Dr. Adren Wilson’s CDF Freedom Schools Story
Harambee and the other activities of CDF Freedom Schools® are designed to engage the K-12 scholars enrolled in the program. But when Dr. Adren Wilson, who currently serves as the Deputy Chief of Staff in the office of Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards, was working to convince Louisiana legislators to adopt CDF Freedom Schools, he harnessed the transformative power of storytelling and Harambee.
Dr. Adren Wilson began working for Children’s Defense Fund in 1999 as part of a youth leadership development initiative. In the early 2000s, Dr. Wilson took over as the acting director of the CDF Freedom Schools program and saw firsthand the impact the program could have.
“There’s nothing more powerful than to go into a space where all the messages and all the interactions are based on love of reading and lifting up what it means to be a beautiful, talented human being,” said Dr. Wilson.
After leaving CDF, Dr. Wilson served as Assistant Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Social Services. He knew that a core strategy of Governor Kathleen Blanco’s solutions to poverty work needed to be CDF Freedom Schools. He had witnessed firsthand as a staffer for CDF how communities are forever changed by hosting a CDF Freedom School. The process of showing policymakers the work of CDF Freedom Schools, in addition to telling them about the program’s impact, encouraged lawmakers to invest $3 million to bring 40 CDF Freedom Schools sites to Louisiana.
Dr. Wilson knew CDF Freedom Schools could bridge not only the achievement gap, but the “belief gap” for every Louisiana child. In the context of CDF Freedom Schools, the “belief gap” is the idea that students, especially students of color, are not exposed to literature written by African and African Americans that fully represents their reality and full potential. Having grown up in extreme poverty in rural Louisiana with a single mother and four younger sisters, with no running water or indoor plumbing in the home, and going days and nights without food, Dr. Wilson understood the importance of the hope and opportunity a quality education affords every child. He was forever shaped by his journey that began in rural Louisiana, and will be forever grateful for his mother, teachers and mentors who dreamed for him until he could dream for himself. The CDF Freedom Schools program empowers countless dreamers and dreams through reading about rich and complex characters of color.
“I don’t care how old or how young you are, when you witness CDF Freedom Schools up close and personal you are forever changed,” said Dr. Wilson. “A community is forever changed.”