By Nicole S. Daniel
The Birmingham Times
Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin was the guest reader Friday as the Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools Summer Camp concluded its six-week program at Miles College.
“It was important to bring Mayor Woodfin because he’s a young person, he’s part of our community and he has made a huge impact and difference in the city of Birmingham and the surrounding cities. Choosing him was an easy choice,” said Project Director Leon Parker.
Woodfin said he’s an avid reader and finds joy in sharing his love of reading with others. “Literacy is an essential key in the development of our young people and enhancing those skills is a priority for my administration,” the mayor said. “I’m so grateful to Freedom Schools for sharing in that vision and investing in the development of our students.”
The mayor read from “I Am Every Good Thing” by Derrick Barnes.
Since 1995, The CDF Freedom Schools program has provided summer and after-school enrichment for students K-12 and their families. Lillian Curlette, Executive Director, the importance the program is noticeable.
“Over the years, we have seen children’s attitudes change about their education, about themselves, about their community. When they go back home, parents see the difference in behavior, conversations, and their actions actually speak volumes for what they’ve learned during the Freedom School program.
Curlette has managed Freedom School for more than 20 years and “we see statistically the changes that have been made in our children,” she said. “They learn to be proud of who they are, they learn about their culture, their heritage, and needs, above all else, learn to be good readers and love reading. That’s our goal.”
The executive director remembers when the camp began and some students arrived skeptical. “Gradually we sucked them in with everything we had,” she said. “Now here they are, on the last day not wanting to leave each other.”
For the last day of camp, parents and staff gathered in the Kirkwood Balton Theater on Miles College Campus to watch students dance, chant and speak positive affirmations. As the program began to wrap up students and staff were hugging and crying, all filled with emotions.
Witnessing the scholars embrace one another and not wanting to let go was “most rewarding. It made me feel overwhelmed. My heart was just filled with joy,” said Candice Hardy, Site Coordinator.
“Sometimes we aren’t able to properly assess if you have truly impacted a child because we’re in the midst of a thing. As of yesterday, the stories began with students saying, ‘Mrs. Hardy my favorite part of Freedom School is our morning affirmations now I speak affirmations over myself and over my friends.’”
Hardy added “just to see the camaraderie amongst our students this morning just warms the heart. Seeing our students blossom over the last six weeks has been a blessing. It’s been a remarkable experience that I wouldn’t trade for the world.”
The CDF Freedom Schools program provided summer and after-school enrichment for students K-12 and their families through high quality academic and character-building enrichment; parent and family involvement; civic engagement and social action; intergenerational servant leadership development; and nutrition, health and mental health.