Over the years, our firm has had the honor of getting to know many working families and communities from all over the Gulf Coast. Those relationships have connected us with organizations doing incredible work in those communities. One of the best groups is the Sunflower County Freedom Project.
Attorneys Jason Itkin and Kurt Arnold were first introduced to the Sunflower County Freedom Project more than 10 years ago. The SCFP had organized a trip for its kids, many of whom had never left the Mississippi Delta before. The organization’s heart, its vision, and its kids left a deep impression on us.
We ended up staying in touch with one of the students who eventually worked for our firm. We watched with great pride and admiration as he graduated college and took a job helping underserved kids. He’s just one of many SCFP alumnus who have gone on to successful academic and professional careers.
Over the years, we have been proud to support the work of SCFP. More recently, we made a significant donation to help the SCFP continue to enrich the lives of children throughout the Delta. Today’s blog is dedicated to sharing with our readers the life-altering work of the SCFP and why we support their work.
Founded on Education & Love
Chris Myers Asch, Shawn Raymond, and Gregg Costa hatched the idea of the SCFP while they were doing Teach for America in the Mississippi Delta. Sunflower County is one of the most economically challenged counties in the entire United States. Despite economic inequalities, the people of Sunflower County have long proud history of fighting racism and injustice. The spirit of civic leadership and community has endured, no matter how tough things have gotten.
The founders of the SCFP wanted to create something permanent to help the children in Sunflower County. . So, they founded the Sunflower County Freedom Project as a summer program. Over time, the SCFP grew into a year-round fellowship that offers “intensive academic enrichment, mentoring, educational travel, physical education, drama performances, and art classes.”
Enriching the Mississippi Delta by Growing Leaders
It is difficult to overstate the game-changing nature of the SCFP’s work. The program is not just committed to creating good students, but something even rarer: good leaders, leaders of genuine character and compassion. All kids and parents in the program must sign a contract to “Lead Through Love, Action, Education, and Discipline.” The SCFP centers academic enrichment in its work—believing that education is key to lifelong success and growth. Aside from mentoring and academic support, the SCFP also organizes and pays for travel to enrich their students’ lives. These trips allow the students to expose themselves to other cities, experiences, and cultures.
Today, the Sunflower County Freedom Project offers three types of fellowships:
- The Lead Fellowship for 7th and 8th graders
- The Lead Collegiate Fellowship for high schoolers
- The SCFP Alumni Success College Program for students in college or licensure program
Most 7th-9th grade students begin their fellowship in the SCFP with Freedom Summer, an intensive five-week program that trains students in reading, math, rhetoric, art, and physical fitness. The program concludes with camping trips to civil rights sites and a week-long trip to the University of Mississippi to immerse students into college life.
Students in 10th-12th grade spend Freedom Summer taking college-bridge courses taught by college professors to prepare them for college academics. These classes earn them college credits in subjects like sociology, logic, computer science, and more. Older students take trips to the East Coast to visit new cities and college while attending rigorous summer programs.
“Education Is the Seed of Freedom”
Sunflower County students face an enormous gap in educational resources compared to students nationwide. 41% of students in the county don’t earn a high school diploma. The average ACT score is 25% lower than the national average, and less than half of high school students pass the English II test, which allows students to graduate.
Once the school year begins, SCFP fellows spend four nights a week getting help with homework, completing projects, and studying for tests. Tuesday nights feature a reading/writing course that exposes students to novels and articles that build a stronger sense of identity and freedom. On Saturdays, high school fellows prepare for the ACT.The Sunflower County Freedom Project was built to tackle a specific, vital need, but it’s also doing something else: it’s proving to the rest of the country that Sunflower County students are as capable, talented, and worthy of accomplishment as any other student nationwide. Our firm is proud to support this incredible organization, and we look forward to seeing their work grow and deepen its roots into the Mississippi Delta community.