So much has changed since Korla Collins began her journey with CDF Freedom Schools almost 10 years ago – not only personal changes but also changes in the program and in those who it serves.
In 2007, her best friend was working at a CDF Freedom Schools site in Long Beach and asked Korla, who had just graduated with a Bachelors degree in dance, to help choreograph a dance for her middle school-age scholars. It was her first experience with CDF Freedom Schools and she loved it. So the following summer she applied to be a Servant Leader Intern, travelled to Tennessee for national training and after that, she was hooked.
“In Tennessee, we saw this documentary about the children’s march and I wondered why I had never seen or heard of it,” said Korla, who also has BA in Africana Studies. “I felt like (CDF) Freedom Schools was this party I wasn’t invited to.”
Now Korla is like the party planner, overseeing a site in Oakland and recently completing her five years as an Ella Baker Trainer. Ella Baker trainers assist in training local CDF Freedom Schools staff and are key in delivering key components every year at the national training in Tennessee.
Between then and now, Korla has seen many changes.
“I remember when there was like 600 people at national training and we weren’t big enough to fit in the Knoxville convention center. (This year) there were like 2,000.”
Korla has also seen changes in the scholars. When she first started, there were scholars with behavioral problems and issues that were more apparent. Many scholars today are not being raised by their parents and have experienced a lot of trauma.
“More youth are growing up in the system and have been exposed to more; so many are coming to (CDF) Freedom Schools with more needs,” Korla said.
Because of this, she added, the program is even more important.
“These chants and songs are not just something they are singing,” she said. “They are realizing they are truly something special. It’s changing them. Their self esteem is improving. They are becoming better students. They are retaining information better; some are even challenging their teachers to teach them better.”
The books have also evolved, she said. With such a diverse population served, Children’s Defense Fund tries hard to insure that learning material are inclusive and teach positive messages. The books feature characters that have learning disabilities like autism, two moms or dads, or family members who have been incarcerated. Despite these challenges the characters face, the books show that challenges can be overcome.
And that is what CDF Freedom Schools is all about.