|The youngest students shared pictures they drew |
of children walking from Central America to the United States.
They imagined that these kids must be tired and scared.
These students advocated in a 'day of social action' on behalf of the thousands of children still trapped at the U.S. southern border (see post: Children at the Border). But it is significant that the students themselves are the survivors of daily systemic abuse, themselves often facing threats of violence from authorities, themselves familiar with the struggle for basic needs and safety. Their own parents may fear for their daily safe travel and return.
The All People Freedom School is an eight week summer program (with an after school program during school year) to provide literacy enrichment, academic enrichment, leadership and character development to students on the South Side of Columbus, a community in which 43% of households earn less than $25,000 a year.
Program Director Darlene Scheid explained that "Freedom School is about social justice and citizenship. Whether you are 5 or 65, your voice matters." She noted that "this is a real issue in the news. We wanted to do something about it"
From these students we received a call for mercy, justice, and freedom not for themselves, but for their sisters and brothers also trapped in a human-made cycle of injustice. They spoke from their hearts about their concerns for the children on the border, relating their needs to the issues important in their own lives.
"This should not be happening" one student in the middle school group declared. From another classmate, "I can't believe people wanted to send them back--that's sad." The students urged those present to give the children food, shoes, and cloths, and to "allow them to come in, no matter how old they are," in reference to the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) eligibility limitations. The students asked the government representatives present to "let the children come to Columbus and give them a place to live." They reminded their listeners that "America is a free country" and "those kids don't deserve this."
The high school students also presented their well-researched arguments. Regarding the 2007 cuff-off date for DACA eligibility, one said "I think the government was wrong...The children should have a chance to have a new life...Let the children be free." They wondered "what if you got sent back and your parents weren't there?"
These students asked the United States government to "accept the kids and treat them how they should be treated." They asked local government officials to raise money to give the children food, water, and shelter, asserting that the "Department of Homeland Security is holding them hostage." "This issue is important because we are all equal, just with different colors and speak different languages," they said.
After their presentations, I spoke with some of the students who had given their arguments. When asked about their process, Adryona said they "read articles, and watched videos about what was happening, but then added our own opinions to them." After watching the news videos Gibson said they "saw how poorly children were being treated. We didn’t agree with their actions."
Many of the students viewed the situation on the border in relation to their own lives, asking 'what if it were me?' When asked how such a long journey to the border would have affected themselves, Amari said she would feel "like I’d die, like I don’t have anyone." Gibson said he "would wonder what will happen once I get there?" He said that he had once been as far away as Florida,"if I’d walked there I think I’d die. I’d still be walking." Adryona concluded, "I know people care about their tax money. I just care about their safety. Children's safety is more important than money."
The policy issues are complicated, but the students at the All People Freedom School made it clear what is at stake. Ohio Representative Michael Stinziano thanked the students for "breaking it down and making it easy for us to understand."
Also present to receive the students' presentations were Columbus City Councilman Hearcel Craig, Ohio West Conference Director of Connectional Ministries, Rev. Dr. Dee Stickley-Miner, Childrens Defense Fund Ohio Director, Rev. Laura Young, and Franklin County Job & Family Services Program Coordinator, LaShawn Capito.