The Hannah CDF Freedom School

Freedom Schools were a part of the “Mississippi Freedom Summer Project” of 1964, designed to keep Black children and youths out of harm’s way and give them a richer educational experience than Mississippi public schools offered them. 

Freedom Summer volunteers were trained to teach in these “schools,” held in church basements, on back porches, in parks, and even under trees. They provided reading instruction, a humanities curriculum including creative writing, and a general math and science curriculum. Additionally, they taught subjects the public schools did not, including Black history and constitutional rights, and covered the freedom movement in detail – encouraging students to be independent thinkers, problem solvers and to become agents of social change in their own communities.

Since 1995, under the name Children’s Defense Fund (CDF) Freedom Schools® program, the work continues in partnership with community leaders to build strong, literate, and empowered children prepared to make a difference in themselves, their families, communities, nation, and world. By providing summer and after-school literacy enrichment for children, K-12, CDF Freedom Schools play a much-needed role in helping curb summer learning loss and closing opportunity gaps.

In Marin, the Hannah CDF Freedom School® is the first CDF Freedom School site in Marin County. For seven years, it has created an exhilarating six-week summer experience blending educational, cultural and social development opportunities for 50 children aged 7-10.  Focused on language arts and reading, the program strives to help children and young adults understand and appreciate their own history and culture in order to develop the resilience they need to address and overcome academic, social, cultural, and emotional challenges.

Serving those children “in full” for six weeks costs approximately $75,000. The cost includes sending the teachers to receive national training, hiring enough teachers, contractor costs, and the ability to take high quality field trips.

Bettie Hodges, Executive Director (left) and teachers from the Hannah Freedom School in Marin City

In 2016, MCF donor Madeleine Ballard learned about the Hannah Freedom School in Marin City, and she became excited. “I grew up in the midst of the civil rights movement. As a girl, our family would gather around the TV and I watched in horror as African American children younger than me faced water hoses, attack dogs and bombs in their fight for the right to educational equality promised to all, but given only to some. I just could not fathom the utter injustice and cruelty that I saw. It broke my heart. And now, some fifty-five years later, I sit here again and watch the children in Marin City at Bayside Martin Luther King Jr. Academy not receiving the education that they are due. And, my heart still breaks, this time for children who are my neighbors. I realized very quickly how important the Hannah Freedom School is for that community.”

Madeleine Ballard 2000

MCF donor Madeleine Ballard

Freedom School Reading2

In the classroom

However, she soon learned that 2016 funding for the School had not yet come through. Meaning that 50 low-income predominately African American and Latino Marin City children wouldn’t be attending summer school.  

Compelled to do something, within a week, she managed to patchwork enough funding to save the 2016 session. “From the moment I saw the school in action last year, when I witnessed the CDF-trained college student teachers, and saw the children’s smiles and enthusiasm and newly ignited love of books and reading, I knew that there was no going back. I was in it for the long run.”

Since March 13, 2017, thanks to the generosity of Madeleine and a growing number of community activists, the School has raised 76% of the $75,000 goal for the Summer 2017 session, and is now just $18,800 shy of that goal.

But beyond this year, Madeleine is determined to sustain the Hannah CDF Freedom School for the next 5 years, and is committed to raising a total of $350,000. Quoting Marion Wright Edelman, she says, “If we don't stand up for children, then we don't stand for much.”

If you’re interested in learning more about the Hannah Project Freedom School, please visit its website, or if you would like to support the program, please contact your philanthropic advisor. 

Johnathan Logan and Madeleine Ballard
MCF's Johnathan Logan and Madeleine Ballard at a Hannah Freedom School event