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Freedom School scholars march to south campus Wendy's for farm workers' rights

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Over the summer, young scholars at the University District Freedom School have worked on literacy skills and studied history, civics, and politics. On July 29 they put their knowledge into action. About 40 of the scholars marched from the Summit United Methodist Church to the Wendy's south of the OSU campus to call on the fast food chain to join the Coalition of Immokalee Workers' Fair Food Program.

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Freedom Schools began 50 years ago during the Freedom Summer of 1964, when hundreds of college students went to southern states to register African Americans to vote. Freedom Schools emerged to help youth and adults improve their reading skills, which were below average due to the legacy of slavery, segregation, and racism in the South.

The Children's Defense Fund has run Freedom Schools across the U.S. since 1995, providing summer and after-school enrichment to students. In 2010 there were three Freedom Schools in Ohio serving 150 scholars. By 2013 the number of Ohio sites grew to 23, serving nearly 1,300 scholars.

"They read books about important people and events in history, such as the Shirtwaist Strike of 1909 and Ghandi's March to the Sea. Much of the program is centered around the Civil Rights Movement: reading about John Lewis, the Greensboro Sit-ins, the Little Rock 9, and Ruby Bridges," said Nicholas Pasquarello, a Servant Leader Intern at the University District school. "Most importantly, the program makes these connections with issues today and guides youth to take action."

Many of the mentors at the University District Freedom School are affiliated with the Ohio Student Association at OSU. They are called Servant Leader Interns instead of teachers, because their role in the classroom is to facilitate learning and build leadership among the scholars.

On the day of the July action, the scholars learned about Cesar Chavez and the grape boycott, and heard from Oscar Otzoy of the CIW about the struggle for farm worker rights in Florida. "They were excited to write letters and make their own signs for the march," Pasquarello said. "When the delegation happened, eight scholars of all ages went in to talk to the Wendy's manager, but we were met by a shut door. The manager not only refused to talk to us but literally held the door shut and refused to make eye contact."

Some scholars were shocked and distraught at the response. "I couldn't believe they wouldn't even look us on the face," one scholar recounted. "I'm never going to eat at Wendy's again."

"During a debrief, we said that the manager is not to be blamed. She was only doing what she was told by the corporate executives, and that is who we are really targeting," Pasquarello said.

"The scholars experienced what it means to put their knowledge to action," Pasquarello said. "They also have learned a bit of what it means to organize."

Some of the high school scholars have been doing integrative work in the community, specifically around ending "zero tolerance" policies in Ohio public schools that disproportionately affect low income, disabled, and students of color.

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