I wish I could be transported back in time to the Mennonite Church located on Rainbow Boulevard, known at that time as Kansas City Mennonite Church. I would choose April 20, 1964. That is the day many young scholars in Kansas City stood at the front of the sanctuary of the Mennonite Church and were awarded a Certificate of Courage for scholarly attendance at the one-day institute of learning called Freedom School.
Standing with these scholars was Stan Bohn, first pastor of the Mennonite Church. You can see Stan listed as the Instructor on the certificate pictured below.
I found this certificate recently in a worn file folder that Stan Bohn gave me. It was at the bottom of a stack of file folders labeled “Rainbow Freedom School 1964.” I tremble each time I look through this folder containing many treasurers: Curriculum notes and schedule, instructions for how to participate in peaceful demonstrations, highlights of African American history in the United States, and a collection of song lyrics. A memo to Freedom School instructors states:
We must always keep in mind that the children attending these freedom schools will be there because their parents have decided to register a protest against the inadequacy of the segregated schools curriculum, and indeed, the policy of de facto segregation practiced in the Kansas City, KS school district. The time is ever ripe to introduce the idea of personal worth and human dignity through equality of opportunity to an inquiring mind. An attempt will be made to do so in the freedom schools. A curriculum and a list of activities that may be followed to help implant a concept of personal value in a complex social structure is prepared for you…Let us dedicate ourselves so that no child will be injured, physically or spiritually, on this day of protest with the help of people like yourselves and God’s blessing, WE SHALL OVERCOME.”
Up until recently Stan and I had no idea that Freedom School connected our two ministries. He was just as surprised to learn about our Freedom School today as I was to learn about his Freedom School in 1964.
Unlike Stan, the 100 courageous scholars getting ready to complete a six-week Freedom School program this week do not see me as an Instructor. (Although one scholar did ask me the other day if I was the Principal.) Instead, I will be standing alongside these scholars with everyone else who has supported the program with prayer, money, love, and time.
I will smile, as I have day after day, as I listen to them sing, dance, and cheer. I will shed a few tears as I think of everything their teachers have done this year to encourage these young people to believe that they can and do have inquiring minds, personal worth and dignified spirits. Yes, WE SHALL OVERCOME…together.
All are invited!
Freedom School Program Finale
Thursday, July 23 from 6-7 pm
Vox Theatre (across the street from Rainbow)