Sunflower County Freedom Project
The Sunflower County Freedom Project in Sunflower, Mississippi is empowering a cohort of academically competitive, socially conscious, mentally disciplined young leaders prepared to work for the betterment of themselves, their community, and the world. We are working for a future in which our students are free to access whatever educational, creative, and professional opportunities they want to pursue, and are committed to promoting justice wherever they go.
Beginning in the summer after their sixth-grade year, our students, called Freedom Fellows, participate in a two three-year fellowships (six years total!) in which they take on leadership roles by practicing the LEAD principles: Love, Education, Action, and Discipline. Through the practice of these principles, our Fellows work to build a radically restorative and loving community, to seek out learning opportunities inside and outside classrooms, to be proactive and engaged citizens, and to be disciplined in their minds and their bodies. Our Fellows engage with these principles during their summers as rising tenth, eleventh, and twelfth graders through our Freedom Summer Collegiate courses.
Each summer, Freedom Summer Collegiate instructors join our team and become integral parts of our work with Freedom Fellows. The hard work and mentorship of our grad student instructors inspires our Fellows to explore new fields of study, chase down their curiosities, and dedicate themselves fully to their intellectual and practical pursuits. Through these courses our Fellows develop the critical thinking skills that will help them to be successful in college while our instructors' stories help our Fellows to imagine new possibilities for their own lives.
Students in Sunflower County face many struggles. Students attend schools that are still heavily segregated by race (Sunflower County Consolidated School District is 96% African American) and socio-economic status (100% of students in the district receive free lunch). Students at the middle and high schools lack many of the opportunities enjoyed by their affluent, urban/suburban peers. Academically, many graduates of the Sunflower County schools are not prepared for the ACT, a necessary test for college admission; the average ACT score in Sunflower County is a 16. Some students have never traveled outside of Bolivar County, and many have not left the state. Furthermore, Sunflower County students are rarely given a space to explore, create, and be inspired. A lack of opportunity in the arts (music, poetry, drama), in extracurricular and leadership development, and the core academic subjects (English, Math, Science, ACT Prep) leaves students, many of whom have the talent to compete at the top colleges and universities in America, without chances to explore their talents, expand their opportunities, and become America’s next leaders and innovators.
What COURSES WE'RE INTERESTED IN
The courses that most excite our Fellows focus on expanding their horizons to new topics and new ways of thinking, while challenging their notion of the world and of themselves. Sunflower Freedom Fellows have an interest in exploring innovative concepts while understanding historical connections and theory. For example, students are eager to engage in discussions about gender inequality through the lens of pop culture, or analyze morality through a debate about designer babies. Additionally, they seek new ways of learning: whether that is through the use of technology, the Socratic method, or performance—our students want to interact and learn in a challenging, fun, student-orientated space.
Where You'd Live: CLEVELAND, Mississippi
Freedom Summer Collegiate instructors working in Sunflower typically live twenty-five miles away in Cleveland, Mississippi, a town of about 15,000. While still a rural town, Cleveland has more access to amenities like grocery stores, bars and restaurants, and gyms. Our instructors typically live together in houses in Cleveland and commute together to the SCFP.
What's more, the cultural history of the Mississippi Delta, from the better known juke joints and hot tamales to the lesser known wildlife and history, is a site to see. Past instructors have enjoyed traveling to Clarksdale to watch local blues artists performing at Red's, hanging in Cleveland to visit Hey Joe's or Senator's Place, visiting Greenville to check out Mighty Mississippi Brewing Co., and crossing the river to enjoy Lake Chicot State Park. The deep Civil Rights history of the Delta, too--historic Mound Bayou, MS, and the Emmett Till Interpretive Center--have left a deep impression on visitors.