One could say that Harriet Tubman founded the Black Lives Matter movement. After escaping from a Maryland plantation in 1849, she helped establish the Underground Railroad and became its most renowned “conductor.” Almost 170 years later, Houston students take their own Tubman-inspired trek during school-wide “Freedom Nights.”
Students from Quail Valley Elementary and Burton Elementary spend several months each year researching abolitionists and Civil Rights activists in preparation for a community evening during Black History Month. Civic leaders, educators and parents then recreate an Underground Railroad through a network of “stations” with activities and presentations: The music teacher leads freedom songs and spirituals; an Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority member discusses freedom quilts; and a local storyteller shares slaves’ oral histories. Students’ journey ends at a “Freedom Wall” on which they write what freedom means to them.
“Even students who weren’t African America became interested in their ancestry, which led to a larger study of birth places, culture and a realization that their heritage, Black or not, matters,” said Tawanna Cherri, an FFT Fellow. “A desire to share in someone’s story is not innate, but has to be sparked from within. Our Freedom Nights are the spark we need to explore and embrace each other’s cultures.”
To date, more than 1,000 students have participated in Freedom Nights, the vision of four Fund for Teachers Fellows who used their grant to research the Underground Railroad’s final station, known as “Midnight” (Detroit) to “Dawn” (Canada). Tawanna, Brooke Wilson, Destiny Parker and Kelly Caldwell designed this fellowship after realizing their students’ disconnect from their connection to this history.
To learn more about this team’s fellowship, click here.