Open Letter to our Freedom School Interns

Dear Interns,

Freedom School is becoming very real very quickly, and the need for it here in Lynchburg hit our community hard on Thurday night. I know in the past few weeks we’ve talked a lot about deadlines, curriculum, training, and fun. We’ve been skimming the surface with classroom themes and activities to keep middle school kids attentive. I hate that we have to do this so soon, but it’s time to dig in and talk about our scholars and the role you’re about to play in each of their lives.

Late Thursday night, many of your scholars lost a friend, teammate, and family member to gun violence. The shockwave of grief that hit our community on Friday morning was palpable. I speak from experience when I say that losing a friend when you are in middle or high school is one of the most difficult times to deal with death. By that age you’re able to truly understand the finality of dying, but still too young to have the emotional and mental tools it takes to grieve and process the loss in a healthy way.

Your scholars will show up this summer hurting and scared. It won’t look like it. They’ll still laugh, pick on each other, and goof off when you need them to pay attention. But wait until Week 3 and watch their faces closely as we read through Give A Boy A Gun by Todd Strasser. While the instances of gun violence are different between the two, it does have the potential to be triggering. Take note of your class clown who turns quiet, give grace when a scholar talks back, and when someone comes back from a bathroom break make sure you look for signs to show if they’ve been crying.

More than likely, they will grieve in silence. Even the ones who want to talk about it will still feel uncomfortable asking the questions they’ve been fighting with for weeks. This is where you put in work… this is when you ask them. Ask them how they relate to the story and how it makes them feel. And when they don’t volunteer an answer, you tell them how it makes you feel, and you ask again. You keep asking everyday. “How do you really feel? Do you need to talk? How can I help you?” Whether they answer you or not, just keep reminding them that it’s okay for them to not be okay.

I’m well aware that you, our interns, aren’t all trained in crisis intervention. You may be reading this and having doubts that you’re equipped to handle this job. Let me encourage you by saying that we picked each of you specifically for our program because of your passion to help kids. This is part of it, and you’ll be thrown in the deep end. The important thing here is to remember that many of these scholars will just need a listening ear when they’re ready to talk. Even more of them will need you to ask them what’s going on when they begin to behave badly. Each scholar is doing the best they can in that moment, and some of them may feel like they’re falling apart underneath it all. Help them glue the shreds together.

The Listening made an intentional decision to start a Freedom School in Lynchburg because we saw a need for it. The Children’s Defense Fund, who provides our curriculum, does NOT shy away from hard topics. They’re well aware that our kids are seeing and experiencing these things already, and the hope is that these books will give them a way to talk about it. In my planning over the last few months I’ve prayed for a summer of joy, knowledge, and empowerment for our scholars. Today I realized that we need to shift gears a bit. I’m going to scrap some of my plans, and redirect the focus. So I’m asking that you, my bright, talented, and courageous interns, help me go back to the roots of civil rights era-Freedom Schools.  

This will be a summer where our children’s voices will still be heard, even when they don’t have the strength to speak.

This will be a summer that we show our kids they are worthwhile, even when they feel purposeless.

This will be a summer of healing.


Your Freedom School Site Coordinator, Rox Cruz

There will be a vigil on the football field at E.C. Glass High School on Sunday at 5:00 PM for the victims. If you’re able, please join.