Children’s Defense Fund and Illinois General Assembly members discuss Freedom Schools for Chicago youth

By Chicago 5 Min Read

Photo caption: Children’s Defense Fund Freedom Schools – Washington, D.C. (credit: Children’s Defense Fund)

On Friday, October 6, 2023, Children’s Defense Fund leaders joined Illinois General Assembly members and educational professionals to discuss how Illinois’ Freedom Schools have become a national model for learning.


In 2022, the Illinois State Board of Education (ISBE) announced a $17 million grant, championed by Illinois Senate Majority Leader Kimberly A. Lightford (D-Maywood), to create the nation’s first state-funded Freedom Schools network. The Philip Jackson Freedom Schools Grant, which is available to public schools, universities, and community colleges, as well as not-for-profit entities, is meant to supplement public school learning by creating programs that improve outcomes for disadvantaged children and youth. The Illinois General Assembly passed funding for the grant in a revolutionary omnibus education and workforce bill, in response to the murder of George Floyd and the racial justice uprising in the summer of 2020. It was introduced to advance racial equity in Illinois.

The grants are distributed in alignment with the practices of the Freedom School model established during the 1960s Civil Rights Movement to expand the teaching of African American history. Many of its recipients are entities that work with Children’s Defense Fund, per an Illinois General Assembly statute. For 30 years, CDF Freedom Schools® have offered disadvantaged students across America opportunities to participate in civic engagement, literacy programs, and intergenerational leadership that cultivate their confidence, critical thinking, and social and emotional development.

During Friday’s event, organizers will provide testimony explaining how the Philip A. Jackson Freedom School Grant has not only strengthened the state of Illinois but influenced the establishment of Freedom Schools across the country. Participants will also discuss how to fund Freedom Schools beyond the Philip A. Jackson Freedom Schools Grant.


Former Chicago resident Dr. Kristal Moore Clemons serves as the National Director of CDF Freedom Schools®. She recently shared with the Chicago Tribune how CDF Freedom Schools® program leadership development model positively impacted her during her junior year at DePaul University.

“They realized if they could crack the inequality in the Mississippi school system, they could bring the program to the rest of the South, keeping children engaged in learning, and building up the next generation of leaders and voters,” Dr. Clemons said. “They were investing in me. I had a chance to meet Alice Walker, Marian Wright Edelman, and all of these Civil Rights icons. It was truly transformative for me and changed my life.”

Sen. Lightford said she would like to see even more Freedom Schools be set up in Chicagoland and Illinois to ensure Black students receive a quality education across the state.

“Freedom Schools have a proud history and major significance for minority and disadvantaged communities,” Lightford said. “These schools represent a long tradition of engaged citizenship, personal empowerment, and academic excellence. I am proud that Illinois is a national leader for representation with the creation of the first state-funded Freedom Schools.”

WHEN:    Friday, October 13

                    9 a.m.-3:00 p.m.

WHERE:   St. Mark United Methodist Church

8441 S. St. Lawrence Avenue

                    Chicago, Illinois 60619


Dr. Kristal Moore Clemons, National Director of CDF Freedom Schools®

Rev. Rachel Birkhahn-Rommelfanger, CDF Senior Partnerships Associate for Faith Communities

Illinois Senate Majority Leader Kimberly A. Lightford

Dr. Jon Hale Associate Professor, Education Policy, Organization and Leadership, University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign

Event participants will be made available to journalists for interview.




About Children’s Defense Fund

Celebrating 50 years in 2023, Children’s Defense Fund envisions a nation where marginalized children flourish, leaders prioritize their well-being, and communities wield the power to ensure they thrive. The only national, multi-issue advocacy organization working at the intersection of child well-being and racial justice, CDF advances the well-being of America’s most diverse generation, the 74 million children and youth under the age of 18 and 30 million young adults under the age of 25. CDF’s grassroots movements in marginalized communities build power for child-centered public policy, informed by racial equity and the lived experience of children and youth. Its renowned CDF Freedom Schools® program is conducted in nearly 100 cities across 30 states and territories. Learn more at

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