Why We're Bringing a Freedom School to Central VA

When you think of The Listening, what comes to mind?

(This is not a hypothetical question, in case you were wondering. We would love to hear what you think. Comment below, if you dare.)

And after you comment, consider this. Chances are, you are primarily familiar with The Listening as a platform, an outlet for poets and artists to bravely step to the microphone. We've been talking a lot about being FIVE YEARS OLD this year (a fact that we're still very proud of and happy about, thank you very muchly), and that comes with considering our evolution since 2013. After all, it all started with, and continues to be about, the stage, the mic, and the artist. 

That part will never change. If nothing else, we will always be sure to represent for the artists whose lives have been changed by these performing arts.

Photo by  Clem Onojeghuo  on  Unsplash

We have been fortunate enough to bring our brand of authenticity and creativity to hundreds of people, from music festivals to graduate banquets to benefits and advocacy walks. We've been learning a lot about what it takes to use this platform well. To quote the apostles from A Tribe Called Migos, we want to walk it like we talk it. No longer simply defined as "a spoken word thing", we are a tax-exempt organization, using our mission to push this movement forward. 

So when 2018 began, and we went public with our intentions of bringing a summer program to Lynchburg, there were doubtlessly some questions.

Why are we doing a summer reading program? What does that have to do with "engaging, changing and saving lives?" Will there still be open mics and showcases? What happened to Spencer's Vanguard?

All valid questions. Peep this:

The logic was simple. You cannot have dope poets and spoken word artists and songwriters without dope writers, and you cannot hope to have dope writers without dope readers. We don't dare imagine that we assume the role of educators, but the fact is that we've got a lot of work to do to convince many on how important reading is.

And not just reading for reading's sake. As we've learned with Kendrick's Pulitzer, Obama's Presidency, and Ocasio-Cortez's upset, visibility matters. Our country is on the fast-track to becoming multi-lingual and multi-racial, and seeing this change happen in real-time is dazzling and awe-inspiring. Sadly, across the country, this change has yet to take place in many of our schools. More specifically, our children's books.

This is not a political statement, because we are not a political organization. This is a cultural statement. Our kids need to see themselves in culturally relevant ways, reflected in the books they read. The United States Department of Arts and Culture (not a government agency) (one of our partners/affiliates) includes in their statement of values: "Culture is created by everyone. The art, customs, creative expressions, and social fabric of every community and heritage contribute to the vibrancy and dynamism of our common culture. Our cultural institutions and policies should reflect this, rather than privileging favorites."

Whether they be Latinx, Middle Eastern, West Indian, Irish, Jewish, or any/everything else, it matters; if for no other reason than the fact that we connect to what we see ourselves in.

Need an example? Wakanda forever. 'Nuff said.

The story of Freedom Schools goes back to the Civil Rights. When integration threatened the status quo, not everyone agreed. Many fought to keep a segregated mindset, including but not limited to our public classrooms. In the summer of 1964, college-aged youth saw to it to take matters into their own hands and make sure that children got a fair chance at the knowledge they needed to succeed. And not just that, they brought the community behind it as well, with a purposeful focus on voter registration and family engagement.

It would seem that reading equaled freedom.

And this is what The Listening has been about all along.

Photo by  Calum MacAulay  on  Unsplash

Imagine the feeling of knowing that you were a part of a legendary literary bloodline. Writers like Zora Neale Hurston, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Maya Angelou, Phillis Wheatley, Ta'Nehisi Coates and so much more all started as children in classrooms. These same writers quite literally changed the world, and they had the same tools you have. Imagine stories about little brown children that broke past the narrative of trauma and pain, slavery and victimhood. Imagine being given access to the tools to tell your own story, because no one can tell it like you.

If this all seems like a departure from what you've known about us since 2013, know that we're still here, and still artists at heart - but this was never just about spoken word and poetry and geeking out about Lauryn Hill's new tour. Not really.

We have the opportunity to change this community with the very tools we've been using from jump: (y)our stories. And we've been quiet this summer, because to be completely honest, we don't want to mess this up. So we've been tinkering under the hood, making sure that we are up to the task of managing this resource in a way that remains authentic, transparent, creative and inclusive. 

We are still bringing you cruelty-free open mic sessions. We still plan on hosting our Signature Sessions. But we also plan on being a part of the change taking place in our community, and equipping our young people with the tools they needs to grab the present by the horns and make it a future we can all be proud of.

We would love to see you at our free screening of "Freedom Summer" on July 14th at 7pm, where we get to look at the cultural environment in 1964 that fostered the Freedom Schools. After that date, we still also be looking for more opportunities to learn how to make Freedom Schools make sense for Lynchburg, as well as more open mics, more potlucks, more dopeness.

If you want to know more about the Freedom Schools program, click here.

If you would like to sign-up to receive updates on our progress, click here.

If you would like to sponsor or donate to our efforts to make sure that The Listening: Freedom Schools remains FREE FOR ALL CHILDREN, click here.

If you want to hear some dope music about freedom, click here.