The Chicago Freedom School’s 7th annual Freedom Fellowship launched the four-week Summer Leadership Institute from July 8 to August 2. The Summer Leadership Institute (SLI) is only the beginning of the Freedom Fellows commitment to CFS, and the start of their group organizing work for the “Healthy Communities” and “Fair and Just Schools” campaigns. At the SLI, youth undergo an intensive training regimen that includes the building blocks needed to start forging their own activist identities, as well as the skills and knowledge they need to become effective allies, advocates, and organizers in their own communities.
Over the four weeks, the Freedom Fellows meet and share with other youth from across the city that are working in the realm of social justice, and they go through a myriad of trainings, including anti-oppression, gender, sexism and heterosexism, and community organizing workshops. The Fellows meet with different groups within the cit, like FLY, Black Through Black Action, Circles & Ciphers, Immigrant Youth Justice League, Illinois Caucus for Adolescent Health, and Access Living, and they also get the opportunity to meet with youth from different countries. This year we spent a day with a youth delegation from Mexico City, as well as a day in Des Plaines with the organization, Hands of Peace, “an interfaith organization developing peace-building and leadership skills in Israeli, Palestinian and American teens through the power of dialogue and personal relationships”.
Week 1: Identity and Relationship Development
Week 2: Socio-Political Consciousness
Week 3: Socio-Political Consciousness and Self-care (and Wellness Retreat)
Week 4: Collective Action and Campaign Development
CFS is fortunate to work with youth that are not only bright, creative and full of energy, but motivated as well. This year we knew there was something a little different about the group dynamics from the get-go.
As our Youth Coordinator, Tony, writes in his reflection,
“Usually, the first day of the Summer Leadership Institute youth arrive and keep to themselves. They're either playing on their cell phones, listening to music or in their own zone. This year you could tell was going to be different. As the 2013 Freedom Fellows arrived, they started to introduce themselves to one another, watching videos on the computer together or sharing school stories. As the day progressed, there was an instant connection between the group. Everyone was full of positive energy. By the end of the 4-weeks, there was a genuine care and appreciation that was built among the 19 Freedom Fellows. It was great to experience such love and community everyday coming in to work.
Heading into the office the week following the Summer Leadership Institute is always a bittersweet feeling. It was just a few days ago that the room was full of laughter, growth, and allyship.”
The four-week SLI provided an opportunity for youth to explore their identity and social responsibility, history of social movements, leadership skills, wellness and healing, as well as organizing and campaign development. It was also a lot of fun. This year we held our first annual Freedom Olympics. The Freedom Olympics allowed for “play” to be incorporated through our wellness component. Fellows participated in relay races and team building activities in beautiful downtown Chicago. We also fit in a trip to the Chicago History Museum where we explored the Facing Freedom exhibit, and we were able to explore past movements such as Women's Suffrage and Japanese Internment. On our last week, Fellows visited the Field Museum for a behind-the-scenes tour of the exhibits and labs. They were then able to give feedback to the youth interns working on a water sustainability project, and share their own campaign work.
Prior to entering the final week of the Summer Leadership Institute, participants headed out for an overnight retreat in Indiana for the “Healing From Violence Retreat”. Like any good retreat, we had time to take hikes, build bonfires, and laugh and play away from the city. We also had time to release a lot of the anxiety the youth have stemming from the constant violence many experience in Chicago. The Retreat is both our most tearful and joyous times during the summer, but youth always come away from their time outside the city feeling refreshed and committed to the activist ideals they have been developing. It’s a perennial favorite for both youth and staff.
As we close out our summer and head back to school, new and exciting things start to take shape. The 2013 Freedom Fellows are already getting busy around the city supporting other youth organizing work, and giving their own workshops and talks. Along with the Healthy Communities and Fair and Just Schools campaign cohorts, our Youth Leadership Board will begin meeting this fall to start planning our 8th Freedom Fellowship. We can’t wait to see what new and explosive ideas they bring to the table this year! Every year we are able to bring in more youth leadership and involvement in the planning of the Summer Leadership Institute, and the implementation. It won’t be long before we’re not needed at all!
Fellows came from the following Chicago Public Schools:
Amandla Charter School
Gwendolyn Brooks College Prep
Little Village Social Justice
Phoenix Military Academy
UIC College Prep
UNO High School
Urban Prep Academy
Youth Women’s Leadership
Fellows came from 13 Chicago neighborhoods including:
A special thanks to our generous foundation, individual and member supporters who make the Freedom Fellowship possible! We are very grateful.