6 Reasons Why We Need Youth Educational Activists

By Twin Cities FMFP Youth Team. This post is the fifth in a blog series on stories of education for liberation work happening in the Twin Cities and surrounding region, leading up to the 2019 FMFP conference.

The FMFP youth team consists of 11 members from middle school, high school, and college. In the months leading up to the Free Minds, Free People conference the youth team embarked on a series of field trips and FMFP planning. Our goal through these field trips, was to build connections, community, and learn about educational activism happening in the Twin Cities.

For example, when we went to the Minnesota Writing Project, we discussed what it means to be a writer, activist, and how writing can add value to our activism. We also visited Youthprise, where we learned about how researchers don’t have to be old white men in lab coats; anyone can be a researcher regardless of background, age, and race. Our other field trips and meetings, to UROC, Como Conservatory, etc. were centered on the importance of building community and networking. We learned that many educational organizations are facing challenges including funding and involvement, but the work they do is necessary and valuable in youth’s educational journeys.

In all these organizations a key aspect of their work is youth involvement. Without the voices of young people the work they are doing is incomplete, which is why they work so hard to be youth centered. As a team we came up with 6 reasons we need youth educational activists, inspired by the field trips and discussions we had leading up to FMFP. We hope that reading this will encourage you to teach others about why we need more young people to be activists. Young people have so much to contribute to this work, we just have to have the space to lead.

1. Students know what students need better than anyone—if we don’t speak up, we risk someone else doing it for us

Image by Anna Reishus

School Boards only know so much, and they can’t rely only on their educational experiences from their time in school. Youths need to have their voices be heard, and not just as a last resort or an afterthought. Why should people who aren’t experiencing the current school system be making policies and rules for us, the ones who are being affected? We need our voices to be heard, loud and clear.

2. Nobody else knows schools the way students do – we’re experts in all the flaws and successes happening in schools

Image by Ricardo Levins Morales

No one understands the school system like us youth do, we’ve experienced it, we’ve seen the good and the bad, we’ve just seen it all. Growing up I didn’t really like school much because I never felt that I was good enough or smart enough for it, but as I grew older I began to start speaking with teachers and asking a lot more questions than I did before and from there on I began to develop a better relationship with my teachers. Soon I started to realize my grades were a lot better and also I was a lot happier so my emotional health was going in a better direction.

3. We want education to be challenging AND supportive

Photo credit: Leyla Suleiman, FMFP Youth Team

I remember my first ever ESL (English second language) was horrible because my teacher:

  1. Lacked Patience
  2. Lacked Respect
  3. Lacked Teaching Ability

She would put language books and cards down, expect us to know the words just because we know our ABCs. So I wasn’t learning anything new. The T.V was my best teacher honestly. Boy my self esteem skyrocketed when I stop Swiper from swiping. I come into that class with my head up high reading the books and cards better each time. How is it that Dora was a better English teacher than the one I had in school?

4. We want to invest in the future.

Image by Phil Roeder

The education of future generations in our community and those across the globe matters as much as ours does. American schools are becoming more and more diverse, it should show with the teachers being employed to the students you see in class. Future generations are what will change the world after our own generation. Think of your younger siblings, nieces, nephews, as well as your future kids, grandchildren, and so forth.

5. Unsatisfied with at least one thing in your school? Change it!

At home, I spoke only one language to my grandma, speak two different languages to my parents. Kids learn fast but they forgot just as fast. Language is the base of culture and it’s hard when the foundation isn’t solid. Schools should promote a broader language program instead of just French and Spanish. Also, as an activist you can create or advocate for a program for your culture and language in school so you can create a place of comfort in school. In my school, looking at the general demographic of students, I don’t see that being shown in my AP classes. There is also a lack of diversity with the staff also, from their race and background.

6. Education issues still exist after you leave school. Stay young, stay connected to education!

As we go through school, we feel deeply connected to educational issues. Every day we are faced with the problems that happen when schools are underfunded, when teachers don’t have equity training, when school lunches are low quality, and the list goes on. When most people leave high school and don’t have to experience those frustrations and struggles on a daily basis anymore, fighting against those issues becomes a distant memory.

As young people who are still in the trenches so-to-speak, we don’t want anyone to forget what it was like to be a student. The parts of yourself that developed when you were in grade school are still a part of you, and they always will be there. If you are a youth activist, we hope that you will reflect on the reasons we shared so that you can encourage more of your peers to join in this work. If society no longer identifies you as a youth, we hope that you never forget the high schooler and middle schooler inside of you who is restless for change.

Our Schools! Poder Unidos and Navigate MN’s Ethnic Studies Work in Minneapolis

By Poder Unidos and Jose Alvillar. This post is the fourth in a new blog series on stories of education for liberation work happening in the Twin Cities and surrounding region, leading up to the 2019 FMFP conference.

The Poder Unidos team.

About a year ago Navigate MN, a grassroots power-building organization that builds power for gender, racial and economic justice, asked itself: Why do our schools continue to fail our students? Though the answer in itself is complex, one thing became clear and that is that we need to invest in our own learning, relearning, and unlearning as a community. As many before us have created their own curriculum centered in our own stories, we sought to do the same.

In the summer of 2018, we launched our first ever Youth Action Summer Camp. Its intentions like many other action camps across the country were centered in honoring the dignity and self-determination of our youth. The camp was grounded in a Nican Tlaca (people of the Americas) perspective through a popular education framework that interconnected our struggles, but also reframed youth organizing, not as our future leaders, but our current ones. It was out of this belief and investment in their leadership that our work for ethnic studies came about.

The reality became clear that much of what we do and learn in community is not reflected in our schools, that the knowledge of our ancestors and our own histories are not present in our schools, or if they are, they are through a deficit lens that portrays our people as relics of the past when we know very well that we’re still here, that our elders struggles were not and are not in vain. For that reason among many others our youth from Poder Unidos, a youth group of predominantly Latinx youth, have been working on ethnic studies work across the Minneapolis Public Schools district and have developed a plan to take it to the state via an ethnic studies bill.

However, like any struggle, there will always be barriers. Currently, we face a lack of funding, not enough teachers of color, implementation challenges, outdated and irrelevant curriculum, accountability from districts and leadership, among many other things. However, these barriers have only reminded us how important this work is and why we need ethnic studies in our schools. As some of our youth so beautifully say: we need it because it’s “our history, our schools!”

One of our youth leaders, Adriana Castaneda, expresses her journey via our camp: “I joined one of Navigate’s group called Poder Unidos after participating in their Youth Action Summer Camp in the summer of 2018. Through Poder Unidos, I’ve learned that many schools in Minneapolis do not offer Ethnic Studies as one of their classes. Ethnic Studies teaches the history of people of color. Since I am the daughter of two Mexicans, I would’ve liked having this class in my school because me, along with others could learn about the history of people with different racial backgrounds.”

As they/we continue on this journey we are reminded that we do this for others and ourselves. That the struggles of our elders, parents, and our young ones will be worthwhile. We are also reminded that we cannot win this on our own, that for us to win ethnic studies, we must do it in community and with the community. That the stories of our parents, educators, organizers, and younger ones are just as important because these are our schools!

The Nu Skool of Afrikan American Thought: A Self-Determined Community Gathering

By Dr. Brian Lozenski, an Assistant Professor at Macalester College and a member of the Twin Cities Solidarity Committee. This post is the third in a new blog series on stories of education for liberation work happening in the Twin Cities and surrounding region, leading up to the 2019 FMFP conference.

Dr. Brian Lozenski

As we celebrate the 50th anniversary of Ethnic Studies in higher education at institutions like San Francisco State, Cornell University, and the University of Minnesota, it is imperative to recognize that for the vast majority of people in the US, Ethnic Studies remains inaccessible.

K-12 schools largely continue to dispossess youth of their own histories, cultural knowledges, and lived scientific and mathematical expertise. A Free Minds, Free People podcast documented the St. Paul Public School’s Student Engagement and Advancement Board’s (SEAB) campaign to make Ethnic Studies a requirement in the district. SEAB is a youth committee, demonstrating the desire and passion that youth have for being subjects of their own educational journey.

With K-12 schools and institutions of higher education steeped in Eurocentric curricular and cultural paradigms, the question must be asked: “Where can people go to experience an educational environment based in the knowledges and experiences of people of color?” Historically, community-based institutions have filled this void, and they continue to do so.

One such community-based entity that has met this need for the last four years is the Nu Skool of Afrikan American Thought in St. Paul, Minnesota. The Nu Skool is the brainchild of Elder Mahmoud El Kati, a stalwart of Black education in the Twin Cities, who has built institutions (e.g. U of MN Afro Studies Department, The Way), community forums (e.g. Communiversity, Friday Night Black Film Series), and myriad intellectual spaces for the masses of Black people for over fifty years. The Nu Skool is a monthly topical lecture and dialogue series, facilitated by a volunteer collective called the Twin Cities Solidarity Committee made up of educators, activists, and scholars of African descent.

The Nu Skool’s mission is “to engage people of African descent in their own liberation through historical, political and cultural education”. Solidarity works to accomplish this mission by creating a space, based in dialogue, where anyone can come to learn from and with Afrodiasporic scholars who have expertise in disciplines that bridge the field of Africana Studies. Nu Skool presenters have included academics, journalists, community organizers, ministers, college students, and social service providers. Participants have ranged in age from 10 to 90, spanning racial, ethnic, and linguistic identities.

The Nu Skool is an unapologetically Black space that approaches all of its content through a black liberatory lens. That being said, the presenters and attendees bring various political, cultural, and social ideologies such as Afrocentrism, Black Radicalism, Black Nationalism, Black Feminism, and Black Liberalism. The intersection of these philosophical traditions makes the Nu Skool a lively and generative space for debate, conversation, and love among people of African descent.

The following video was created to celebrate the fourth anniversary of the Nu Skool in March, 2019. It shows the Nu Skool’s origins at the Black owned Golden Thyme Coffee Shop in the historic Rondo neighborhood of St. Paul. As the Nu Skool grew it moved to the High School for Recording Arts (HSRA), a Black-run charter school. The Nu Skool meets at HSRA on the fourth Friday of every month.

East Side Freedom Library: Working for Solidarity, Justice, and Equity

By Dr. Peter Rachleff, co-executive director of the East Side Freedom Library. This post is the second in a new blog series on stories of education for liberation work happening in the Twin Cities and surrounding region, leading up to the 2019 FMFP conference.

In June 2019, the East Side Freedom Library celebrates our fifth anniversary. Located in St. Paul’s most diverse neighborhood, ESFL inspires solidarity, advocates for justice, and works toward equity for all.

We locate ourselves at a number of intersections: between, among, and within a range of communities; between the labor movement and social movements, between books and programs; between the past, the present, and the future; between education and entertainment. We use art and culture to facilitate story-telling, and we see story-telling—the sharing of experiences—as a means to overcome the otherization promoted by our dominant culture and, instead, to build bridges.

Dr. Peter Rachleff talking with Dr. Horace Huntley at an ESFL event about the January 1969 takeover of Morrill Hall at the University of Minnesota (as described in the prior post in this series).

For hundreds of years, the East Side was Dakota land, and ESFL recognizes that our Dakota relatives and other native peoples are part of this community’s present and future, as well as our past. We have been working in collaboration with them in discussing representations and reflections of their history, including the history of settler colonialism and treaties, the name and functions of “Indian Mounds Park,” the murals at St. Paul City Hall, and the creation of the Wakan Tipi Interpretive Center.

We have also collaborated with them to educate our neighbors, from the descendants of European immigrants and enslaved Africans to the newest arrivals from southeast Asia, central America, and east Africa, in the practices of expropriation and genocide which have shaped our country’s history. We also seek to explore the ways that these practices shaped their pasts and led to their emigration journeys. Together, we hope to build a new understanding of what this country can be, and to build our capacity to realize it.

ESFL sees the labor movement as a central agent in this process. Most of us know little of the labor movement’s past, both its achievements and its shortcomings. We seek to educate working class people, union members and non-members, from middle schoolers to retirees, about this rich, complex, and mostly untold history, in order to engage the present and shape the future.

We provide resources and mentorship for middle and high school students pursuing “History Day” projects. In partnership with the St. Paul Regional Labor Federation, we have organized and hosted a Union Job and Resource Fair, not just to place job-seekers but also to educate our neighbors about what it means to “work union.”  In partnership with the SPRLF, SEIU Healthcare Minnesota, the Minnesota Nurses Association, and other unions, we have launched the New Brookwood Labor College, a project committed to promoting critical thinking and educating activists “into the working class.” ESFL has also hosted summer book groups with the St. Paul Federation of Educators and a labor film series with AFSCME. All of this work is as attentive to the ways that racism, patriarchy, and elitism have limited the labor movement, as it is to labor’s heroic triumphs.

The Karen women’s weaving group teaching Karen high school women their craft.

ESFL also celebrates cultural work and brings it and its producers into this space and into this community. We have hosted art exhibits, plays, concerts, poetry readings, and art-driven workshops, particularly those which engage our mission. We have pursued this work in collaboration with such groups as theater companies directed by people of color, Rhythmic Literature, an organization of Ethiopian poets and artists, and Hmong women writers groups, on the one hand, and such local institutions as the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra, the Schubert Club, and Park Square Theater.

Most of this work has been accomplished with volunteer labor—by friends and neighbors we call “collaborators.” They have cataloged and shelved books, built shelves, gardened, blogged, cleaned bathrooms, and organized and hosted events. Through this work, they have built a community, a community which keeps growing, deepening, evolving.

ESFL continues to seek productive relationships with other institutions: Metropolitan State University; Minnesota Historical Society; Minnesota Humanities Center; the St. Paul Public Library System; local colleges and universities. This has been a slower process than we had anticipated, but we do see progress here. Indeed, our connection with Free Minds, Free People will—hopefully—bring us an additional step in this direction.

You can read more about East Side Freedom Library, including events and other opportunities to get involved, on their website.

Demanding Relevance: 50 Years of Black Studies and Protest at the University of Minnesota

By Dr. Rose M. Brewer, University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. This post is the first in a new blog series on stories of education for liberation work happening in the Twin Cities and surrounding region, leading up to the 2019 FMFP conference.

Afro 50 signals the 50th anniversary of the establishment of the Department of African American & African Studies at the University of Minnesota-Twin Cities. Black student struggles and protest were the catalysts for the establishment of the Department. The resistance had been months in the making. Black students attempted to go through official channels, to little avail. Students decided that “enough was enough”. The powers that be were not listening. The students took over Morrill Hall 50 years ago on January 14, 1969.

The resistance and courage of these Black students lives on. They demanded an education that reflected who they were. They demanded full scholarships for Black Students. They demanded Black faculty and staff. And, the key demand was for the establishment of a Department of Afro-American Studies (as it was named in the official demands).

Indeed, Black students all over the country were engaged in struggles for relevant education. The story of the University of Minnesota is very much the story of Black student upheaval in the late 1960s on 100s of campuses. The demand to dismantle Eurocentric education located elitism within racism. By the late l960s the decolonization struggles internationally had begun to influence U.S. activists. Black community uprisings, Black Power and Internationalism, were catalytic. Black Studies pivoted on the idea of relevant education, serving the interests of the people.

The founding of the field involved overt struggles with the state, the police, the Eurocentric institutional actors. San Francisco State is a case in point. Karenga (1993) aptly points out what is often missed in unearthing the history of the field is its intellectual activism. He asserts that one of the most important concepts in the general student movement and especially in the Black Student Movement, which waged the struggle for Black Studies, was the concept of relevance—in its academic and social dimensions.

Relevance is the lynchpin of higher education’s contribution to liberation and a higher level of life for Blacks student activists notes Karenga. The first chair of the first Black Studies program at San Francisco State College, Nathan Hare called it education that would contribute to solving “the problems of the race” by producing persons capable of solving problems of a contagious American society. To not do so, to not center relevance, would make education useless.

Even earlier, by 1966 The Negro Students’ Association changed their name to the Black Student Union (BSU), representing a new identity and direction. Oppositional identity was folded in the use of the term Black to denote pride and commitment to liberation. The organization also became involved in San Francisco State’s tutorial program for the surrounding community. This and other community service activities signaled the social commitment and service Black student activists would place at the center of the academic and social mission of Black Studies (Karenga 1993).

Black Studies in its inception positioned itself as transformational. This is beyond a “helping “ and “aid” approach. It pushed beyond the dominant discourses and assumptions about Black inequality. Questions such as, what about the indigenous knowledge(s) of marginalized peoples? What of oppositional histories, the challenges to disciplinary hegemony? What about the history of Black resistance? These important challenges to the academic status quo embed a legacy central to articulating a critical epistemology, rooted in deep level critique and practice, taking seriously African epistemologies and culture.

It is in this intellectual and political context that students at the University of Minnesota made seven demands. “We demanded an education that prepared us in the development of skills that taught us how to think from a Black Perspective, and to put that thought into action” said Dr. Horace Huntley, one of the student leaders of the Morrill Hall Take-over and occupation.

The change charge was lead by Rosemary Freeman, President of the Afro American Action Committee along with student leaders Huntley, Marie Braddock, Manuel Woods, Lester Cannon, Warren Tucker, John Wright, Anna Stanley and a number of others asserting their rights as human beings.

Dr. Barbara Ransby, the featured speaker at the April 25th event.

Dr. Horace Huntley returned to the University of Minnesota to kick off the 50th anniversary commemoration, February 25, 2019. This initial teach-in 101 featured Huntley who was a week long Visiting Scholar. A second teach-in “Critical Black Feminisms, Black Lives and Black Student Protests” is scheduled for April 25 and will feature scholar-activist Dr. Barbara Ransby. The Department of African & African Studies is the anchor sponsor of the Free Minds Free People Conference, July 11-14, 2019 to be held on the campus of the University of Minnesota. A graduate and undergraduate student symposium will follow in the Fall of 2019 and the year will culminate with a final teach-in on November 22. 2019.

A luta continua!

The Vital Work of Art for Healing and Transformation

“How do we find the strength to continue?”

Bianca Haro of San Diego, CA posed the question during the Mestizo Arts and Activism Collective’s workshop on “creative resistance” to violence and brutality.  Throughout Free Minds Free People 2015, we saw and experienced how art is one way through the everyday and extreme madness, terrorization, cruelty, pain, grief, and silencing.  Art is one response to Tonesha Russell’s question, “How can one resist under the constraints of the noose?”

Through creative work, we can move from forced marginalization to re-centering ourselves, our community, our truths.  Alicia Garza explained during the Friday Evening Plenary that Black Lives Matter works to “center the margins in everything we do.”  It is one of their “principles of practice.”  And in their workshop, Enrique Aleman, Viri Najera, Sol Jimenez, Luis Novoa, Israel Corrales, and Jarred Martinez showed how that principle can come alive in the practice of graffiti art and poetry.  The workshop leaders asked us to think and write poetry about what justice means through feeling with all our senses.  They guided us in naming complex meanings of graffiti art that exist beyond and in the face of uninformed and malicious interpretations.  In their moving and instructive workshop “About Resilience: Reconceptualizing Health and Healing” on “black women developing work that centers the experiences of black and brown girls,”  Tonesha Russell, Jari Bradley, Cherise McBride, and Tiffani Johnson led us through a process of thinking critically about the power of writing and what it means “to write as an act of resistance.”

And through these workshops, we felt and heard about the process of creating art in the context of relentless and varying forms of violence.   Bianca Haro described seeing graffiti as “scars on the wounds of inequality.”   Tiffani Johnson spoke about the healing process of writing fiction.  Jari Bradley pointed to the possibility and necessity of being “embraced and heard” through one’s creative work and the responsibility teachers have in creating that interaction and spaces for those vital connections.

As these workshops rejuvenated and sharpened the meanings and possibilities of practice, we remembered and learned how art can be a process through which justice is envisioned, repressed truths are expressed, exclusions are refused, spaces are reclaimed, and healing happens.  And in that vein, here is the poem Barbara Cruz of Chicago, IL wrote during the Mestizo Arts and Activism Collective’s workshop.

Justice tastes like

Bittersweet copper blood

Filling your mouth,

The sweet venom of anger

Making it difficult not to scream.

Justice is the smell of change,

Of a new day,

Filling your nostrils

Your body

All the way up to your head

And your heart.

Justice looks like

Michael Brown

Jennicet Gutierrez

Dedé Mirabel

Moctesuma Esparza

People like

You or me,

Fighting against their disenfranchisement

Against the hate

But for the love.

Justice sounds like

The Million Man March

Like the Chicano Walkouts

Like the Chicago Teachers Strike

Like Ferguson

Like Ayotzinapa.

Justice feels like




(poem by Barbara Cruz of Chicago Public Schools’ Democracy Fellows program)

Truths and Ancestral Wisdom

“No one does inequality better” than the United States, he put it plainly in the Opening Keynote address.  Showing graphs, data, and comparisons, Jeff Duncan-Andrade reminded us of this truth that gives lie to the myth of progress.  This truth that buries its chronic pain into certain communities who are told to bear the injustices with “grit.”  This truth that keeps us un-free.

What can we do?  What must we do?  “We need to stop drinking from that fountain because it’s making us sick,” he said.  The fountain which is schooling, he described.  Schooling that is conflated with education.  Schooling that codes data in a way that promotes phony and delusory images and notions of progress.  Schooling that makes students into profit.  Schooling that promotes a one-size-fits-all model of equality that is premised on what fits the dominant and dominating culture of white heteropatriarchy.  Schooling that requires people to focus on “grit” to deal with the hierarchy-promoting system that continuously and consistently impoverishes and presses down on particular students and communities while inflating in others the power to dominate.

Instead of continuously getting sickened by schooling, we pursue education.  Countering the oppression schooling teaches us to accept, education offers gifts depending on what the students need, he reminded us.  Education gives hope that helps young people deal with toxic stress, hope that gives them a sense of control over their destiny.  Education gives young people the possibility of achieving their full potential with curriculum that is relevant and pathways that empower.  Education builds safe communities and loving relationships where people can open up with their hurt, where people can heal.  This education saves lives, he said.  And that truth about education is one that many in the audience probably know from firsthand experience both as educators and students, and one that probably motivates many to come to this conference.

And with all the academic research that Duncan-Andrade mentioned that illustrates the problems of schooling and the possibilities of education, he reminded us that this is all ancestral wisdom.  The lessons of our ancestors.  They are here, they are with us, they show us these truths that we know to be true.  And these truths free us.

Feels 3 Event

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FEELS III marks the third installment of Wine & Bowties’ annual art and culture festival. Curating an eclectic assortment of visual artists and musicians, FEELS III will function as an immersive experience aimed to bring together thriving art and culture scene of the Bay Area inside American Steel Studios. With over 800 people in attendance for the last event, FEELS III will serve as an optimal opportunity to communicate with an engaged audience of influential artists and creatives.

Saturday, July 11th
American Steel Studios
1960 Mandela Parkway
Oakland, CA 94607

Purchase Tickets Here


Workshop Highlight: “Borders and Walls: From the U.S./Mexico Border to Palestine”


Workshop Highlight:
“Borders and Walls: From the U.S./Mexico Border to Palestine”

Ziad Abbas, program manager at the Middle East Children’s Alliance & Jody Sokolower, managing editor at Rethinking Schools

How can we use stories to help students see that Palestine connects to their own lives? How can we weave it into current curriculum? In this interactive workshop, highlighting the voices of Palestinian youth, we model lessons and share student-friendly resources that explore connections between the US/Mexico border and Palestine, including: police violence, impact on children and youth, checkpoints, prisons, US/Israeli ties, environment (e.g.,water), and resistance.

Look forward to weekly posts highlighting workshops and keynotes from the conference! Only 9 weeks away, July 9-12th at Laney College! Registration is now open on our official website: www.FMFP.org

Follow Us On:
Twitter: @FMFPConference
Instagram: @freemindsfreepeople

Workshop Highlight: “Voices of Teens With Incarcerated Parents”

Newsletter Banner Summer 2014

Workshop Highlight: “Voices of Teens With Incarcerated Parents” Project WHAT!, Oakland

Project WHAT! is a youth-led initiative that raises awareness about the effects of parental incarceration on youth. The impact on children is often overlooked, yet millions of us are struggling with it every day, disproportionately poor youth of color. Educators and community based activists will learn how to provide the best support possible to this population. Hear directly from the youth most impacted by this issue, and what they are doing to create change. For more info about Project WHAT! visit communityworkswest.org!

Attend powerful workshops like this one for youth and adults at Free Minds, Free People 2015, July 9-12th at Laney College Oakland! Registration now open at fmfp.org!

Follow Us On:
Twitter: @FMFPConference
Instagram: @freemindsfreepeople

Workshop Highlight: “I Like it Kinky…”

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“I Like it Kinky: Responding to Haters of Black Natural Hair with YouTube”

Presenters: Robin Phelps-Ward (Muncie, Indiana) and Crystal T. Laura (Chicago, Illinois)

Black girls who “go natural”—meaning abstain from chemically straightening their hair—often have a lot of haters: peers, family, teachers, people who make cultural artifacts that don’t look like Black naturals or policies that regulate how Black naturals can/cannot style their hair. This workshop, crafted with youth and the adults who love them in mind, explores how YouTube vlogs can be created to respond to negativity toward Black naturals and develop solidarity among them.

Look forward to weekly posts highlighting workshops and keynotes from the conference! Only 10 weeks away! Registration is now open on our official website!

Coming to Oakland, July 9-12th!

Follow Us On:
Twitter: FMFPConference
Instagram: FreeMindsFreePeople


As FREE MINDS, FREE PEOPLE heads toward its July conference in Oakland, teachers around the country will increasingly focus on the cheating scandal in Atlanta that pushed good people to make disastrous choices.  The US is deeply embroiled in a battle over widespread testing demands that punish students and threaten teachers with accusations of poor skills and worse.  Those Atlanta professionals who changed answers on exams were trying to protect their jobs, despite their awareness that such actions raised the risks of exposing bad adult behavior and student frustration.  Now that the penalty phase of the Atlanta trial has arrived, we can only be amazed that the “corporate reformers” remain enamored by a testing protocol that leaves students mired in the worst kind of failure; a failure to encourage creativity and deep thinking among young people.  As we move toward the July conference for FREE MINDS, FREE PEOPLE in Oakland, California, we look forward to hearing from students and teachers on this blog about their efforts to overcome the mindless multiple choice questions that depress the creative and inspiring attitudes that ought to dominate our classrooms around the country.  Feel free to join in and speak out here.

Seeking Justice on the Final Day of Free Minds, Free People



This is not how we thought it would end. A beautiful, inspiring, movement-building gathering has been rocked by last night’s news of the “not guilty” verdict in the murder of Trayvon Martin. Many FMFP-ers joined with local efforts an emergency rally that was held last night in front of Chicago’s City Hall demanding justice.

As we close the 2013 Free Minds, Free People today with assemblies, considering next steps on a variety of educational and racial justice issues, people are organizing. What are our next steps given this travesty of justice? How do we turn our rage at the devaluing of black and brown lives into action?

There will be a rally today at noon at Daley Plaza (50 W. Washington). Many FMFP attendees will be going there after today’s activities are finished. A town hall for youth will take place at 3 PM at Young Chicago Authors (1180 N. Milwaukee).



Day 2 photos…

Day two wrapped up with a second plenary — a town hall/panel featuring several wonderful education activists

The workshops went very well again on day two. For the first time ever, FMFP has added “people’s assemblies” — long-form democratic discussions focused on movement-building. Two took place today — one for the continuing National Student Bill of Rights Movement, and another focusing on social justice in teacher education.

While the evening ended with the FMFP community processing the verdict in the Trayvon Martin case at various locations, we did want to still honor and celebrate the work done here on Day 2.

Day 3 is a day full of people’s assemblies: “Academics Gone Wild,” an Ethinc Studies Call to Action, the Journey for Justice campaign and school closings, radical adult education, social justice unionism, community violence and the school-to-prison pipeline, organizing resistance to Teach for America, and a young activists’ introduction to ethnic studies.

We have also organized spaces for people to discuss the implications of the aforementioned verdict Trayvon Martin verdict. Our closing activity has changed to a singing march to the red line train station where we will depart to a local rally at Daley Plaza.

Below are some photos from Day 2 (and some more form Day 1, too!) …

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Some Sights from Day 1…so far…

Yesterday’s pre-conference activities (Radical Professional Development and a celebration the 1963 Chicago school boycott with the Civil Rights Opera ensemble and Kartemquin Films set the tone well, and now Day One of FMFP is nearing its close – and what a day it has been. The bulk of this year’s conference is taking place in the wonderful Uplift Community High School but we kicked off our festivities at the People’s Church with a great keynote from Jitu Brown. So far, we registered about 1000 people. The workshops have been engaging and very well-received. Plenty of organizations and vendors have tables from which, as one of our attendees said, one must pry themselves themselves away.

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Tonight, we will be among the first people to view Growing Fairness, a film by our friends at Teacher Unite. An open mic session will also take place. Both events are at the Instituto del Progreso Latino.

Tomorrow’s plenary is a town hall/panel featuring CTU president Karen Lewis.

Remember to follow #fmfp2013 on Twitter

Below are just a few of the sights from today’s events…

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Taking the Organized Resistance to TFA National at FMFP


Once again one of Sunday’s assemblies at this week’s Free Minds, Free People conference is making national headlines. Educational activists, scholars, and community members are excited that the critical discussion around Teach for America’s controversial model are moving from local pockets to a national forum. Check out the buzz in today’s Washington Post and Education Week. Additionally, James Cersonsky, in his article this week in The American Prospect (aptly titled, “Teach for America’s Civil War”) writes:

“Twenty-four years running, the rap on Teach for America (TFA) is a sampled, re-sampled, burned-out record: The organization’s five-week training program is too short to prepare its recruits to teach, especially in chronically under-served urban and rural districts; corps members only have to commit to teach for two years, which destabilizes schools, undermines the teaching profession, and undercuts teachers unions; and TFA, with the help of its 501(c)4 spin-off, Leadership for Educational Equity, is a leading force in the movement to close “failing” schools, expand charter schools, and tie teachers’ job security to their students’ standardized test scores. Critics burn TFA in internet-effigy across the universe of teacher listservs and labor-friendly blogs. Last July, it earned Onion fame: an op-ed entitled “My Year Volunteering As A Teacher Helped Educate A New Generation Of Underprivileged Kids,” followed by a student’s take, “Can We Please, Just Once, Have A Real Teacher?”

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Despite the endless outcry, no one has ever staged a coordinated, national effort to overhaul, or put the brakes on, TFA—let alone anyone from within the TFA rank-and-file. On July 14, in a summit at the annual Free Minds/Free People education conference in Chicago, a group of alumni and corps members will be the first to do so.

The summit, billed as “Organizing Resistance Against Teach for America and its Role in Privatization,” is being organized by a committee of scholars, parents, activists, and current corps members. Its mission is to challenge the organization’s centrality in the corporate-backed, market-driven, testing-oriented movement in urban education.”

Click here to read more from Cersonsky’s article.

Fight the (Corporate) Power

By Ashley Sanders, Move to Amend

the people fight back group photo

Move to Amend is a national grassroots coalition that is working to dismantle the corporate takeover of our government, our lives and everything in between. We recognize that corporations do not merely exercise power in our society, but actually rule over us, making decisions that we should be making in order to make a buck off our misery. There is nowhere where this is more true than in our education system, where corporations are using everything they’ve got (and they’ve got a lot) to privatize, close or colonize our schools.

At Move to Amend, we’re fighting to take away one pillar of corporate power by passing an amendment to the Constitution that abolishes the idea that corporations have the same rights as you and me and stops the glut of corporate money in elections. But our real goal is much bigger. We want to talk about what it looks like to grow a movement that works across race, class, gender and issues to ask the question: what will we replace this corporate system with? What does a right to education look like, and how do we make it happen together?

We know that law creates power and influences culture. We know that education is our best shot at getting the real story of people’s struggles for power. And we also know that corporations are trying their damnedest to cover up that history and subordinate education to the almighty dollar.

That’s why we’re excited to come to Free Minds Free People to tell a hidden history of law, power and democracy and talk with others about how to build movements that create justice, in education and in all our fights. Check out our workshop, The People Fight Back: Resisting Corporate Rule and Creating Real Democracy Friday!

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Teaching Palestine: More Relevant than Ever

By Jody Sokolower, Rethinking Schools

The extraordinary events unfolding in Egypt are shaking the Middle East—and the world. As we watch, hoping that the strength of the Egyptian people will move their country toward liberation, we can’t forget how deeply interwoven the struggles in the Middle East are, or how central Palestine is to a democratic resolution for everyone in the region. And yet, these are subjects that are almost always ignored in schools, even by progressive teachers.

There has never been a more important time to teach about Palestine. It is impossible to understand events in the Middle East, including Egypt, without understanding the history and current reality in Palestine. And there are so many connections to be made by social justice educators between Palestine and issues in the United States: the concept of Manifest Destiny in US history and the Promise Land in Israeli history; the security wall at the US/Mexico border and the wall snaking through the West Bank (built by the same company); the criminalization and incarceration of youth in both situations; the environmental impact of colonialism; the role of hip hop as resistance among youth, to name only a few.

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If you have thought about including Palestine in your curriculum, if this is a new but challenging idea, or if you are an old hand at this but looking to push your work even further—please check out the Teach Palestine workshop Saturday at Free Minds, Free People. You will leave with more understanding, resources, curriculum, and confidence!

Generation after generation, Palestinians are still holding the keys to their original homes to return to their land in Palestine. This return is not simply a right bestowed upon Palestinians by the international community. Far more than this, return for Palestinians is an inherent part of their identity, freedom and dignity. Each year, the laws and unwritten policies of the Israeli occupation make return more difficult for the many Palestinians living beyond its borders. The United States turns a blind eye to the growing number of its own citizens, Palestinian and otherwise, who have been denied entry to Palestine. Denying Palestinians and others access to the land of historic Palestine highlights the incredible fear doctrine that has been constructed within Israeli society; Israeli leaders fully understand that recognizing this right of return means the beginning of the end of the settler-colonial state.

During these 65 years of occupation, we have witnessed the return of many refugees—with the support of the international community—to their homes in Bosnia, East Timor, Rwanda and Sierra Leone. Meanwhile, the Palestinian refugee population is ever increasing within the camps of Lebanon, Syria, Jordan and in the diaspora. Palestinians in the camps spend their entire lives as refugees, often only minutes away from their original villages and homes, with walls and checkpoints forever partitioning them from the reality of return.

Now, with the current escalation of violence in the region, Palestinian refugees in Syria have become refugees once more. Absent a homeland to which they can return, the issues of landlessness, violence and militarized borders have become more pressing than ever. Women and children are among the tens of thousands of refugees who now live in camps in Lebanon, Jordan and Turkey. The vulnerability of these communities is escalating.

The Arab uprisings that began in 2011 have changed the political landscape of the Middle East and opened the door for many new possibilities. Shedding the fear of decades-long repression, the people have united to challenge and overthrow the dictatorial regimes of the Arab world. Soon after the end of Mubarak’ rule in Egypt and Ben Ali’s rule in Tunisia, in a moment inspired by the uprisings of their Arab neighbors, the image of return for Palestinians transformed into an imminent possibility. In May 2011, thousands of Palestinian refugees and others marched to the borders of Palestine from Lebanon, Syria and Jordan. Some Palestinians were able to cross the border and visit their family’s homes for the first time in their lives, risking everything along the way. This action gave Palestinians a glimpse of freedom, as well as a more complete picture of the obstacles that obstruct the path to their homeland. Their march homeward symbolized a people suspended somewhere between time and space, living on the margins of society and within the borders of their dreams. Their march home lifted the spirits of many around the world, especially Palestinians, for it was one of the first moments since 1948 when return became a reality; it became a palpable movement rather than an abstract notion.

On the other hand, the Arab movements and the Palestinian march of return in 2011 have created much cause for concern within Israel. The repressive Arab regimes were longstanding allies of Israel, allies that did not challenge its brutal and discriminatory actions and policies towards Palestinians. As these regimes fell, Israel began to fortify and deepen its borders with Egypt, Jordan and Syria, creating more distance between itself and the region. With the movements in the Arab world still in formation, the future of the Middle East looks uncertain and unstable. Moving forward to tangible change is a process that will take years. However, return for Palestinians is among the changes that will have to take place to ensure freedom for all the people of the region.

The role of western powers, particularly the United States and the state of Israel, will also have to be confronted and redefined if any progress is to be made. The minority of the world cannot go on living at the expense of the majority. Security and superiority cannot supersede justice and dignity. Despite Israel’s best efforts at dividing and fragmenting the Palestinian population, for 65 years the Palestinian people have maintained their struggle for return to their original homes and villages.

The question of Palestine is the key to change in the Middle East and the right of return is the simple answer to this question. Until return is realized, liberation for the land and its people can never be achieved.

Palestine street art

“Signing” on to the Student Voice Movement

By: Caitlin Donnelly

More and more weight is being put on standardized test scores in teacher evaluations in our schools. Administrators evaluate teachers based on a couple classroom visits throughout the year. Meanwhile, students who are in the classroom every day are denied the opportunity to share their opinions on teachers and instruction. Research shows what you already know, that students recognize good teaching when they see it. It’s time to make the voices of students heard!

Join the YOUNG Coalition for the “We Are the Ones in the Classroom – Ask Us!” workshop, where we will discuss how we got the Boston Public School district and the Massachusetts Board of Education to utilize student voice in teacher evaluations and how you can make this a reality in your school. Constructive feedback and student input in evaluations helps build relationships, improves teaching, and creates a positive school culture.

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Throughout the conference, be on the lookout for the mobile “Student Voice Photo Booth.” This picture-campaign asks students, teachers, organizers, and anyone else connected to education to tell us why student voice matters and how it improves the classroom. Make a sign, take a picture, and “sign on” to the student voice movement!

Connect with us in Chicago, or go online to studentvoicematters.org to see photo booth pictures, find out more about the national campaign for student involvement in teacher evaluation, and get resources to start this movement in YOUR city.


Revving up for the Resist TFA assembly


One of our planned assemblies is gaining particular force on the national education scene. The blog, Reconsidering TFA, recently plugged the event. Additionally, this post popped up on Orchestrated Pulse detailing why more and more people, on college campuses and the community, are becoming critical of the TFA model, including a link to the open letter by Minneapolis educators to the University of Minnesota opposing the proposed partnership between TFA and Uof MN.

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Do you know any critical Teach For America (TFA) alumni and students, teachers, and community members impacted by TFA? Let them know about this important gathering in Chicago next week.

The assembly, “Organizing Resistance to to Teach for America and its Role in Privatization,” will take place on Sunday July 14th from 9:30am-12:15pm on the final day of the Free Minds, Free People conference.

FMFP Program Cover Final

Growing a Movement

By Linda Stout, Director of Spirit in Action

I grew up poor in a farmworker family in rural North Carolina, going to a school where I was told by my fourth grade teacher that children like me could not go to college. This was in response to me telling her that I wanted to be a math teacher. I believed her and lost interest in school and walked around with shame about “who I was.”

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But, by high school I decided not to believe the messages I was given every day and decided to make good enough grades to go to college. I graduated at the top of my class. I earned a full scholarship to college, but when the cost of student housing went up by $500 in my second year, my family could not come up with the money and I had to drop out.

Instead, I became an organizer for poor people and went on to work as a national organizer. During that time, I learned the value of messaging and getting our voices heard among the broader community in order to change minds and policies.

Because of that work, I began to build national networks, the first one, Progressive Communicators Network — a group of grassroots communications and media folks, and several years later a network called Education Circle of Change. My organization, Spirit in Action’s mission is to support groups as they build movements for change. Networks among groups focused on particular issues have been one of the most successful ways to do that. We work together to become more than the sum of our parts.

Since building the Education Circle of Change network, we have seen many other education networks grow and build an effective grassroots base. So in the coming year we are focusing on a more specific strategy – one that’s critical to create a successful movement that can win on education issues. Our work is now focusing on effective communications.

A majority of people in our country do not understand or know about the problems we are facing in public education today. As a result, we are seeing more policies that keep our schools from offering equitable education, aren’t offering teachers the resources and salaries they deserve, and aren’t providing an exciting learning environment for our children. We have to shift the public dialogue on public education.

Where do we begin such a large task? We start with you, the people who know this issue the best. This summer, Spirit in Action will be conducting a national listening project: using video to interview organizers, parents, students, and teachers on what you think we should be doing about the education crisis and what you want other people to know.

Equipped with your voices and concerns we will then link education organizers with expert communicators to develop messages, build on effective messages that are already been developed, and work with groups to develop their own communications plan.

Our idea is that once these messages are developed, we will work with groups throughout the country for up to three years to provide them with training, tools, and support to message to their own constituency and beyond.

We will also create a final video from these interviews that all the groups can use to organize with, reaching their constituency and beyond. While each group will create a unique messaging and communications plan, we will be working to incorporate consistent messages that all groups can use that will be echoed around the country.

We do not know what that message is. We are not the education experts. You are. Therefore we will be at Free Minds, Free People to interview numerous, diverse people both formally and informally to get your thoughts and ideas. We look forward to meeting you next week!




Get Collaborative with the Lesson Planning Lounge


Do you have some ideas for next year’s curricula that you’d like to talk out with other like-minded educators? Are you looking for a space to explore the lesson planning process with an experienced educator-mentor?

Grab your notebook and your planner! The Lesson Planning Lounge is a drop-in space for educators to talk about and develop curricula for the classroom or for a community-based setting. These sessions take place at the same time as the workshops on Friday afternoon and Saturday morning. Each lounge is facilitated by two educator-mentors and each has a different theme—integrating Latin@ and African American cultures into curriculum, social justice and social studies, social justice in the elementary grades, and developing teaching tools in the community. The educator-mentors have different areas of expertise including spoken word, LGBT issues, organizing in the classroom, the prison industrial complex and more.  So bring your unvarnished ideas and half-finished curriculum materials to the Lesson Planning Lounge. Click here to learn more.

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Growing Fairness in Chicago!

By Teachers Unite

Teachers Unite can’t wait for Free Minds, Free People! For the past several months, a group of our members here in NYC has been meeting and planning Growing Fairness, a documentary film, workshop series, and online toolkit resource for school communities to use as they begin the project of implementing transformative justice in schools. The doc tells a story about school climate, alternatives to punitive discipline and their real impact on young people and school communities in New York and Oakland. Growing Fairness is for educators and community members looking to interrupt the criminalization of young people in public schools and change their school climates for the better.

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Join Teachers Unite, the Chicago Teachers Union, and Chicago-based youth and parent organizations Blocks Together, COFI/POWER PAC, and VOYCE for a Sneak Peak Screening of Growing Fairness and a conversation about how communities fight to change school culture and end the school-to-prison pipeline. Friday, July 12th at the Instituto del Progreso Latino, 2520 S. Western Avenue, 7:30 to 9 pm. There will be shuttle buses from Uplift School. We look forward to seeing you!


63 Boycott Remembered

By ’63 Boycott, a documentary by Kartemquin Films

In 1963, over 200,000 students boycotted Chicago Public Schools and the segregationist policies of putting Willis Wagons, or aluminum mobile units, on overcrowded school lots in black neighborhoods. On our quest to find those who participated and include their stories in our documentary (over 40 people have been identified in our photos on the website), we found these newspaper articles from the day that show which schools were emptiest and why a few parents decided to participate.

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Rosie Simpson, one of the parent organizers of the boycott, and Ralph Davis, a high school student participant interviewed in our Sneak Peek, will speak alongside Timuel Black and Fannie Rushing about the 63 Boycott and lessons for organizing today at the opening ceremony of the Free Minds, Free People conference on Thursday July 11th. We will also screen a never-before-seen ten minute trailer of the documentary that incorporates recent interviews with the historical footage of 1963.

Commentary on Urban Education

By Free Minds Free People

Check out this recent commentary by Keith Catone from the Annenberg Institute for School Reform on urban education which includes summaries of on-the-ground work in Philadelphia, Chicago, New Orleans, and Tuscon. Keith is also a member of the planning committee for next week’s Free Minds Free People conference.


Rethinking Teacher Education

By Barbara Madeloni

“We need our schools of education to ask pre-service teachers to wrestle with identity and race, to explore the historical/cultural contexts of school, and to frame teaching as the political work that it is. After all, teaching always asks us to imagine the kind of society we want to live in.” This quote from an article in the summer issue of Rethinking Schools captures the struggle underway in teacher education. Will it be a site for unmasking oppression, for radical imagination and education as liberation? Or will it become a place for rote technical training and corporate compliance? Read the article here and join us at our assembly Saturday: Social Justice Teacher Education to Resist Neoliberalism.

End of the School Year Reflections…

By Michelle Gunderson

Today is the last day of school at Nettelhorst Elementary, a neighborhood school in Chicago. And as I say goodbye to my students and start packing up my room I’m aware of what I am NOT packing up. There are no test prep materials, worksheets, or textbooks going into any of my packing crates. How is this possible in a world gone mad with over-testing and the nationalized curriculum that is the Common Core?

The faculty at my elementary school has formed strong relationships based on social justice unionism. We use the structures put in place by our union to negotiate curriculum guidelines, workplace issues, and the fair and just treatment of children and adults. In the recent union election our school voted 100 percent for the Caucus of Rank and File Educators (CORE). As a faculty we’ve formed cohesion based on a shared concept of social justice, and this is a trend I would like to see move into more schools around our country.

In an age where business interests seem to have more and more control over the classroom, educators find themselves with few allies and politically isolated. The movement from business unionism to social justice unionism is a reaction to these outside forces. Teachers are collectively organizing to fight for the rights of their students as well as workplace justice for educators and by extension other workers. In order to do this, groups of teachers are working to transform their unions.

The movement towards social justice unionism is of utmost importance to educators who are no longer willing to have corporate education reform and the privatization of education occur before their very eyes while their unions stand by, or even worse, participate in these reforms. Teachers see the co-opting of terms such as “achievement gap” and “accountability” being used to justify harsh and devastating measures taken against schools, communities, teachers, and children. The movement towards social justice unionism is timely and growing. It is the hope of many teachers, through the structure and power of their unions, to regain power and to once again be invited to the table in forming education policies that affect their lives and the learning of their students

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The assembly at Free Minds, Free People entitled “Igniting, Supporting, and Sustaining Social Justice Unionism” brings union activists together in order to share common understandings about social justice. We will find a space to share our stories and concerns as well as building a network of support that empowers. We invite you to help build this movement.




You can now order Free Minds, Free People tshirts online when you register. If you order in advance, you will be able to pick yours up at the conference. No worries about us running out of your size!


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Announcing our interactive Saturday Plenary

We are looking forward to an amazing plenary panel on Saturday afternoon. Not only do we have a great line up of panelists, we are turning the traditional plenary structure into a more interactive, democratic experience.

The discussion, called, Save Public Education, Defend Our Communities: Two Parts of the Same Struggle, gives us the opportunity to talk about the challenges and rewards of bringing teachers and communities together in the struggle for education justice. The panelists are:

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Sean Arce FMFPSean Arce, teacher and consultant, Xican@ Institute for Teaching and Organizing





Chgo Teachers Union Staff Port 030212Karen Lewis, president, Chicago Teachers Union





karran PHOTOKarran Harper Royal, New Orleans public school parent and education advocate





sharronSharron Snyder, Philadelphia Student Union





After the panelists have kicked off the discussion, the entire audience will split into small groups to talk about what they have just heard. Then our panel transform into a fishbowl-style discussion in which representatives from each group will be invited in turns onto the stage to participate in the discussion.

New York Revs Up for FMFP

Last weekend, a group of students and educators met in New York to prepare for FMFP in Chicago.  Some of the groups represented were Global Kids, The Brotherhood Sister Sol, NYCoRE, and of course the Education for Liberation Network.  In addition to meeting and getting to know one another during the gathering, folks discussed ideas of schooling vs. education and what social justice education looks like to them.  Students were also able to share some of the challenges that they are facing in their schools along with the work they are doing in their respective personal lives and with their organizations to improve those issues.

The event was a great start to bringing people together in the always hectic New York City environment.  Everybody in the room is excited to meet other social justice students and educators and to learn, learn, learn from the wealth of knowledge presented at the conference.  The session closed with the group setting their intentions for Chicago -“Listening, Building, Learning, Connecting, Justice” were some of the words people used to bring to the conference with them.  Knowing the past success of the conference, surely those intentions and more will be achieved once everybody gets to FMFP.

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Big thanks to Rita Kamani-Renedo, Manauvaskar Kublall, Cidra Sebastien, Daralee Vazquez and Susan Wilcox for all their work on the event.  If anybody would like to connect to the New York City group, you can email info@freemindsfreepeople.org and we’ll direct you to the team.

New York City getting wacky at Global Kids

New York City getting wacky at Global Kids

Can't Be Neutral: Resisting Neoliberalism in Teacher Education

By Barbara Madeloni

The standardization and corporatization that we are fighting in K-12 education is now reaching into teacher education through the edTPA. Julie Gorlewski from SUNY New Paltz outlines some of the problems with the edTPA in this post, “What is edTPA and why do critics dislike it?” on Diane Ravitch’s blog. Besides inviting Pearson into teacher education to reap plentiful profits, edTPA reduces teaching and learning to a number and marginalizes the relationships from which social justice education grows. Check out the post and comments. Look for the summer issue of Rethinking Schools, with three essays on edTPA, and be sure to join our assembly at FMFP on Saturday July 13th!

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Black Students Make Up 75% of Youth School-Based Arrests in the Chicago Public Schools

Click image for entire infographic

Click image for entire infographic

By Mariame Kaba

Last week, Project NIA (www.project-nia.org) released a new report titled “Policing Chicago Public Schools 2: School-Based Arrests 2011 and 2012.” The report relies on data from the Chicago Police Department (CPD) to show the types of offenses and the demographics (gender and race) of the youth arrested on CPS properties in calendar years 2011 & 2012.  The report builds upon the 2010 data that we presented in January 2012.

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CPD reports its data by police district rather than by individual school so this year we also worked with students from Loyola University to create an interactive application that allows individuals to search for crime and arrest data by school for the 2011-2012 school year too.

The key data points in the report are that:

1.       Overall youth school-based arrests have been decreasing. In 2010, over 5,500 arrests of young people under 18 years old took place on CPS properties. In 2011, the number of youth school-based arrests (18 & under) was 4,959 and in 2012, it was 4,287.

2.       Black youth are still disproportionately targeted by these arrests. While they represent about 42% of CPS students, black youth accounted for 75.5% percent of school-based arrests in 2012.  This mirrors the general trend of disproportionate minority contact within the juvenile legal system.

3.       In 2012, young men were more likely to be arrested on CPS properties than were their female counterparts [68% vs. 32%].

4.       Most youth school-based arrests are for misdemeanor offenses (84%) as opposed to felonies (16%).

5.       In 2012, 86% of youth school-based arrests happened in school buildings while 14% took place on school grounds.

6.       In 2012, the top three aggregate[1] numbers of youth school-based arrests were in the 8th, 5th, and 4th police districts.  Together these three districts accounted for 30% of total youth school-based arrests on CPS properties.

This report was produced and written by Mariame Kaba and Eva Nagao. To access the full report, interactive application, infographics and raw data, visit the Policing Chicago Public Schools 2 site here. Continue the discussion at our workshop, The ABCs of the PIC: Teaching About Prisons, at the upcoming Free Minds Free People conference in Chicago.

From Philly to Chicago: Youth Lead the Fight Against School Closures

By Hiram Rivera
Philadelphia Student Union


“No if’s…No but’s…we don’t want no budget cuts,” was the chant as over 3000 students rallied in front of the Philadelphia School District building after having walked out of 27 schools in the city on May 17th. Those students, upset at the proposed “Doomsday” cuts proposed by the Superintendent, marched down Broad St. effectively shutting it down and rallying at City Hall. The message was clear that the students wouldn’t just sit by as their schools are stripped of everything except teachers and police officers.


As many of us already know, this is not an issue unique to Philadelphia. The under-resourcing of public, the attacks on teachers, and mass school closings are happening all over the country. For that reason, I, along with one of my youth leaders from the Philadelphia Student Union traveled to Chicago to join them in their fight to stop the single most school closures in American history. Because as PSU member, Sharron Snyder put it in her message to the hundreds rallying in Daley Plaza…”Philadelphia has your back!” We spent four days in the streets of Southside Chicago as part of the three day marches with the folks of the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, we met with leaders from Blocks Together and the Chicago Teacher’s Union, we were there with the activists as they staged a sit in at City Hall.

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In the end, Philadelphia has voted to close 24 schools. In Chicago, 50. These closures, like some many in all our urban and rural districts, will have devastating affects on the tens of thousands of students, disproportionately Black, disproportionately poor. But the fight is not over. As we’ve seen in the streets of Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, DC, etc. The fight is not over. The movement to save public education is one that will take all of us coming together, fighting across state, class, and racial lines against a government backed by wealthy philanthropists and misguided priorities focused on jailing and sending our youth to war, as opposed to educating them. In July, PSU will be traveling back to Chicago with more of our students from Philadelphia to join the Free Minds Free People Conference. There we’ll be presenting and building relationships with folks from all over. The time is now to take our fight to the next level. As Sharron has said to me during our travel across the country in the spirit of solidarity…”We will win. We have to win.”


Win a Print of Martin Luther King

Check out this great photo of Dr. King in Chicago you could win in the Free Minds, Free People raffle. Buy your tickets today and help make the conference accessible to all communities.


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Why Chicago?

Check out this new video in which Chicago activists talk about why this city is a great place for a national education justice gathering this summer:

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Indra NYC benefit performance for Free Minds, Free People

What better way to spend a summer evening?

Next Thursday come listen to Indra –Danish Jazz/ NY Soul trio in an intimate setting.

August 2nd, 8 pm
PS 122 / Mabou Mines space
9th Street & 1st Avenue – New York

Sliding scale donation $15 and up. All money raised will support youth scholarships for Free Minds, Free People. Come and bring a friend : )

Listen to Indra at www.indra.dk –she has a voice of gold and has sung for the queen of Denmark. last week performed for over 700 people… so this is a very special opportunity in an intimate space

“Indra could easily approach the league of the great jazz singers like Ella Fitzgerald and Sarah Vaughan with her exceptional voice.” – All About Jazz

“Here is an incredibly musically gifted singer…[she has] unbelievable range and sincerity. ” – Jazz Special Magazine

Indra is an accomplished, adventurous jazz trio from Arhus, Denmark, featuring the supple and moving vocals of New York City native, Indra Rios-Moore, on sparsely-arranged songs from American jazz standards to American folk songs and Spanish boleros to newly composed pieces.

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EdLib kicks off region-wide Education Rights Initiative in New England

Over 50 people representing nearly 40 organizations and institutions from across the New England region came together in Boston last Saturday, June 16th, to launch a new regional education for liberation initiative.  The event, which was sponsored by the national Education for Liberation Network (EdLib) and the Providence, RI based Annenberg Institute for School Reform (AISR), brought together a diverse crowd of teachers, activists / organizers, youth leaders and researchers to develop a region-wide network, to share valuable resources and to collectively work towards building an Education for Liberation Movement. Check out the great photos below.  

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Some of the issues addressed during the event included teacher practice, ethnic studies, the privatization of public education, arts education, high stakes testing, and the National Student Bill of Rights, all of which were topics proposed by those attending the gathering.  

The New England gathering is part of a series of regional gatherings, which are being organized by EdLib in order to help support and advance local and regional education rights efforts.

Inspired by this successful event, EdLib is committed to continuing building a New England region-wide network in support of education for liberation work and to building partnerships with local and regional organizations and institutions to develop sustainable movement-building capacity and initiatives aimed at addressing education rights issues such as privatization of public education and high stakes testing.



FMFP Chicago Meeting

We had a great gathering in Chicago to talk about how to connect Chicago educators, activists and youth to Free Minds, Free People 2013. It is the first of several meetings we hope to have across the country as we build toward this amazing event. The next meeting will be in Boston on June 16. Please join if you are in the area (register here: bit.ly/edlib-ne. In the meantime, check out the photos from Chicago. Thanks to all those who participated.

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How to Do 24 Hours in Salt Lake City: Free Minds Free People 2013

By Malayafudeezy

Wow wow wow.  This weekend was incredible.  How, how, how could I have forgotten what was for so long, life blood for me?! For a minute there, I forgot that Free Minds Free People was what I did in order to re-energize for the work we have to do every day!  I thought I had nothing to give to the space, but forgot that by being in the space and giving to the space, it gives back to us all of what we give and more.

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Here’s how to do 24 horus in Salt Lake City and come back joyful, energized and loved, insetad of oppressed and exhausted:

Read more from the Malaya blog…

Charter Schools vs. Public Schools: Barbara Fields

Barbara Fields on Charter Schools from Next Generation Media on Vimeo.

Barbara Fields weighs in during this spirited plenary session. Although the panel was mixed with people who were both for and against charter schools as summarized by one of the panel organizers, Barbara's opinions are just as eloquent and skeptical as Dr. Michelle Fine's.  

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Charter Schools vs. Public Schools: Dr. Michelle Fine

Michelle Fine on Charter Schools from Next Generation Media on Vimeo.

On the heels of the footage of Dr. Warren's panel on white activism, Next Generation Media sent us a video of the plenary on Charter schools. The clip above is of Dr. Michelle Fine's introduction to the panel discussion. I know a lot of you have been asking for this. Watch Barbara Fields opinions here and a summary of the session by Dr. Leigh Patel Stevens here. 

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Highlights from Dr. Warren's panel: “The Role of White People in Racial Justice Activism”

Some argue that racial justice activism is incomplete without the involvement of white people, that the movement of racial equality requires allies of the dominant American majority. It isn't difficult to see some truth in a statement such as this. One need only look to the Freedom Riders of the 1960's for an example of what can be accomlished when white and black folks get together. But, as we fly out of the time zone of the civil rights movement and turbulently descend into the struggles of the new century, how do white educators become involved in today's racial justice challenges? 

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That was the theme of the panel discussion, Does it Matter if I'm White: The Role of White People in Racial Justice Activism. A widely discussed workshop at the FMFP conference, the attendance was good, but it was far from packed. If you happened to miss the panel check out some of the footage I caught with background beats by DJ-by-night Marketing and Communications Committee Chief, Julian Lute.

New Lens Production recaps some FMFP highlights

Watching these student testimonials justifies my desire to continue working in education as I was very impressed with the sincerity of those who were interviewed. New Lens Production did a fantastic job of giving people a brief idea of the youth experience at the Free Minds, Free People conference. They also show that young people are incredibly passionate about their own education.

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According to Rebecca, who sent us the clip, it was the first time one of their youth ever edited a video before. Not bad, Dominic.  

Asian American Youth Rising panel is available for viewing

We didn't expect to put this footage up, but one of the conference members were so insistent that we just couldn't say no. The Asian American Youth Rising panel features youth leaders from Vietnamese American American Leaders Association (New Orleans), The Asian Student Association (Philadelphia) and Yoojin Lee of Health Resources in Action. During the discussion, panelist shared “inspiring stories and provide[d] examples of youth-led change efforts.”

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The entire event minus the last few minutes has been uploaded onto our YouTube page. It was far too long to post it on the blog and we had to upload it in five different parts. If you want to know more about the youth panel read Biba Fullon's write-up of it here. 

And, on a side note: If you have keen eyes and ears you might even catch our plenary keynote speaker Dr. Vincent Harding participating from the audience.