This Is What Education Should Look Like! Meet Minnesota's Young Freedom Fighters

This is what education should look like! It ain't Common Core, no high-stakes tests to measure progress, and this program is really good!

I never heard of Robbinsdale, Minnesota until I was contacted by teachers from the district and asked if I could organize a New York City and Slavery walking tour for a high school spring break trip that is part of their African American study strand. Robbinsdale is a small town (less than 15,000 people) in the suburbs surrounding the twin cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul. Robbinsdale Area Schools is a consolidated school district serving seven independent towns with ten elementary schools, two middle schools and two high schools. The consolidated school district has about 12,000 students.

While the town of Robbinsdale is overwhelmingly White and relatively affluent, the consolidated school district is a model for integrated education. More than half of its students are eligible for free or reduced priced lunch and more than half of its students (54.4%) are considered Students of Color. Thirty-one percent of the student population is Black, 13% is Latino, 8% is Asian, 2% is Native American, and 46% is White. Student home languages include Spanish, Hmong, Somali, and Vietnamese.

The New York and Slavery Walking Tour was developed as part of the New York and Slavery: Complicity and Resistance curriculum and includes sites in Brooklyn Heights and Manhattan. Because of time constraints, the Minnesota group visited the Brooklyn Heights promenade where they had an overview of New York Harbor, underground railroad sites in Brooklyn, Plymouth Church where Reverend Henry Ward Beecher preached against slavery, and walked over the Brooklyn Bridge to Foley Square, where White New Yorkers, fearing a slave rebellion, executed enslaved Africans in 1741, and the African Burial Ground National Monument.

During the walking tour I learned that the fifty students from the Robbinsdale Area Schools call themselves the Young Freedom Fighters and signed up for this spring break trip because they consider themselves scholar-activists in the ongoing struggle for racial justice in the United States. Not only did they visit New York City, but after the walking tour they continued by bus to Charleston, South Carolina to meet with members of the historic Emanuel AME Church where nine people where murdered last summer in a racist attack. They then went to Birmingham and Selma, Alabama where they talked with veterans of the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and crossed the famous Edmund Pettis Bridge where civil rights workers were attacked by police while launching a successful battle for federal voting rights legislation. This was truly learning history by becoming part of history.

Marcellus Davis, Program Director for Integration, Equity and American Indian Education for Robbinsdale Area Schools called the project "civil rights history in the making." Discussing the group's visit to Charleston, he said "What we wanted to do was provide an experiential opportunity for students to be able to talk with those freedom fighters who were at the forefront of creating change for this country's progression."

As part of the project, students will help rewrite then district curriculum on the Civil Rights Movement. They will also create a documentary "Black Power Defined" that will explore the meaning of Black Power in 2016. 17-year-old high school student Eemanna Rivers explained "We have work to do. I still think that's just really evident in all of the things that are happening recently. Every current event that's happened is showing us that we are not done; we have a long way to go."

A follow-up email from trip staff explained, "In our travels, we met with many people who helped create the most intimate learning experience of the Civil Rights Movement. Our emotions were all over - feeling, believing, thinking, taking action, and spiritual faith - because of this experiential learning. Again, on behalf of the aforementioned school districts, students, parents, and staff, we stay thank you for your participation to plant the seed in the minds of our divine students."

However, the one who needs to offer thanks is me.

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