Authored by Donna Quintanilla
Winter Freedom School 2018 was a three day training that consisted of ice breakers, social justice workshops, and community healing activities. It was a way for youth coming from similar and varying identities and communities to meet, exchange ideas, and bond together.
In preparation for FS 2018, the facilitation team met for many hours to review, research, and discuss ways to create a more “trauma-informed” courageous space. We wanted to be as intentional in the design of the youth space and incorporate and borrow spaces we’ve enjoyed and have found healing in the past. We filled our walls with freedom fighters that we look to for support and took recommendations from our larger community network. We made colorful signs to create a more welcoming space (including gender neutral bathroom signs), prepared our music playlists, and added art throughout the office space. During our meeting times, we also we identified goals and intentions for this freedom school for those participating in it and ourselves as facilitators.
Day 1 consisted of community building, art making, food preparation, and dismantling conventional history by introducing OURstory, HERstory, and THEIRstory. As youth entered the space for the first time, they were asked to read a statement of self-love (a practice we learned by our AFSC colleague Nia Eubanks Dixon). Upon arriving, youth got the opportunity to decorate personal appreciation bags to write personal notes for themselves and others during the entirety of the program.
These art activities were followed by ice breakers and food preparation where youth prepared healthy plant-based foods like guacamole and kale salad with lemon sesame dressing. We also enjoyed falafel and chicken sandwiches from a local family owned greek restaurant in DTLA!
My favorite activity was creating our personal timelines after lunch. It made me realize that I am proud of who I am and what I have persevered. It left a warm feeling in my heart because I had never before this given myself credit for growing and moving past difficult moments in my life. After this activity, we followed it with “Tea Time” (a practice shared by loba loca) where we learned about a specific plant, drank tea, relaxed, and wrapped up our day.
Day 2 was centered on deepening our understanding of race and racism and ways this system of discrimination connects to other forms of oppression. After ice breakers and an art activity, we began this session. We created a collective definition of racism. We discussed ways racism was enforced throughout history through institutions like the Church and science (or pseudoscience). It was a lot to hold, and after introducing the idea of “internalized inferiority” (terminology from People’s Institute for Survival and Beyond) and ways racism has been normalized in our own communities, we used movement to express the many feelings that came with that session.
Using movement, dialogue, and food preparation to continue processing and expressing those emotions, we also switched to more hopeful present and vision for future. We each shared a picture of someone or something that inspires us or brings us joy. We then did a silent “street walk” to recognize the freedom fighters on the walls that have and continue to support collective liberation. Learning more about freedom fighters that came before us and recognizing that we too are freedom fighters of today was an important way to recognize my own individual power and the collective power we as group hold. After this activity, we created a “Power Tag” in which youth tagged up the word POWER using ways they see themselves and others fighting back against systemic issues related to race/racism like white supremacy, capitalism, heteronormativity, and misogyny. This was a very powerful activity for me.
On Day 3, youth got to visit All Peoples’ Community Center and got to explore the Community Garden and upcoming Community Farm. Unfortunately I was sick and had to head home after the morning, but during our time there, all of us created liberation bracelets to wear and remember whatever feelings, people, and ideas that support us. Youth took part in ice breakers and a experiential activity to recognize our own power and the power of organizing together. With the support of AFSC colleague Crystal, we created a definition of power and identified ways that power plays out in our lives.
After that session, youth prepared delicious veggie tostadas with shredded carrots and beets with lemon and salt, black beans, chopped lettuce, hot tomato salsa, guacamole, and queso fresco. I had to head out before eating these tostadas (which I heard were delicious!). Then, youth headed back to the office for final reflection, gratitude circle, created their own tea blends to take home. During this final day of Freedom School, youth also exchanged contacts and signed up to take action and volunteer at the Kermes fundraiser for the new community farm in South Los Angeles!
This Winter Freedom School was something I didn’t expect, but it was one of the most beautiful gifts I’ve received so far. Through this facilitation opportunity, I learned so much and got to work with an amazing group of youth. Before this training, I thought I was already a well-rounded community organizer, but as I did some activities with the youth I unraveled a lot about myself. I realized there are many things I had not let go of or healed from, but this space was allowing to do so. There was an activity called to “To All my Peoples” in which one person ends up in the middle of the circle after trying to find a seat in the circle. Each new phase of the game gets a little deeper than the last one, and I remember sharing something that made one youth feel strong enough to also share. Having her share this with me helped me recognize that I am resilient and can heal from past experiences.
Our discussions made me recognize how grateful I am for life because I discovered how the simple things have so much beauty within, but sometimes I forget to notice these because of materialistic world we live in. I was eager to join Roots for Peace program as a participant, and as an intern, I know I came in with good foundation of understanding but Freedom School 2018 has continued to make me question more and has motivated me to read and continue to research to be more informed, aware, and continue growing.