Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Freedom Schools for the Twenty-First Century

Academic journal article The Western Journal of Black Studies

Freedom Schools for the Twenty-First Century

Article excerpt


Each morning at the Baton Rouge Freedom School, the day begins with a harambee celebration where the youth join in singing what they call "The Motivational Song." The motivational song's lyrics are from the song, "Something inside So Strong" by Labi Siffre. The student use hand motions while singing, reflecting on the meaning of the words. The children sing and motion: "There's something inside so strong. I know that 1 can make it, though you're doing me wrong, so wrong. You thought that my pride was gone. Oh no, there's something inside so strong."

These words are meant to empower the youth of the program, encouraging self-esteem, despite the fact that in many ways odds seem stacked against them. Nationwide, African-Americans represent 15% of the population, 26% of juvenile arrests, 44% of youth who are detained, 46% of the youth who are judicially waived to criminal court, and 58% of the youth admitted to state prisons (National Association for the Advancement of Colored People, 2014). Additionally, Blacks experience a disproportionate rate of unemployment, substance abuse, and violence in this community, as in most urban contexts across the country (Becker, 1997; Kalev, 2014; Velez, Krivo, & Peterson, 2003).

However, these students begin each day with an affirmation that challenges a system that has historically subjected blacks to subsidiary positions of slavery, employment discrimination, wage discrimination, promotion discrimination, white monopoly discrimination against black capital, and racial price discrimination in consumer goods, housing, and services (Hobbes, 2010; Mills, 1999). The youth are encouraged to maintain hope in life despite that fact that they may never obtain a means to overcome structured inequality. They are encouraged in the Freedom School program through storytelling, the reading of African-American literature, and the relationships that they form with interns (whom I label throughout this piece as mentors), to use specific navigational tools to challenge and/or resist oppressive conditions that the students often face (Yosso, 2005). This research will explore the ways in which the Baton Rouge Freedom School, its curriculum, and mentors promote community cultural wealth within a specific community in Black Baton Rouge.

While hundreds of articles exist that examine the Black community and mentoring, there does not appear to be many, if any, that focus on community cultural wealth that is extended through naturally occurring mentor relationships that are developed through Freedom Schools. Among the predecessors most closely related to the subject matter are those that have viewed coaching as a means of accumulating social capital, those that have developed a theory of "spatial mismatch" for the underclass, those that examine the psychology of Black men, and those that attempt to understand the "cycle of poverty" (Kain, 1993; Richardson, 2012; Wilson, 2009; Young, 2004). Such resources were initially used to guide my field work and define concepts for my data collection. However, after collecting and analyzing data, 1 found that the Baton Rouge Freedom School fostered the community cultural wealth model, a parallel to mainstream education systems.

Conceptualizing Community Cultural Wealth

The theory of community cultural wealth is most often used in the context of Critical Race Theory (Dixson & Rousseau, 2006; Yosso, 2005). It is conceptually a challenge to the traditional understanding of cultural capital which can be found in the work of Bourdieu and Passerson (1977) which discusses in great detail the phenomenon of cultural reproduction from a privileged perspective. Critical race theorists, however, offer a much different discussion on matters of cultural capital and other forms of capital in communities of color (Jayakumar, Vue, & Allen, 2013; Perez, 2014; Yosso, 2005)

Yosso (2005) adapted the model of community cultural wealth from Oliver and Shapiro (1995) to demonstrate several different forms of capital that are neither mutually exclusive nor static, but build upon one another and are used in communities of color to combat oppression on both macro and micro-levels. …

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