Liberation Education, Part 2: Empowering students and creating a space where they feel safe to be themselves

Students from Lit City Freedom School during a recent rally held for National Day of Social Action.

Liberation Education, Part 2: Empowering students and creating a space where they feel safe to be themselves
August 04
14:24 2021

Since 1964 the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools’ summer program has helped curb summer learning loss for students in cities and towns across the country. While much has remained the same with the overall purpose and theme of Freedom Schools, at a time where the lack of African American history courses and Critical Race Theory dominate talks on education, now more than ever Freedom Schools are being used as a platform to empower Black students in a way that may be missing in the normal classroom setting, a term organizers at the Lit City Freedom School here in Winston-Salem have coined as “liberation education.” 

Terrance Hawkins, founder of Lit City, a local nonprofit geared toward uplifting the lives of Black and brown youth in the city, said his journey to hosting a Freedom School began in 2011, but he wasn’t able to get the funding until 2020. Lit City officially launched earlier this summer at Zion Memorial Baptist Church for students in middle and high school. 

Like other Freedom Schools, Lit City Freedom School is a six-week, literacy-rich intensive program that helps build strong, literate children. The schedule is basically the same for most programs: after breakfast each day, students participate in a Kenyan tradition called “harambee,” which means “all pull together” in Swahili. During harambee, students sing songs and say different motivational chants and meditation. Students also get a chance to meet different people from the community who volunteer to read.

After harambee, students go to  different classes based on their grade level where they spend most of the day, before coming back together for lunch and other activities in the afternoon. Students also have the opportunity to go on field trips and receive a stipend every week.

What sets Lit City Freedom School apart from other summer programs is the emphasis the coordinators and instructors put on empowering students and creating a space where they feel safe to be themselves. Even the books the student read this summer were culturally relevant. Throughout the six-week program, students were introduced to several  Black authors including Sharon Flake, G. Neri, James Patterson, and Kawmi Alexander. 

“One of the things we tried to do this summer with Freedom School was make the students aware of what’s happening before them. The pain, the oppression, and the injustice our people have suffered, and make them aware that our people have never just taken that on the chin and not resisted,” Hawkins continued. “Our people have created, resisted and fought for their lives and the lives of their families and communities and one of the ways we instill this reality is by telling the students that we’re more than what we live through.” 

When discussing the culture of Lit City Freedom School, Miranda Jones, who serves as the program director, said it gives educators a chance to try something different as well. Jones, who is a licensed educator, said at Lit City she gets to bring liberation education to children in a way that she would never be allowed to do in a normal K-12 environment and has opportunities to really listen to students. “I get to bring a lot of the Afrocentric elements to the children that’s not appreciated or tolerated in Eurocentric spaces, so I get to actually do that here,” Jones said. 

“A lot of people don’t understand that you can talk to Black children … you really don’t have to just go off, you don’t have to just seek to save white teachers, you can actually seek to save Black children and sometimes it’s just a matter of trying to figure out what their intentions were and seeking to understand.” 

That understanding between the students and instructors was on full display last Friday during the Freedom School finale. The students had the opportunity to show what they learned over the past six weeks and received certificates for completing the program. As they walked up to receive their certificates, every student wore a smile that stretched from ear to ear. 

Although the Lit City Freedom School has ended for the summer, according to Hawkins they will stay in touch with the students throughout the school year with different programs and initiatives. 

For more information on Lit City Freedom School or to make a donation, visit or visit “L.I.T.” City on Facebook.

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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