Billionaire Michael Bloomberg closed almost 200 high-poverty schools during his tenure as Mayor, but Occupy activist Rodney Deas can say he did something about it: he opened one.
In July of 2012, Rodney and a small group of Occupy Wall Street originals gathered together in east Williamsburg, Brooklyn to found the Paul Robeson Freedom School, an independent, community-controlled social justice school built on the model of the freedom schools in Alabama and Mississippi in the so-called Freedom Summer of 1964.
The Freedom School began when students of Paul Robeson High School, a struggling public school in Crown Heights, was targeted by the city for closure. Occupy activists rallied with students, parents, and teachers of Robeson to save it, a campaign that came to a crescendo when the students called for a citywide student walkout on May 1st, 2012 in solidarity with all the victims of public school closures and budget cuts. Hundreds of students from schools across the city, some facing closure themselves and others from elite institutions like Brooklyn Tech HS, joined the 'Robeson fighters' in the streets and at Fort Greene Park that day for a speak-out and teen educational summit. The youth of NYC were rising up!
After weeks of tense negotiations at the highest level of city education officials, the Robeson community was dealt a hard blow when their school was shut down. The students, didn't mourn however, they organized! With Rodney and other Occupy organizers now threatened with arrest upon return to the school building, the students and staff met off-campus and planted the seeds for a new school that would carry on the legacy of their namesake, the great African-American activist, scholar, and athlete Paul Robeson. That summer, the Paul Robeson Freedom School was born.
Today, the school is entering its fourth year and is deepening its programming with middle school and high school youth. The 'Robeson fighters' who led the struggle to save their school have become mentors to the youth, teaching summer classes alongside adults and participating in weekly Thursday night community dinners at their home in the Church of St. Luke & St. Matthew at 520 Clinton Ave in Brooklyn (also once home to Occupy Sandy disaster relief!) The school continues in its simple mission: Education for Liberation!
Want to support the Freedom School? Join them on Sunday, July 26th for a special benefit performance of PAUL ROBESON: A One-Man Show by Stogie Kenyatta. Tickets are on sale here, and use promotional code OCCUPY for a 20% discount!