On my first day of in-town training at Freedom School Partners, I was startled when a simple “Good Morning” led the room to erupt in a “G-O-O-D M-O-R-N-I-N-G GOOD MORNING” chant complete with clapping, steps, and greetings in two other languages. A week later, I performed that same chant too many times per day in Knoxville, Tennessee, where all those working for Freedom School Partners across the nation gathered for a week of training. This week was complete with cheers and chants, history lessons, and writing lesson plans from dawn until dusk.
As one of the few white faces in the room during the trainings in Charlotte and in Tennessee, I reflected further on my whiteness and its implications in this space. The purpose of Freedom School is to combat summer learning loss, primarily for students of color who lack access to other summer enrichment opportunities and thus are more prone to summer learning loss. While Freedom School is meant to maintain or advance reading levels of scholars, it is also meant to serve as a space that specifically caters to students of color. It is supposed to be a space for learning that celebrates and acknowledges scholars through a curriculum that caters to and represents their backgrounds. Servant Leader Interns are intended to be role models for the scholars; they are ideally meant to be black and brown college students who share identities and experiences with the scholars and serve as positive role models for them.
In navigating my role in this space as a white woman, I have questioned whether my presence here can be justified. Though I have taken coursework across disciplines which equip me to be a better, more interculturally competent teacher, at the end of the day I am still a white woman in a room full of students of color, and that racial dynamic negatively impacts my scholars. At the same time, I know Freedom School Partners struggled to hire enough interns to serve our scholars this summer, and if I were not here this summer, classrooms might be even more crowded or my scholars might be stuck with a less qualified intern. While I might not be able to relate to my scholars because we differ so greatly, I am confident in my ability to achieve the primary goal of Freedom School, which is to prevent summer learning loss and advance scholars in their reading levels.