By Reverend Dr. Floyd D. Harris, Jr.
It’s the dawning of a Saturday morning. Despite the forecast of triple-digit summer heat, young men and women have gathered anxiously awaiting their chance to grasp shovels, rakes and hoes to work a 22-acre plot of land. They are participating in a new program called the Freedom School―a program designed to provide critical life, social, vocational and educational skills in support of our youth. In fact, exercising, practicing etiquette and making their way out to the farm is completed before most kids are out of bed. Within a few weeks, children ages 6 to 16 have tended to rows of tomatoes, black-eyed peas and bell peppers, and are preparing the field for more crops.
Freedom School founder Rev. Dr. Floyd D. Harris, Jr., sees an urgent need to further advance this vision. “I started this program because I recognized the youth’s generational struggle to stay positive, motivated and energized. The Freedom School is an outlet that provides children with vocational training opportunities that some people never experience. It’s my way of investing in our children, bringing back traditions and empowering our youth.”
Rev. Harris’s vision for the farm expands beyond farming, teaching children about rich food heritage and encompassing the history of African American farmers. He has partnered with two Fresno State interns, Lemual Wheatley and Breyonna Gianes, both anthropology majors, to start a farmers’ market that will provide economic opportunities for one of the poorest communities in the United States. The interns not only serve as role models but will also assist with an August festival, which will be open to the public. This festival will highlight the accomplishments of Freedom School youth and honor the legacy of Black farmers in the San Joaquin Valley.
In addition, the Freedom School is gearing up for field trips to historical sites and organic farms in California. They will also design parade floats and enter their produce at the Big Fresno Fair. Will Scott, president of the African American Farmers of California, has helped teach the youth farming and marketing skills, whereas Ken Grimes, a soil conservationist from Agriculture Agronomist at USDA-NRCS, has served as a liaison for the group. Other farmers and food experts are invited to teach workshops or skill demonstrations with the group, which meets every Saturday from 6 a.m to 10 a.m.
The Freedom School welcomes financial support and/or supply donations. Current needs include gardening tools and gloves, a canopy, straw hats, safety goggles, a port-a-potty, shovels, rakes, hoes, ice chests and bottled water. As a nonprofit 501(c)3, all donations are tax-deductible and greatly appreciated. Monetary donations may be sent to the Fresno Center for Nonviolence, 1584 N. Van Ness Ave., Fresno, CA 93728 (memo line National Network in Action—Freedom School), which serves as the Freedom School’s fiscal sponsor.
For more information, visit the Freedom School Facebook: www.facebook.com/pages/Freedom- School/428122270688847. To propose a workshop/skills training for the youth, contact Rev. Harris at 559-790-4277 or xyfloyd@ aol.com.