Freedom University Premieres Short Film

In this short 4-minute film, undocumented students invite us into their lives and into the underground classrooms of Freedom University. We hope you enjoy this special short film our students created in order to thank our supporters around the world and reach other undocumented youth in Georgia.

A sincere thank you to the good folks at Steer Films for their generosity in producing this film in a true spirit of collaboration with undocumented students at Freedom University.

Film produced by Steer / Steerforward.com, featuring Freedom University staff and students.

Opening mural by Yehimi Cambrón.

Butterfly wing protest art design by Laura Emiko Soltis.

Laura Soltis
Students Join in Solidarity with the Farmworkers of the CIW

This past week, Freedom University welcomed the farmworkers of the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) to Atlanta as part of their 4 for Fair Food National Tour!

In Freedom University’s Human Rights and Legal Studies class, students read “Golpear a Uno Es Golpear a Todos!” (To Beat One of Us is to Beat All of Us), an essay about the Coalition of Immokalee Workers’ human rights strategies and the development of its revolutionary Fair Food Program. So students were thrilled to welcome the CIW to Atlanta on Monday, March 11 as the farmworkers made their way across the country on the group’s consciousness-raising tour to bring light to its boycott against Wendy’s. First, Freedom University staff and students gave the farmworkers a tour of the Center for Civil and Human Rights, and helped guide the farmworkers through the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. papers, the history of Atlanta’s participation in the U.S. Civil Rights Movement, and global perspectives of human rights around the world. Later in the evening, Freedom University helped organize and host a lively picket at the Wendy’s restaurant in downtown Atlanta, to help put pressure on Wendy’s to sign the CIW’s award-winning Fair Food Program, which helps ensure fair wages and human rights standards in Florida’s tomato industry.

On Thursday, March 14, Director Emiko Soltis and the students of Freedom University’s son jarocho music class woke up at 4am and drove down to Gainesville, Florida, to reunite with music professor Pedro Lopez and join the CIW at the University of Florida for the final action of the tour! Organized as Freedom University’s Mexican son jarocho music ensemble, Son de Sueños, the group made its musical debut at the kickoff to the march! Son de Sueños was so popular, they were invited to perform again at the end of the march at the University of Florida Administration Building, and again at the closing dinner of the tour. Students were inspired by the example and message of the CIW, a coalition of immigrant farmworkers that has led one of the most powerful human rights movements of this generation, and were honored to carry on the legacy of son jarocho in the farmworker movement. In performing sones such as La Bamba, Colás, and El Butaquito, the students of Son de Sueños were partaking in CIW’s beautiful celebratory tradition, which is perhaps the magic behind their victories: by performing the world they want over and over again, it eventually comes into being. CIW celebrates their victories before they win, because the farmworkers know that Wendy’s will eventually sign the Fair Food Agreement, just as Taco Bell, McDonald’s, Burger King, and 12 other major food corporations have already done. Wendy’s don’t know it yet.

And this is perhaps the greatest lesson the students learned: by going to school in defiance of Georgia’s segregationist policies, they are already creating the better world they know is possible. Undocumented students have already won, and they know that all young people will soon have equal access to all public universities in Georgia. The Georgia Board of Regents just doesn’t know it yet.

¡Que vivan los trabajadores! ¡Que vivan los estudiantes!

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Laura Soltis
Freedom University Honored by Atlanta City Council!

On March 4, 2019, the Atlanta City Council announced a formal proclamation to honor Freedom University for its contribution to education and civic engagement in the City of Atlanta. The proclamation was presented by Atlanta City Councilman Amir R. Farokhi, and is the first proclamation to honor undocumented youth in the Council’s history.

Freedom University is an award-winning human rights organization and freedom school for undocumented students in Atlanta. Freedom University provides undocumented students tuition-free college level classes, college application and scholarship assistance, and social movement leadership training in the Kingian tradition of nonviolent civil disobedience. Freedom University has been instrumental in creating fair admissions policies in private universities across the country and shaping the national conversation on undocumented access to higher education.

Accepting the Atlanta City Hall proclamation on behalf of Freedom University was Charles A. Black, Chair of the Board; Jose V., Undocumented Student Leader; Liliana A., Undocumented Student Leader; and Dr. Laura Emiko Soltis, Executive Director.

In addition to serving as the chair of Freedom University’s Board of Advisors, Charles A. Black also notably served as the Chairman of the Atlanta Student Movement from 1961-1962, and led lunch counter sit-ins that helped desegregate City Hall in 1961. In reflecting upon his role as student leader in Atlanta’s Black Freedom Movement and his role as a mentor to undocumented youth today, Charles said, “Segregation in Georgia’s public universities was wrong in 1960 and it is wrong today. Undocumented youth are human beings and they have a human right to education.”

Freedom University student Jose continued, saying, "Many people may not recognize the positive role undocumented immigrants have played in Atlanta’s history. For many of us on stage, our fathers moved to Atlanta to help build the roads and buildings to prepare this city for the 1996 Olympics. Many of us came here to reunite with our families in the years following 1996. And it is no coincidence that when we, as the children of the workers who built this city, reached college age, that these bans were passed."

Liliana, an undocumented student at Freedom University, addressed the audience at the City Council Chamber. “It’s an honor to be here and to be sharing this moment with all of you. It’s beautiful to see that the City of Atlanta acknowledges an organization like Freedom University for its role in fulfilling the human right to education for undocumented young people like me. And it is promising to see the City of Atlanta taking steps to truly fulfill its mission to be an international, welcoming city for all people… Freedom University has become a second home to me. There’s so much support and love in the classrooms, that I never want our time together to end. From carpooling, to singing in Son Jarocho rehearsals, to laughing together playing undocumented jeopardy in our Human Rights class - Freedom University not only keeps me busy in my journey toward higher education, it also makes me so happy. I’m filled with love and motivation for my classmates and for this movement. I want to thank our volunteer professors who take time out of their busy lives to share their knowledge with us. Thank you for believing in us and in our dreams.”

Dr. Laura Emiko Soltis, who serves as the Executive Director and Professor of Human Rights at Freedom University, thanked the City Council for recognizing the contributions of undocumented youth. “I am one of the few educators in the world who teaches in a classroom where every student is undocumented. And it is by far the greatest honor of my life… As a teacher at Freedom University, I have learned much more from my students than they have learned from me. My students have taught me about the importance of laughter and courage amidst uncertainty and fear. They have taught me about the value of chosen family, of finding kinship with people different from ourselves. But most importantly, they are teaching us all about the true meaning of citizenship. Citizenship is much more than paying taxes, which they do. Citizenship is much more than being born within the confines of arbitrary borders traced along stolen land. True citizenship is about defending the human rights and dignity of all people… Thank you for recognizing the work of Freedom University and for allowing young people to teach us and light the path toward freedom.”

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Laura Soltis
Comedian Jordan Klepper and Eight Community Members Arrested at Georgia Board of Regents

At approximately 10:15 am on Tuesday, February 12, nine community leaders - including four clergy members - disrupted a Georgia Board of Regents’ public meeting in support of undocumented students banned from public universities in Georgia.

Following the opening invocation at the Board of Regents meeting, nine individuals stood up to continue the prayer in an act of nonviolent civil disobedience. Participants included clergy members Rev. Matthew Laney, Rev. Federico Apecena, Rev. Jonathan Rogers, and Rev. Dave Dunn. Community members included Freedom University faculty members Dr. Cindy Lutenbacher, Dr. Laura Emiko Soltis, and Professor Charmaine Minniefield, and Greg Ames of the Housing Justice League. Also arrested was comedian and political satirist Jordan Klepper, who was covering the event.


Ten undocumented student leaders were also present at the meeting, identifying themselves by wearing handmade monarch butterfly wings to symbolize their identity as migrants. Faith leaders prayed that the Board of Regents would “love thy neighbor” and “welcome the stranger” by respecting the human rights and dignity of undocumented youth and repealing the state’s policies banning undocumented students from equal access to public higher education. Reverend Matt Laney, Senior Pastor at Virginia-Highland Church, began the disruption in prayer, stating, “God of all people, the State of Georgia has overcome segregation in education before, and we call upon your presence and power to move the conscience of our state to end segregation in education again today,” Georgia Capitol police arrested all nine individuals, and transported them to Fulton County Jail.


The direct action was coordinated by Freedom University, an award-winning human rights organization and freedom school for undocumented students in Atlanta. Freedom University provides undocumented students tuition-free college level classes, college application and scholarship assistance, and social movement leadership training in the Kingian tradition of nonviolent civil disobedience. Freedom University has been instrumental in creating fair admissions policies in private universities across the country and shaping the national conversation on undocumented access to higher education.


Georgia is widely recognized for having the most punitive and discriminatory laws toward undocumented students in the country. In 2010, the Georgia Board of Regents passed Policy 4.1.6 and Policy 4.3.4, which ban undocumented students from admission to the state’s top five public universities and prohibit them from qualifying for in-state tuition. While 23 states grant undocumented students equal access to public universities with in-state tuition rates, Georgia is one of only three states in the country – including Alabama and South Carolina – to institute an admissions ban against undocumented students in public higher education. Georgia is the only state in the country to uphold restrictive admissions policies against students with Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA), a federal program that grants legal presence, protection from deportation, work permits, and driver’s licenses to certain undocumented youth. In November 2016, the Board of Regents removed Georgia State University and Augusta University from the five-college ban under Policy 4.1.6. In April 2017, Governor Deal signed HB 37, the “Anti-Sanctuary Campus” bill into law, making Georgia the first state to pass a law punishing private universities for protecting undocumented students. Georgia’s newly elected governor, Brian Kemp, ran his campaign on an anti-immigrant platform and was widely criticized for his campaign ad in which he stated: “I've got a big truck in case I need to round up criminal illegals and take them home myself.”


Dr. Laura Emiko Soltis, Executive Director of Freedom University, said she was participating as an alumna of the University System of Georgia and as a teacher. “The Board of Regents’ bans on undocumented students inflict irreparable harm on undocumented youth, violate international human rights, and usher in another era of educational segregation in the South. As an alumna of the University of Georgia, I am deeply ashamed by the Board of Regents. My education at UGA taught me to respect the human rights of all people, to use my knowledge in the service of others, and to stand up against injustice. For these reasons, I am committed to teaching undocumented students in the face of these bans, and I will continue to stand up and fight alongside them until the Board of Regents repeals Policy 4.1.6 and 4.3.4.”

Arizbeth Sanchez, a DACA recipient and staff member at Freedom University, expressed her gratitude for citizens who are willing to engage in nonviolent civil disobedience. “We are in a political climate where undocumented student activists are being targeted for arrest and deportation. As undocumented youth, we are risking everything to simply sit at the Board of Regents meeting. But we wanted to look at the Board members in the eye so they could see the human beings their discriminatory policies are harming. We are grateful for the faith leaders and community members who stood with us today to fight for undocumented students’ human right to education. They are embodying the idea of a beloved community and showing Georgia how to truly love one’s neighbor.”


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#FUGeorgia

#EducationNotDeportation

Twitter: @FU_Georgia

Facebook: “Freedom U. Georgia”

Website: www.freedom-university.org



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Laura Soltis
Son de Sueños: Freedom U's Son Jarocho Music Ensemble!

A message from our director, Laura Emiko Soltis: 

Last week on the first day of our Saturday Arts Classes, we welcomed Pedro Lopez, Freedom University's new Professor of Son Jarocho! Son jarocho is a music and cultural tradition from Veracruz, Mexico that combines three elements: 1) song - sung poetry of written and improvised verses; 2) instrumentation - Mexican stringed instruments including the jarana, requinto, and leona; and 3) dance - a rhythmic "zapateado" of punctuated heel taps on a raised wooden platform called a "tarima." Most importantly, son jarocho is centuries-old rural tradition from the eastern coastal state of Veracruz that combines African, Indigenous, and Spanish influences. Son jarocho has spread across borders and son groups have formed across the United States, and around the world. In the United States, son jarocho has taken on a powerful political significance, and is often played in marches advancing immigrant and workers' rights.

Long before my work with Freedom University, I was active in student/farmworker solidarity work with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers (CIW) in South Florida. It was at a march against Burger King in Miami, Florida in 2007 when I first encountered and was captivated by the musicians of Son del Centro, a youth son jarocho group from Santa Ana, California. I immediately fell in love with the music tradition and became quick friends of many of the jaraneras/os, including Pedro. Before long, I was studying son jarocho at El Cason in Veracruz and making annual visits with Son del Centro in California, and began my dissertation research on the music, cultural practices, and human rights strategies of the farmworker movement in the U.S. South. 

Like many ethnographers, my research transformed me. Long after my studies and my time in Immokalee, my friendships continued and so did my commitment to the farmworker movement. Pedro and I continued to see each other once a year for annual actions with the CIW, including week-long hunger strikes, national tours, and even a 200-mile march across Florida. At every action, the music and joy of son jarocho lifted the spirits of everyone - farmworkers, students, activists, religious leaders - and even bystanders. It was central to creating a sense of celebration in our movement, and declaring victory even before we won. The music helped us rehearse the world we were fighting for. 

Over the past six years I've worked at Freedom University, I would mention to Pedro from time to time how great it would be to introduce undocumented students in Georgia to son jarocho and incorporate music into our classes and movement culture. Finally, this October, I asked him: Would you, by any crazy chance, be willing to move to Atlanta to join Freedom University's faculty, and teach son jarocho at our Saturday arts classes? :)

Let's just say that last week, Pedro got in his pickup truck in California and drove 2,200+ miles to join us in Atlanta, Georgia. After picking up some jaranas from our friends in Nashville, he arrived for our first day of son jarocho class this morning. 

And it was magical.

In just the first two hours of class, Pedro was teaching students the verses of La bamba and Colás, the fundamental major chords of the jarana, and the basic steps of zapateado. Most importantly, students couldn't keep from smiling the entire time.

And with that, our group - Son de Sueños (Son of Dreams) - was born.

Since most of our jaranas are now on loan, we have placed an order for four jaranas to be built for us in Veracruz, Mexico. Can you support our music group, Son de sueños, and help us purchase jaranas today? 

Our goal is to raise $1,500 by the end of the week. Any amount will be deeply appreciated by all of us. We already have several performances planned, so we promise you will be hearing music from us soon <3

To donate, please visit: www.freedom-university.org/donate. Please mention "Son de Sueños" in the comment section.

Thank you so very much for your continued support of all of us at Freedom University, and for helping us cultivate joy in the lives of our students and renew their love of learning.

Sincerely and musically yours,
Emiko

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Laura Soltis
Freedom U + Artist Yehimi Cambrón in Off the Wall Mural Project!

Freedom University is thrilled to collaborate with artist Yehimi Cambrón Álvarez for her mural in the Off the Wall project!

We welcomed Yehimi to our classroom just two weeks ago to interview and take photographs of our students, and we are excited to see her creative genius translate into a beautiful mural that captures the power and dignity of undocumented youth in Georgia. 

We will post updates as Yehimi Cambron embarks on the installation process and brings the stories of undocumented immigrants to the streets of Atlanta!

#OffTheWallATL
#FUGeorgia
#UndocuArt

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Laura Soltis
Read Our Op-Ed in the Huffington Post!

Freedom University Executive Director, Dr. Laura Emiko Soltis, joined forces with immigrant detention expert Azadeh Shahshahani of Project South, to write this powerful Op-Ed in the Huffington Post "When Undocumented Youth Are Banned From College, The Entire Nation Fails."

Here are some highlights:

"Over the last 25 years, immigrants who helped the city of Atlanta prepare for the 1996 Centennial Olympic Games have made Georgia their home. Yet Georgia’s notorious late-night home raids, deadly immigrant detention facilities and high rate of deportations tears thousands of families apart every year.

Georgia’s targeting of undocumented immigrants reached fever pitch in 2010, when many of the 1990s childhood arrivals reached college age. That year, the Georgia Board of Regents passed two policies to ban undocumented students from enrolling in its top public universities and deny them the right to pay in-state tuition rates throughout the state. In doing so, Georgia became one of only three states in the country, along with South Carolina and Alabama, to implement an admissions ban against undocumented students in public higher education.

...

Georgia is missing out on $10 million in tax revenue per year by disqualifying academically eligible Georgians from in-state tuition rates. The Institute on Taxation and Economic Policy estimates that the 1.3 million young undocumented immigrants enrolled in or immediately eligible for DACA contribute an estimated $1.7 billion a year in state and local taxes nationally.

In Georgia alone, if DACA recipients were to lose their status, the state would lose an estimated $23.6 million in state and local taxes. To put this in perspective, $24 million in state coffers could pay for 310 new school buses or the salaries of 704 new public school teachers in Georgia, improving school safety and educational quality for everyone. Alternatively, if undocumented immigrants in Georgia were to receive legal status, they could contribute an additional $100 million in state and local taxes annually, which could cover the entire cost of Georgia’s 2019 budget line item to repair and replace bridges across the state.

...

States across the country can learn from the grievous mistakes of Georgia. Restricting undocumented student access to higher education harms all of us: It targets and punishes our youth, wastes taxpayers dollars and undermines our international credibility. Everyone benefits when the best minds and the most qualified students receive a college education."

Laura Soltis
Freedom University and Project South Release Report "A Dream Deferred"

Freedom University and Project South Release Report “A Dream Deferred: The Devastating Consequences of Restricting Undocumented Student Access to Higher Education in Georgia.”

 

A PDF copy of the report is available at https://freedom-university.org/facts-figures

 

Today, on the steps of the Georgia Board of Regents, undocumented student leaders, teachers, and community leaders held a press conference to mark the release of the report "A Dream Deferred." The 75-page report documents the consequences of Georgia Board of Regents’ Policy 4.1.6, which bans undocumented students from the top public universities in Georgia, and Policy 4.3.4, which bars undocumented students from in-state tuition rates. The report details how Georgia came to pass the harshest laws and policies toward undocumented immigrants in the country, and how Georgia’s restriction of undocumented student access to higher education 1) causes serious health problems and psychological trauma among undocumented youth, 2) harms all Georgians by weakening the state economy and sending its brightest students out of state, and 3) violates international human rights law.

 

Speakers included undocumented youth leaders Raymond Partolan, Arizbeth Sanchez, and Mamadou Diakite; Charles Black, civil rights veteran; Dr. Laura Emiko Soltis, Executive Director of Freedom University; and Azadeh Shahshahani, Legal and Advocacy Director of Project South.

 

Raymond Partolan, an immigration paralegal and DACA recipient originally from the Philippines, shared his experience growing up undocumented in Georgia. “Around the age of ten, the federal government denied my family’s application for a green card because my dad couldn’t pass one section of an English test that he took over and over. Our family was plunged into undocumented status. My family had to make a very difficult decision – do we stay or do we return to the Philippines? We decided to stay. Being undocumented for most of my life has been tough to say the least. The fact that Georgia has one of the most restrictive set of policies in regards to undocumented students having access to colleges and universities made it even worse. You see, growing up, my mom always instilled the value of education in me. She told me it was the only thing that no one could ever take away.”

 

"I was educated in Georgia, and I loved every single second that I sat in a classroom," said Arizbeth Sanchez, a Freedom University staff member. "I took nine Advanced Placement classes and graduated with honors with a 3.5 GPA. I studied French for seven years and discovered that learning new languages fulfills me. I am currently learning my fourth language, Korean, and will be pursuing Mandarin when I go to college. I love learning. So when I realized that I couldn't go to college in Georgia, I was crushed. How does stopping youth who actively want to pursue higher education help Georgia?"

 

Mamadou Diakite, a Freedom University student leader, arrived in the United States from Mali when he was 11 months old. “For the last seven years, I have worked in road construction, specializing in asphalt, concrete, and line striping: in other words, I have built the roads that make all other industries in Georgia possible. As black people, and as immigrants, our society labels us as criminals. This criminal status is meant to cause other people to fear us, to make us hate ourselves, and to justify our incarceration, our detention, and our exclusion. By calling us criminals, we are not meant to succeed in this world. But despite these barriers, we are persisting and we are succeeding. I am proof of this. Through the help of Freedom University, I was recently awarded a full scholarship to a college in Delaware and I will start my studies there in January to pursue my interest in sustainable urban agriculture.”

 

Dr. Laura Emiko Soltis, Executive Director of Freedom University and editor of the report, said, “As a teacher at Freedom University, I am one of the few teachers in the world who can say that every single one of my students is undocumented. As a teacher, I can tell you that undocumented young people are brilliant, they are bilingual, they are entrepreneurs, and they are funny, creative, generous, and kind. But as a result of Georgia’s discriminatory policies, they are also battling depression, they are overworked in low-wage jobs, and they are overwhelmed by uncertainty and fear. As a teacher, I am outraged by what I see and what this report also finds: that Georgia’s policies are harming our young people.”

 

She continued, “As a U.S. citizen and taxpayer, I am outraged that these policies are wasting our tax dollars and harming our economy. Undocumented students and their families are also taxpayers and contributed more than $352 million in state and local taxes in 2012 alone. They are, in effect, funding the universities they are not allowed to attend. By banning undocumented students from admission and in-state tuition rates in Georgia, the report details how we are failing to capitalize on our investment in undocumented students’ constitutionally mandated K-12 education, how we are missing out on $10 million in tax revenue per year, and how we are decreasing the number of highly educated people that we need in Georgia to fill jobs and pay higher taxes.”

 

Legal expert Azadeh Shahshahani detailed how Georgia Board of Regents’ Policy 4.1.6 and 4.3.4 violate international human rights law, including the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC) and Article 26 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

 

The speakers then articulated their demands: that the Georgia Board of Regents consider the negative consequences of restricting undocumented student access to higher education on both undocumented students and citizens alike, and vote to repeal Policy 4.1.6 and 4.3.4.

 

Charles Black, the former Chairman of the Atlanta Student Movement, closed the press conference with a powerful reading of the poem “Harlem” by Langston Hughes.

 

What happens to a dream deferred?

 

      Does it dry up

      like a raisin in the sun?

      Or fester like a sore—

      And then run?

      Does it stink like rotten meat?

      Or crust and sugar over—

      like a syrupy sweet?

 

      Maybe it just sags

      like a heavy load.

 

      Or does it explode?

 

 

 

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Laura Soltis
*URGENT DACA RENEWAL FUNDRAISER*

We need your help today.

Meet our student Gabriela and her son Miguel, the youngest member of our Freedom University family! Gabriela arrived in the United States when she was five years old, and attended K-12 in Georgia public schools. Gabriela is one of Georgia's 26,000 recipients of the Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) program. With this program, she has received a driver's license, a federal work permit, and a temporary reprieve from deportation. 

On September 5, 2017, the Trump Administration announced the termination of the DACA program. Several lawsuits were filed against the administration for terminating the program unlawfully. Two nationwide injunctions in New York and California have allowed DACA recipients to renew their status. However, there are still legal threats to the program, and it is anticipated that USCIS could be ordered to stop accepting renewal applications as early as August 8, 2018. 

This news has caused Gabriela, and DACA recipients like her across the country, to scramble to renew their DACA status. Freedom University has partnered with several community partners to host a DACA Renewal Clinic, and provide DACA recipients pro-bono legal services. The cost of each DACA Renewal Fee is $495. 

We need your help today to meet this urgent cost. 

Can you, your family, or a group of friends contribute $495 today? This donation will potentially help a Freedom University student leader like Gabriela gain two years of protection from deportation, authorization to work and drive in the United States, and help keep her family together. While DACA renewals are not a permanent solution, we will continue to fight for fair and comprehensive immigration reform with a pathway to citizenship for undocumented youth and their families. 

To donate today, please visit www.freedom-university.org/donate.

Emiko Gaby Miguel
Laura Soltis
Freedom University Publishes Infographic!

Did you know that 1 in 13 children in Georgia live with at least one undocumented family member?

Did you know that DACA students in Georgia contributed $72 million in state and local taxes in 2016, but are banned from attending the state's top public universities that their taxes fund?

Learn more about Georgia's immigrant community with Freedom University's infographic on immigration statistics in the state - and be sure to share it widely!

Laura Soltis
Brotherly Love
 

At Freedom University, we often highlight the importance of women in movements and in our organization. Freedom University was founded largely by women, 75% of our students are women, and the majority of our staff, faculty, and volunteers are women. 

However, the men of Freedom University are pretty dope too. We create a learning environment in which we welcome and nourish the development of everyone's full human potential and personality, free of homophobia, transphobia, and all other fears based on difference. Men are encouraged to respect and trust women, unlearn patriarchy, and open themselves emotionally to the world in order to take on equal emotional labor in all of their relationships. And our male teachers take their responsibility as mentors and role models seriously: as sons, brothers, husbands, partners, fathers, and educators. Yesterday, for example, Professor James taught an entire College Prep class on careers in the Biomedical Sciences with his 8-month old infant in his arms. 

Gender equity is not only about lifting up women. It is also about liberating men from narrow and oppressive gender roles, and allowing them to know and express their full selves. 

This is what freedom looks like at Freedom University.

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Laura Soltis
"Off the Wall" and the Freedom University Mural Project
 

This week, Freedom University joined Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, WonderRoot, and the NFL Atlanta Host Committee in the launch of "Off the Wall," a community-based social justice mural project that will unveil more than 30 murals in conjunction with Atlanta's hosting of the 2019 Superbowl. 

Meanwhile, at Freedom University's Summer Arts Program, students in the Mural Project class worked on their painting skills with renowned local artists Fahamu Pecou and Charmaine Minniefield in preparation for the mural installation later this summer. 

We are honored to be partnering with our friends and longtime supporters at WonderRoot. Through community dialogues and the arts, we hope to make raise consciousness about the undocumented student movement and portray the dignity and contributions of Atlanta's immigrant community. 

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From the New York Times: "Atlanta to Bring Human Rights Murals to City for Super Bowl"

Although the Super Bowl is a one-time event in Atlanta, those involved with Off the Wall hope the event leaves an enduring legacy. In recent years, street art has popped up throughout the city. By focusing on human and civil rights as the content of the murals, Off the Wall hopes to create lasting conversations about issues affecting the city.

The artwork will begin appearing in the city this fall. A subcommittee is scouting locations and talent to produce the work, but officials said some of the murals will be downtown. Freedom University, an initiative that provides college prep and other services for [undocumented students], will help in both the creation and installation of the art.

"Young people in this city have been leading the way for human rights," Freedom University executive director Laura Emiko Soltis said. She said they were "standing on the shoulders of giants," referencing leaders such as Lewis.

NFL players have sparked controversy and drawn criticism from President Donald Trump and some members of the public for kneeling during the national anthem. Although inspired by the way people are using their spotlight to promote human rights, Off the Wall was in the works before the anthem protests, Appleton said. The project has the support of the NFL, according to Daniels.

"This project was inspired by the way artists and other activists struggle for justice and equality for all," Appleton said, calling protests a powerful way to transform communities.

https://www.nytimes.com/…/28/us/ap-us-super-bowl-murals.html

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Statement by Dr. Laura Emiko Soltis, Executive Director of Freedom University:

Good morning. My name is Emiko Soltis, and I serve as the Executive Director of Freedom University. Freedom U is a modern-day freedom school for undocumented students banned from public universities in Georgia. Freedom U is proud to serve as a community partner in the Off the Wall Project, and I am deeply honored to serve on the project’s advisory council. 

 

In my capacity as a teacher at the one true sanctuary campus in the world – where each and every student is undocumented – I have the rare opportunity to teach and learn from some of the most courageous young people in the world today. My students were brought to Georgia as children, and have gone to the same schools, played in the same parks, worked in the same industries, and paid the same taxes as other Georgians. But unlike other Georgians, they cannot attend our top public universities and they cannot vote. 

 

In 2011, Georgia became one of only three states in the country – including South Carolina and Alabama – to ban undocumented students from public higher education. In doing so, the state of Georgia effectively ushered in an era of modern educational segregation in the South where an entire population of young people of color are again prohibited from admission to college – not based on their academic merit, but on a social status out of their control. It is telling that the same universities that ban undocumented students today also banned Black students sixty years ago. Despite this immense barrier to higher education, and living in a political moment of profound uncertainty and fear, undocumented students are coming out of the shadows. They are building bridges with students, communities of faith, and social justice organizations across the city, and are leading a mighty freedom struggle for their human rights.

 

And here in Atlanta, they are standing on the shoulders of giants. You see, the spark that lit the wildfire of mass civil disobedience to desegregate Atlanta in the Spring of 1960 was a document written by a young woman named Rosalyn Pope, a student at Spelman College. Signed by Black student leaders of the Atlanta Student Movement, they articulated the injustices they faced – in education, employment, housing, voting, and policing – and made a powerful call to action in a document they called “An Appeal for Human Rights.” 

 

Young people, for generations in this city, have been leading the struggle for human rights. And I say human rights intentionally, and with great respect, because the legacy of the Black Freedom struggle here in Atlanta was much more than a movement for civil rights, or the right to be treated equally under the laws of a government. It was a movement for human rights, a radical assertion of people’s inherent dignity and rights by virtue of their humanity. It was a movement that rejected racism, and its function in creating groups of people who are physically exploitable but politically powerless. It was a movement that proclaimed that we cannot accept one’s labor, but deny their humanity. This was clear in the signs held by King and the sanitation workers on strike in Memphis in April 1968, that said in big bold letters: I AM A MAN. 

 

It was a movement that recognized the full spectrum of rights: political, civil, economic, social, and cultural rights. Rights like the right to education, the right to a decent wage, the right to housing, the right to join a union, and the right to vote: rights that were enshrined 70 years ago in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights – the most widely translated documented in the history of the world. It was a message of human rights that allowed these young Black leaders in Atlanta to connect with and inspire other oppressed people around the globe who were yearning to be free.  

 

It is my hope that through the powerful medium of art, and in the spirit of collaboration across our many communities here in Atlanta, this project will elevate and advance Atlanta’s contribution to the global human rights movement.

 

It is my hope that this project will help visitors to Atlanta recognize and respect all people of this soil, and especially those who are often made invisible: 1 in 10 Georgians is an immigrant. 1 in 3 of these immigrants is undocumented. And many of those we call “immigrants” are actually descendants of the indigenous people of this land. And it is immigrants who are working the soil in Georgia today: planting, picking, packing, shipping, and preparing the food that makes all other labor and all other endeavors – including football games – possible. 

 

Finally, I hope that by engaging with undocumented youth and other young leaders in Atlanta, this project will also make visible the role that young people have played - and will continue to play - in building that better world we know is possible. Thank you. 

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Laura Soltis
Our First Office!
 

Thanks to the generosity of a donor from New England, Freedom University is opening its first office in Atlanta! With a modest office furniture budget, students and staff went to a certain Swedish ready-to-assemble furniture store to select our new desks and chairs.

In classic Freedom University style, we turned a chore into a celebration, and had a furniture building party :) The students love working and laughing together, so within a couple hours, we were up and running!

With all of the trauma and triggers in the news, it's easy to retreat into isolation. And perhaps that is the intended result. But as one student recently said, "We can either cry alone or we can build something together."

And even if it's just a tiny office with a funny green rug that looks like grass, we are building our own little sanctuary.

Thank you for your continued love and support, from all of us.

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Laura Soltis
Freedom University Goes to Washington!
 

This week, five of us from Freedom University drove from Atlanta to Washington, DC to meet new friends and visit welcoming colleges in the nation's capital. Our representatives included Cecilia, Irene, and Mamadou, three Freedom University student leaders; Raymond Partolan, a Freedom University board member and DACA recipient; and Laura Emiko Soltis, Freedom University's Executive Director, van driver, and photographer.

On Monday, we were greeted with open arms by fearless undocumented students and activists from Georgetown and the University of Maryland, and immediately engaged in lively discussions on the revolutionary potential of collaborating across racial identities and state lines in the fight for equal access to higher education. We were able to share a meal together and deepen our friendships, and parted with warm hugs and commitments to work together in the coming years. 

On Tuesday, we visited the offices of our friends at United We Dream, a national immigrant rights organization working to advance the rights of undocumented youth and their families. Within minutes, we were sharing our stories and finding common ground, strategizing on how we could work together to strengthen the undocumented student movement in Georgia, and discussing what national organizations can learn from students on the ground in the most restrictive states. We were then welcomed by incredible professors and admissions staff at Howard University, where we discussed the experience of undocumented black youth and opportunities for HBCUs to welcome and support undocumented students. 

On Wednesday, we toured the campus of Trinity Washington University, where one of our students will be attending college this fall! Students took good notes and asked hundreds of questions to come back to Georgia and share their knowledge with fellow students at Freedom University. We put on our walking shoes and visited the U.S. Capitol, the Supreme Court, the United States Botanic Garden, the Museum of the American Indian, and the National Gallery of Art! We shared in too many laughs to count, but also took several moments of silence at the steps of the Supreme Court, reflecting on the words "Equal Justice Under Law" above its majestic columns. One day, they will inherit the robes of justice and halls of congress, and their experience learning and shaping U.S. history and advocating for equal justice now - even in the shadow of uncertainty and fear - is determining the kind of leaders they will be. 

On Thursday, we made the long drive back to Atlanta. Our bodies were exhausted, but our hearts were soaring. Cecilia shared how she feels like she is part of a much larger family of undocumented youth and supporters, and Irene feels more confident in the resources and support she will have when she starts college in Washington DC this fall. Mamadou shared that he feels a new fire within him to fight for the rights of undocumented immigrants everywhere, and serve as a vital bridge between Atlanta's Black community and its immigrant rights community. 

We are grateful beyond words for the warmth we felt in the welcoming arms of so many friends in Washington, DC. We are bringing back the strength and knowledge they shared with us to continue to nourish and empower undocumented youth in Georgia. 

 

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Laura Soltis
Nuria Wins a Full Scholarship to Middlebury College!
 

This year, nearly 1 in 3 of our students earned full scholarships to college this fall! We are excited to celebrate each of these students, whose courage and determination - along with the support of hundreds of family members, friends, and professors and staff at Freedom University - helped them achieve their dream of going to college.

This week, we celebrate Nuria, who received a full scholarship to attend Middlebury College in Vermont! Nuria is deeply loved and respected by her classmates at Freedom University, where she is known for her generous mentorship of new students, her principled leadership on the student committee, her unmistakable laugh in dance class, and her mad pancake making skills at student retreats. Nuria has overcome immeasurable obstacles on her journey to college. She graduated summa cum laude from high school despite having a learning disability. She excelled in her studies at Freedom University despite working a full-time job to support her single-parent household. And when her greatest fear became a reality when her mother was detained by ICE, Nuria reached out to Freedom University staff and worked with community allies for months to secure her release. Nuria exemplifies what makes many Freedom University students so remarkable: that despite the fear and uncertainty she faces as an undocumented student, and the cruelty she has endured in the country she calls home, she is able to find the courage to lead with compassion in the fight for undocumented students’ human right to education.

At Middlebury, Nuria looks forward to taking classes in Political Science and Sociology, participating in immigrant rights student groups, and taking advantage of all of the new learning opportunities a small liberal arts college has to offer. After growing up in Georgia, Nuria is a bit nervous for the cold New England winters, but all of us at Freedom University will make sure she has the right parka and boots to keep her warm!

Congratulations, Nuria! We are so proud of all you have already accomplished and look forward to watching you as you continue to learn and grow at Middlebury College!

To support Freedom University's educational programs, please visit: www.freedom-university.org/donate

 
Laura Soltis
WE NEED YOUR HELP: Donate Supplies for our Summer 2018 Classes!
 

Freedom University is the one true sanctuary campus in the world, where all of our students are undocumented. This summer, our students are participating in an intensive 10-week SAT Bootcamp and taking Arts and Activism courses in Latin Dance and Mural Painting. Our seven students who earned full-scholarships to college in the fall are also taking a College Prep 101 class to arm themselves with the knowledge and skills they need to thrive during their freshman year as first generation college students. But we need you to help our students succeed. 

Many of our students do not have computers, which make completing written assignments and online college applications nearly impossible. If you have the means, could you donate an affordable Chromebook to an aspiring scholar? If you have less means, could you donate a Passion Planner to help them take notes and master time-management skills? If you don't have the means right now, could you share this post with a friend who does? If so, please visit and share our Amazon Wishlist, which contains up-to-date information on the classroom supplies we need.

Our freedom school doors remain open to undocumented students with the hard work of hundreds of people on the ground in Atlanta, and thousands of supporters around the world.

Thank you for your generosity and unwavering commitment to undocumented youth during these uncertain times. 

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Laura Soltis
Freedom University Goes to the Beach!
 

This past weekend, Freedom University staff and students participated in our first Leadership Retreat in Florida. For several students, it was their first time out of the state of Georgia since they arrived in the United States. One had never been to a beach. But we decided that after a difficult year marked by uncertainty and fear, we deserved to take a short break from our daily jobs and responsibilities, and spend some time dedicated to healing and rest. 

The weekend was filled with laughter, and we grew in our love and respect for one another. In addition to strategy sessions and organizing training for the upcoming year, students also spent time making pancakes together, playing with little clams on the beach, and swimming after schools of fish in the ocean. For a few days, we ignored the news headlines, and were able to focus on taking care of each other as a beloved community. 

We wish to express our sincere gratitude to the hundreds of individual donors who sustain our work through recurring monthly donations. 

Click here to become a monthly donor, or to make a one-time donation. Every dollar helps us continue our important work educating, empowering, and caring for undocumented youth in Georgia.

www.freedom-university.org/donate

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Laura Soltis
Meet the inspiring undocumented leaders of Freedom University's Student Committee!
 

Rafael Aragón is originally from Mazatlán, Sinaloa, Mexico. He attended Dunwoody High School and graduated in 2015. Since joining Freedom University in January 2017, Rafael has been an active student leader, participating in numerous direct actions and speaking on various college tours and panels across the country. Rafael shines in many of his courses at Freedom University, and especially enjoys Creative Writing, Drawing and Painting, and Spanish Literature. He loves Freedom University because it instills hope in students who might feel like there is no opportunity for academic growth available to them due to their immigration status. Rafael received a full scholarship to Eastern Connecticut State University and plans on studying cognitive behavioral psychology.

 
Laura Soltis
Welcome to our new website!

 

Based in Atlanta, Freedom University is inspired by the legacy of the Southern freedom school tradition. We provide tuition-free education, college application and scholarship assistance, and social movement leadership training to undocumented students banned from public higher education in Georgia.

Laura Soltis