One Week Later: What's Next?

It’s been a full week without Freedom School. If I’m being honest with you, it’s gone by rather quickly. When the days don’t begin with Harambee, or if they’re not filled with constant engagement or intentional conversation with young people, the days tends to fly by. Unlike the previous six weeks, last week was considerably quiet as we all - The Listening’s Board of Directors and Admin, Freedom School staff, and our scholars - attempted to adjust and prepare for the upcoming school year.

The biggest question that we’ve been wrestling with is how do we keep this going? All of our successes, as well as our challenges this summer stem from the fact that this is a completely new paradigm that we’re attempting to bring to our community. After six weeks of reading literature with characters and authors of color, and discussing themes like self-image, immigration, gun violence and civil rights, how do we keep this going?

I won’t lie to you. I cried big fat tears this summer on two occasions.

  1. After a game-changing day in the middle of our program, the scholars came down as we prepared for lunch (provided by Blue Ridge Area Food Bank). With an energy that we haven’t seen before, they performed our Motivational Song (“Something Inside So Strong” by Labi Siffre, video below). Something about a room full of youngsters singing about “I KNOW THAT I CAN MAKE IT” will give a Marine vet a case of the sweaty eyes.

  2. On our Freedom School finale. I looked out at the crowd and saw a room full of people that had trusted us. They hadn’t only trusted us to keep their children safe, but to hopefully light a spark inside of them. With this effort that started long before we gathered in a community center, it had become realized in a way that both humbled and excited me.

Not only was it exciting to arrive at the conclusion of our summer and face the fact that we had actually pulled it off, I also recalled many moments talking with parents who had attended our Family Engagement Meetings. Somewhere between our lessons about the developmental commonalities and differences of our scholars and our conversation about civic engagement, we all wanted to know how do we keep this going?

How indeed.

We have a massive opportunity in front of us. Some of you know that The Listening has been talking this talk for years now. We’ve been about this work of using the performing arts as more than entertainment, and using these passions to ignite change and compassion. We don’t take this lightly.

Even now, as we are packing boxes and reaching out to our scholars’ schools, we’re developing a plan. When you talk about working with the people and engaging the community, it’s not enough to just want to do it and talk a good game. There’s a responsibility to do it well.

There’s a lot to learn. This was a first summer, hopefully the first of many - and there were many things that we did not get right. In light of all of that, we still managed to stay true to our mission of engaging, changing and saving lives.

So how do we keep this going? By keeping on. By keeping the open mic stage open and ready for you. By keeping the conversations on social and cultural issues going. By learning more and more about what it means to be a safe and brave space for those who need us. By listening (no pun intended. Well, kinda.)

Stay plugged in. The Listening is hard at work to make sure that we are ready for Freedom School 2020, but we are much stronger together than we are apart.

Thank you again to all our sponsors, who took a chance on this small nonprofit. Thank you to the volunteers and read aloud guests who took time out of their busy schedules to join us this summer. Thank you to the many organizations that had a hand in providing a safe, enriching experience for our scholars. Thank you to all the donors who helped make sure that all scholars were able to participate at no cost. Thank you to the families who trusted us with your children and allowed us into your lives. Thank you to the interns who put their hands to the plow, and the Freedom School admin who led with grace, focus and attention.