A new program in Dallas schools is empowering children with literacy, changing lives much as civil rights efforts once did.

Empowering Children with Literacy“I’ve developed a passion for these kids that I’ve never had before,” said 18 year old Jabari Ford, an SMU sophomore who teaches at Pease’s Freedom School.  The program is part of an initiative launched by the Children’s Defense Fund centered on reading.  It is the first program of its kind in the Dallas ISD.

The objective is to use literacy to drive community engagement and self-empowerment.  “Our goal is not to teach kids to read — that’s not what we do,” program director Vernessa Gipson said. “Our goal is to try to get them motivated to want to read. What we do more, we do better.”

“We tell them a library card, a passport and the ability to read will take you anywhere in the world.”

The program targets communities of color and is designed after the civil rights movement during the Freedom Summer of 1964 in Mississippi. All 40 students at Pease are from the neighborhood, and all are black.  College age instructors are also all black, and called “servant leaders.”

“Black kids need to see college-age students that look like them up in front, reading them books that tell their stories, with characters that look like them, that give them a sense of their history and tell them: ‘I can be smart. I am smart. I can go places,'” Gipson said.

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