No wedding gifts, just cash please for Freedom School

Most young couples think about having children after they get married, but how many put the welfare of other people’s children ahead of receiving wedding gifts?

I mean, really, WEDDING GIFTS!

Weddings are right up there as the best time in your life to get presents from everyone you (or your mom or dad) met. The third cousin of your father’s first wife’s sister will probably at least give you a crystal pickle bowl.

But when Eric Brown,31, and Brittney Jackson, 27, married May 23 they got just what they wanted—donations to fund summer literacy programs for Nashville’s public school children.

WHAT ARE FREEDOM SCHOOLS?

Freedom Schools is a nationwide summer program for children in grades K-8. It is underway now and runs until July 24.

Marian Wright Edelman, founder of the Children’s Defense Fund, started Freedom Schools as a way to stop the summer learning loss that affects many children in public schools. The program is named for the 1964 Freedom Summer led by student demonstrators during the Civil Rights Movement.

“Even Mrs. Marian Wright Edelman gave a $1000 check (to their wedding fund),” Brown said. “I'm appreciative to even have my boss give to what she has believed in for over 40 years. She didn't have to do that. She's been doing it forever, but she is appreciative of our love for one another and the mission of Freedom Schools.”

For more information on how to donate or volunteer contact Garlinda Burton, director of Nashville Freedom Schools at 615-497-1398 or garlindabee@gmail.com; or Eric Brown at 615-997-4057, ebrown@childrendefense org.

Find information on the national Freedom School

Brown, lead organizer for the Nashville office of the national advocacy agency, Children’s Defense Fund, and Jackson, a graduate student of Peabody College and Divinity School at Vanderbilt University, share a deep love and concern for giving every child an equal chance for quality education.

So instead of toasters and towels, they asked for donations to Nashville’s Freedom Schools. The $7,000 they raised will be used to help fund free six-week summer programs for children in grades K-8. All three Nashville locations—Buena Vista Elementary School, Clark Memorial United Methodist Church and Gordon Memorial United Methodist Church—are in the couple’s North Nashville neighborhood.

Eric, also assistant to the pastor of Jefferson Street Missionary Baptist Church, said his work for the Children’s Defense Fund deals a lot with the “cradle to prison” phenomenon that pushes one out of every three black boys and one of every six Latino boys out of school and into prison.

A question that drives Brown: If we are all made in God’s image why do some people feel like outcasts?

“My passion is for community to be community. The best way for that is for all of us to gather around children so they have a successful passage into adulthood,” Brown said.

Inequities in education

Jackson spent this year tutoring fourth graders in a number of Metro Nashville schools.

“I witnessed firsthand the inequities that exist between school resources and environments that Nashville children experience on a daily basis. To me, Freedom Schools provide the safe space needed for children to explore themselves and build self-confidence. It gives them a chance to just be kids and to become empowered to use their own voices for change,” she said.

Even though the couple didn’t reach their goal of raising $25,000, both agreed they met their goal of raising awareness for Freedom Schools. 

“Eric and I talked a lot about the spotlight that was being shined on us and our wedding. We realized there was a window where we could bring others into that light with us rather than standing alone. Leading up to our wedding, I heard plenty of congratulations along with how great our cause was. With all of the love being poured into us it was easy to give back to a very special group of people who need it most—our children.”

Brown said he enjoys being a part of a church that looks for ways to build better communities.

“I hope to one day start a social enterprise that will help build a stronger North Nashville community so people are no longer afraid of those who live around them, but see them as a neighbor,” Brown said.

“Our home is located in North Nashville, a community that has suffered from a lack of economic development and neglect,” Jackson said. “This community is important to Eric as a native son, and as my adopted home, as we seek to bring about change and realize our dreams of building an empowered, self-sustaining community that supports and loves its neighbors.”

Gilbert is a multimedia reporter for United Methodist News Service. Contact her at (615)742-5471 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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