Crowds gather to raise money for Black-centered school in Burlington

Published: Sep. 17, 2023 at 9:57 PM EDT
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BURLINGTON, Vt. (WCAX) - Crowds gathered at Burlington’s Leddy Park on Sunday to raise money to open a Black-centered school in the city.

Noa Isabella grew up as the only student of color in their school.

“I experienced what it felt like as a kid to grow up and not have any mirrors or camaraderie or even solidarity at all,” Freedom Finders Educator Noa Isabella said.

This fall, they’ll be teaching in a program designed exclusively for Black students.

The program was created by The Freedom Finders Collective, a Burlington-based group dedicated to forming racially sensitive learning opportunities for children of color.

People gathered at Leddy Park Sunday for the Freedom Finder Music Festival to raise money for the program.

“Hearing some great music, connecting with other two-year-old friends and supporting a great cause,” Sarah Caliendo of Burlington said.

Freedom Finders staff, many of whom are parents, were inspired to create the program after noticing a gap in how Vermont schools teach about race and support students of color.

“We decided to step into that space and try to close those gaps,” Freedom Finders co-founder Infinite Culcleasure said.

Starting in October, nine preschool and elementary-age students of color from local school districts will spend one day each week with Freedom Finder educators. Staff worked with school districts to ensure students don’t fall behind in the mainstream curriculum.

Lessons will focus on community-building, literacy skills and racial justice.

“Learning about the history of liberation, learning how to organize as kids and also what it means to engage in restorative justice,” Isabella said.

Freedom Finders hopes the program will help students of color thrive in a safe space.

“From zero, from childhood, practicing and embodying antiracism, I think, gives them the tools to make sense out of the world,” Culcleasure said.

With proper funding, Freedom Finders aims to expand the program to educate more students of a wider age range. In the meantime, anyone interested in engaging in their work can attend biweekly community dinners starting this fall.