What We Do

The mission of the Chicago Freedom School is to create new generations of critical thinking young people who use their unique experiences and power to create a just world.  CFS provides training and educational opportunities for youth and adult allies to develop leadership skills through the lens of civic action and through the study of social movement history.

Inspired and informed by freedom schools founded in Mississippi during the Civil Rights Movement, CFS takes an innovative approach to civic engagement, leadership development, and movement building. Our programs, resources and trainings invite young people and adult allies to study of the work of past movements, deepen their understanding of current social problems, build new coalitions and develop strategies for change.  CFS continues to be informed in purpose and program by the guiding principles and values established by our visionary founders.

Our Goals:

  1. We develop, nurture, and support leadership among youth ages 14 – 21 across Chicago.

  2. We create a space where youth and adult allies can gather to build knowledge, skills and agency for activism and social change.

  3. We educate youth and adults about the history of social justice movements from multiple perspectives in order to provide in-depth analysis that supports thoughtful action and organizing in the present.

  4. We build the capacity of adult allies to understand and support youth-led social change.

  5. We organize and sponsor public educational events for intergenerational audiences on topics related to youth activism, the history of social movements, and organizing.

Our History

In 2004, an intergenerational group came together with the Girls Best Friend Foundation to discuss what was needed in Chicago to support youth-led social change. These visionary founders recognized a need for a citywide effort to provide space and educational opportunities for young people to gain new skills and build alliances across neighborhoods, identities and ideologies.  In 2007, the Girls Best Friend Foundation provided seed funding to start CFS. What began that year as a summer program for 35 youth has grown into a robust model of youth leadership development, training, and public educational programs that annually engages 1000 youth and adults across Chicago and the nation.  

Youth Leadership Development

Freedom Fellowship: CFS’s centerpiece program featuring interactive popular education classes, anti-oppression training, and leadership skill building. Following an intensive summer program, CFS provides ongoing support to Fellows as they carry out action campaigns aimed at effecting social change in their schools and communities.

Youth Leadership Board: A group of CFS youth alumni work to ensure that youth are an integral part of organizational programs and initiatives. Among other efforts, YLB members cofacilitate programs, recruit and interview new staff and Freedom Fellows, and represent CFS in a range of settings.

Young Leaders for Justice: A new program for youth ages 17-24 that provides intensive training and leadership development to prepare emerging leaders to combat the criminalization of young people of color.

Technical Support: As requested, CFS provides resources, consultation and facilitation for youth groups and youth development professionals.

Professional Development for Adult Allies

Rev Up: This three-day national training for adults provides best practices to support youth organizing, capacity building, and youth-led programming. Rev Up combines issue-based organizing, leadership and identity development, movement building history, and anti-oppression practices.

Understanding Adultism and Building Partnerships With Youth: This half-day seminar helps adult participants understand and deconstruct the internalization of adultism and provide tools and resources through which adults can learn how to be responsible and effective allies to youth.

White Folks and Racial Justice: This workshop explores how white privilege is manifested in individuals and society. Participants receive practices and tools to interrupt racism and learn how to take action against racism as individuals and as a collective.

Custom Professional Development Training: CFS staff and facilitators design and provide customized offerings for schools, organizations and institutions on a variety of topics including: developing anti-oppression practices, understanding adultism, youth-lead campaign development, and more.

History of 1964 Freedom Schools

During the summer of 1964, thirty Freedom Schools were established in towns throughout Mississippi to address racial inequalities in the educational system. Mississippi’s black schools were poorly funded, and teachers had to use second-hand textbooks that offered a racist slant on American history. The Freedom Schools offered a rebuttal to this reality. Their curricula included black history, the philosophy of the Civil Rights Movement, leadership development in addition to remedial instruction in reading and math. The Freedom Schools had hoped to draw at least 1000 students that first summer, and ended up with 3000. The Civil Rights Movement is a well-documented example that demonstrates the importance of youth-led social change. The Chicago Freedom School builds on the original Freedom School model by seeking to enhance Chicago youth’s connection to their histories and serving as a catalyst for youth-led social change today.

For more information about the original Mississippi Freedom School curriculum, please visit Dr. Kathy Emery's site, Education and Democracy. Another useful resource is the Teaching for Change site.

This interview with gospel-pop legend Mavis Staples with Freedom Fellow Ansheera "Ace" Hilliard is a great example of how CFS values movement history and intergenerational dialogue.

The Chicago Freedom School is dedicated to promoting diversity and providing space that supports true equality by embracing all marginalized groups and identities, including but not exclusively people who identify as people of color, LGBTQ, people with disabilities, homeless, ex-offenders and those impacted by the juvenile justice system, and people with learning disabilities. We are committed to accommodating specific needs individuals may have accordingly and to providing facilities and materials that are accessible to all.