In an earlier essay addressing the issue of Black miseducation, I argued that – in addition to identifying, recruiting and training conscious Black teachers – we must use a multifaceted approach: 1.Build independent African-centered schools and home schools, 2.challenge and reform traditional public schools, and 3.create independent alternative after school programs to supplement the limited education provided in most traditional public and private schools.
Pouring our energy into these efforts simultaneously is perhaps the only way to accomodate the educational needs of our 7.7 million school-aged children and youth. Any one approach is insufficient.
This essay essentially asks Black activists, organizers and educators to consider collaborating, coordinating and ultimately creating “Liberation Schools” throughout the United States. These constitute a form of after school program for youth and continued learning for adults in the arena of political education. I also offer suggestions for creating such programs. My sincere hope is that we will take this idea seriously, as it can help to provide political education, develop grassroots organizing/activism in our community, and create spaces for informed political discussion in our neighborhoods. First, it helps to be familiar with “Freedom Schools,” from which the idea of Liberation Schools draws inspiration.
About Freedom Schools
Freedom schools emerged in the state of Mississippi during 1964. They were temporary centers of grassroots political and academic instruction coordinated by The Council of Federated Organizations (COFO), a coalition of Black Civil Rights groups (Congress of Racial Equality, NAACP, Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee, and the Southern Christian Leadership Conference).
The primary objective of Freedom Schools were to help COFO achieve it’s political aims by developing more politically conscious and informed Black citizens to become civil rights activists in Mississippi.
Because Black Mississippi residents attended inferior and underfunded schools, and most adults lived in extreme poverty and educational neglect, the vast majority of Black folk in the state had limited literacy. As a result, Freedom Schools developed alternative methods of teaching, focusing more on interactive discussions and activities centered around the residents’ life experiences. I strongly encourage you to learn more about the objectives and curriculum of Freedom Schools when you can.
The Vision Behind Liberation Schools
As the National Director of Education for the organization, “Souljahs of the People,” I am working to create alternative forms of political/historical education for Black folk around the country. The concept is inspired by that of Freedom Schools. The objective is three-fold:
- To provide political education for Black community residents -in areas of history, politics economics, and white supremacy/racism (Raising consciousness).
- To teach grassroots organizing/leadership/institution-building skills, in an effort to create a larger and more effective pool of Black community change agents (Increasing leadership capacity).
- To create spaces for informed political discussion in our neighborhoods. The aims are to determine the issues community members are most concerned about, encourage them to develop/implement strategies addressing these issues, and connect them with competent community organizations addressing these issues (“People’s Assemblies).
Although these are called Liberation Schools, they are not formal schools and are radically different in several ways.
Unique Features of Liberation Schools
To be effective, Liberation Schools must operate independently. Ideally, they should be housed in Black places of worship and privately or community-owned businesses, schools or other institutions.
To avoid being compromised by outside philanthopy, these schools should not seek or accept grants or other forms of funding or gifts from corporations, law enforcement or other governmental agencies.
These educational and political centers will typically not have much money. Community organizers usually won’t be able to pay huge fees to rent meeting spaces in the community. They will need to persuade community spaces to allow free or very inexpensive use of their space. This is simply a necessary sacrifice that our community institutions must bear. Black churches housed most Freedom Schools in 1964.
In terms of curriculum, Liberation Schools must remember their overall goals (raising consciousness, soliciting community opinion and discussion and teaching organizing and leadership skills.
The basic curriculum we developed is structured into 14 units, but you can develop your own to meet the needs you observe in your particular community. Each session can have a brief reading, writing or video clip viewing assignment to help people prepare for the next session. I’ve provided a sample below:
Session 5: Discussion about White Supremacy, what it is, it’s purpose, how it works to oppress Black people and privilege white people. What is the difference between “race” and racism? Assigned viewing for next session: YouTube clip, “The Scramble for Africa and the Berlin Conference” (https://goo.gl/bwgBDX), The maps of Colonized African nations (http://goo.gl/QE5kE5), map of African resources (http://goo.gl/PcB0pQ), YouTube video Michael Parenti, “How the West Systematically Underdevelops Poor Countries – (https://goo.gl/vonjlN).
To encourage good participation and a spirit of openess, you can arrange chairs in a semi circle instead of the typical cemetary style seating (columns and rows) used in most U.S. classrooms. Two people can moderate discussions (not to dominate, but to manage time, clarify statements, and keep discussions on topic).
In this multimedia age, we can use YouTube videos and other online resources to teach and learn. For this reason, Liberation Schools should strive to have access to wifi, a screen and a laptop projector.
Weekly meetings should convene at times that accomodate working adults and perhaps high school youth.
Liberation schools have the flexibility to experiment with a variety of teaching and learning styles. During any given week, the community can expect guest speakers, panel discussions, workshops, film clip analysis, people’s assemblies, debates, skits, and interactive group activities.
As different units of learning conclude, participants can do real world projects to apply and test what they’re learning in tangible ways. This type of learning is both engaging for participants and useful for the community, two qualities that traditional forms of education rarely provide.
Benefits of Liberation Schools
This alternative form of education has important benefits:
- We don’t need several years or millions of dollars to create them, nor much money to maintain them.
- Because raising money is not a primary concern, we avoid corruption and are able to focus on the main concern – educating our community.
- These programs build important bridges among Black workers, intellectuals, activists and students of various ages and social classes.
- We create more historical and political literacy, more informed and engaged community activists and leaders.
- Because these programs are relatively easy to create, house, maintain and staff, we can literally create them all over the country.
- They don’t require corporate or outside sponsorship, so they can maintain political integrity and intent.
- People who coordinate these programs don’t need college degrees or traditional credentials. Therefore, they discourage elitism and snobbery.
In conclusion, let us move from abstract theorizing, grandiose but poorly planned projects and pontification, to building actual leadership capacity and empowerment in our neighborhoods. Via Liberation Schools, we can do this all over the country within a matter of months. I am in the process of helping to create Liberation Schools in New York City, and I hope I’ve inspired you to do the same in your own city.
Agyei Tyehimba is an educator, activist and author from Harlem, N.Y. Agyei is a former NYC public schoolteacher, co-founder of KAPPA Middle School 215 in the Bronx, NY, and co-author of the Essence Bestselling book, Game Over: The Rise and Transformation of a Harlem Hustler, published in 2007 by Simon & Schuster. In 2013, he wrote The Blueprint: A BSU Handbook, teaching Black student activists how to organize and lead. In April of 2014, he released Truth for our Youth: A Self-Empowerment Book for Teens. Agyei has appeared on C-Span, NY1 News, and most recently on the A&E documentary, “The Mayor of Harlem: Alberto ‘Alpo’ Martinez.” Currently, Agyei is a member of the Black Power Cypher, five Black Nationalist men with organizing backgrounds, who host a monthly internet show addressing issues and proposing solutions. He runs his own business publishing books, public speaking, and teaching Black people how to organize and fight for empowerment.
Agyei earned his Bachelor’s Degree in sociology from Syracuse University, his Master’s Degree in Africana Studies from Cornell University, and his Master’s Degree in Afro-American Studies from the University of Massachusetts at Amherst.
If you are interested in bringing Agyei to speak or provide consultation for your organization, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.