Not only do we have another session scheduled in Eastern LI, we have an entire set of Freedom Schools organized in the Bronx, by Aixa Rodriguez, a session organized in Livingston, New Jersey, and sessions being discussed in Buffalo, :Lower Westchester, and Danbury Connecticut.
For those of you who want to spread the movement to your city I have the following suggestions
1. Organize your sessions at someone’s home, or at a comfortable public venue where people can let their hair down
2. Make sure you have a subject that will attract a multiracial audience, and a speaker with a proven ability to cross racial and cultural boundaries.
3. Make sure there are food and beverages at the event
4. Encourage people to bring high school and college age children to the event.
5. Advertise the subject of the talk publicly, but only give out the address of the talk to people who PM or email you, especially if the even it held at someone’s home.
Doing this has given energy and purpose to me and many other people.
Let’s build the movement!