Freedom Classroom 101 black studies series launched at Timmons Hall


On Wednesday, the Springfield-Greene County Park Board announced a new series of Black Studies workshops for local teachers. The sessions, funded by a grant from the Community Foundation of the Ozarks Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Fund, begin next month and run through June.

Dubbed “Freedom Classroom 101,” the series “aims to equip teachers to research, rethink and reimagine the way they teach African American studies,” the park board said Wednesday. It begins with a presentation by Akbar Cook Sr. at 2:30 p.m. Feb. 4 at Timmons Hall in Silver Springs Park.

Cook is principal of West End High School in Newark, New Jersey. He became known for creating the Light’s On program, the park board said. It offers students a safe place to spend Friday evenings: students have the opportunity to eat, play video games and basketball, do laundry, have help with homework and participate in other school activities until 11:00 p.m.

Akbar Cook Sr.

Cook has not lost a student to gun violence since Light’s On began, according to a park board press release, and daily attendance is up at West End High. In 2020, Oprah Winfrey surprised Cook with a $500,000 donation to the school. Cook has appeared on “Ellen” and “CBS This Morning” and has been featured on CNN and The Grio, an American media and black-focused digital television channel.

The park’s board said in-person registration for the first “Freedom Classroom 101” event is complete, but Cook’s presentation will be streamed live. on the City of Springfield’s Facebook page and on The park board is encouraging online viewers to organize watch parties and hopes to raise 30 registered watch party coordinators. Interested individuals can sign up for watch parties by emailing facility coordinator Christine Peoples at [email protected]

Three other sessions are planned:

Saturday February 26, 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m. — Artistic immersion, with Kendra Chappellauthor, educator, advisor, and writer-director of “The Milly Project,” a play and film exploring the story of Milly Sawyers, a slave who won her freedom in Greene County court in 1834. Chappell’s workshop is intended to equip educators to deal with hard stories, empathy, resilience and value, through movement and creation.

Following:The Untold Story of Milly Sawyers, a Free Black Woman

Saturday April 23, 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m. Meet n’ Greet Spotlight – Just Be Present, starring Mark Simmonds, Springfield Option Site Program Coordinator for Springfield Public Schools; and Culturally Sensitive Literature, with Dr. Sabrina A. Brinsonauthor, activist, diversity consultant, professor of childhood education and family studies at Missouri State University, and founder of the Boys Booked on Barbershops and Girls Booked on Beautyshops literacy programs.

Saturday, June 11, 10:30 a.m.-2 p.m. — The Equity Lens Model, with Taj SuleymanDirector of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, City of Springfield.

Volunteers wait outside Timmons Hall on Sunday June 27, 2021.

Following:Springfield’s Diversity Manager Presents Equity and Inclusion Plans to City Council

Admission to the series is $30 and includes all three workshop dates and lunch. Registration is compulsory and the number of places is limited. To register for programs, contact Christine Peoples, Timmons Hall Coordinator, at 417-864-1046.

Timmons Room served Springfield’s black community as a church building for over 80 years before its congregation outgrew the building and moved. It reopened to the public in 2019 after moving to Silver Springs Park in 2015 and years of restoration work, as the News-Leader reported earlier.

The former church was built in 1932 at the corner of Webster Street and Texas Avenue and now serves as an events center providing historical, cultural and educational opportunities, owned and operated by the Park Board.


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