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