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In Their Words: Success Stories


Servant Leader Interns

Josh Igbinazaka, Servant Leader Intern

Josh Headshot 1

‘Freedom School made me more selfless’

Home: Charlotte, NC

Background: A Business and Finance major at UNC Charlotte, Josh is something of an entrepreneur, wanting to open his own business, maybe start a school. But after serving last summer at Freedom School, Josh wants to give back to the community, perhaps teach, and help students learn what they need to thrive in the real world. “Like approval rates or credit card utilization,” he says, “the stuff you wished you would have learned.”

Josh’s Story: Here he was teaching his scholars and it was Coach Josh, as his kids called him, who learned the most important life lesson of all: “Freedom School made me more selfless. Looking out for everybody’s best interest instead of just my own. How can I move the community forward instead of just advancing myself?” He thinks of the girl in his class who hesitated at first to read aloud to the class, until he convinced her that we’re in this together, to learn and grow as one. “I let her know we’re a community, and we’re all here to help her.” From that first intimidating day – “One of my students had a nose bleed. I said, ‘Oh Lord!’” – to the last, Coach Josh devoted his summer to teaching his students to take charge of their own lives. To resist the temptation to be a follower. To know that they aren’t walking this path to a full and meaningful life alone. Freedom School walks with them.

A Final Thought: ‘I hope I was stern but fair but fun at the same time. I hope they realize what I was doing, and that I gave them insight into the real world.”

Merritt Lemmon, Servant Leader Intern

Merritt Lemmon Headshot 2

‘There are people who believe in them’

Home: Westminster, S.C., though she moved around a lot growing up because of her father’s job in the medical field.

Background: An Elementary Education major at Winthrop University in Rock Hill, S.C., her goal is to teach – first in a low-income school, work her way up to high school, then perhaps teach overseas one day. Wherever she goes, she says, “My heart will lead me.” This will be her second summer teaching with Freedom School.

Merritt’s Story: Working with Level One children (Grades K-2) last summer stirred in her a commitment that will shape her career and her life: Every child, she believes, deserves a good education, and a chance to succeed no matter the adversity they will inevitably face. “I was thankful for the good days and the bad days. I want the kids to know I won’t give up on them, and that there are people who believe in them.” She loves everything about Freedom School: The morning energy unleashed at the Harambee pep rally; the diversity of her young scholars; introducing them to the joy of writing by keeping a journal; helping them see the fun in reading and school work; coming to understand that every child needs encouragement every now and then. Then there’s the thrill of field trips, afternoon fun and games, and all those hugs, smiles and “I love you’s.”

A Final Thought: “I had one student who didn’t think she could do something, and when she did it and did a good job, it was so awesome seeing her face light up when she realized she could do it.”


Sarah Aldridge, Servant Leader Intern

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‘Make the world a better place’

Home: Concord, NC

Background: A student at Appalachian State University in Boone, Sarah chose to major in Political Science because she believes it gives her the best chance to achieve her goal: Reforming education, so that every child can reach their potential no matter their color, class or culture. The 2016 Freedom School will be her second as a Servant Leader Intern.

Sarah’s Story: No one ever said changing the world, one scholar at a time, was going to be easy. Last summer, in her first days at Freedom School, Sarah cried at home and on the job, so daunting was the work of instilling in her scholars a love of learning. There was the added challenge of being the only white person in the classroom. “When we were talking about white supremacy,” Sarah says, “students asked me, ‘Do you hate us?’” But as the days passed, the trust between Sarah and the children deepened, and together they learned. Rather than Sarah having to read to them, the children clamored to read aloud to one another. By summer’s end, they were writing rap songs about Freedom School activities, and about their dreams of going to college. If those first days were filled with tears of frustration, the last day was filled with tears of gratitude. The scholars put Hershey Kisses (Sarah’s  favorite candy) on a chair in the middle of the room, then went around the room, each scholar sharing something they loved about her.

A Final Thought: “I’m always thinking about how I can make the world a better place for my scholars.”


Deanthia Powell, Servant Leader Intern

Deanthia Headshot‘They can do anything’

Home: Charlotte, NC

Background: A student at UNC-Greensboro, Deanthia was thinking about changing her major to something other than Education – until her first summer at Freedom School. Now she’s majoring in Elementary Education, and will spend this coming summer working again at Freedom School.  After that? “I’d love to teach in Title I schools. The students have a lot of extra personality that makes my day happy.”

Deanthia’s Story: Her heart goes out to all children, especially those whose culture and color can present an added challenge. Deanthia loves teaching students about Freedom School’s connection to the Civil Rights Era, and the continuing quest to insure equal opportunity for all. When Hispanic children in her class wanted to change how their name is pronounced to make it easier on Anglos, she encouraged them to be who they are. To say aloud their name the way it was intended. “I would always compliment their cultural beauty and try to help them understand that they are always learning and growing, even if it’s at different rates.” As the summer unfolded, “The overall community of the classroom grew stronger. They all began to feel like they were part of something.”

A Final Thought: “Normal school systems are way different than the way Freedom School does things. We give kids the expectation they can do anything, and that they are responsible for their own success.”