Note: Click here to read Part I
This summer Toronto parents will have the unique opportunity to send their kids to Black Lives Matter Toronto’s Freedom School, a three-week summer daycare for children aged 4-10. The school intends to provide students with “political education,” teaching kids about “Black Canadian and diasporic history”, and engaging them in “political resistance to anti-Black racism and state violence through a trans-feminist lens.”
Organizers claim that they designed the program “to support children and families living and growing in a reality of witnessing police violence.” The school is free of charge, kids will get free snacks and lunch, and there will be free transportation to and from their homes. Field trips will include visits to the Black Farmers Market, Nashama Water Park, and the Six Nations reserve near Brantford.
It’s sounds like attractive proposition on the surface, particularly for low-income parents worrying how they’ll cover childcare costs during the summer break. That said people who are considering sending their kids should beware, offers that sound too good to be true usually are. To be fair, families whose goal is to raise anti-social “fuck the police” anarcho-kids will be thrilled with the program and staff- those who want well-adjusted offspring without criminal records might want to look for other opportunities.
A Brief History of Freedom Schools
The freedom school concept was created by Charles Cobb of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee in 1963. He originally intended to create a summer residential school program for 10th and 11th-grade students that taught an academic and cultural curriculum with a focus on political and social studies.
Cobb’s idea was adopted and used as part of the 1964 Freedom Summer, a campaign to bring volunteers from northern states down to Mississippi to encourage black voters to register to vote. Over 1,000 volunteers came down that summer, trained in advance in a two-week program in Oxford, Ohio.
Over 40 schools were set up in black communities with over 2,500 students and 250 volunteer teachers. Most of the schools were based out of churches, others were wherever space was available- schools, parks, and people’s homes. Classes were focussed on the positive; teaching academic skills, building self-confidence, and helping them understand their rights as citizens.
The schools were highly successful, and the concept has been kept alive. Modern Freedom Schools teach kids about the civil rights movement, lessons about nonviolence and leaders like Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandella.
This isn’t Your Grandfather’s Freedom School
BLMTO explains on their fundraising page that they’re launching their Freedom School in response to the “lack of humanizing, self-affirming, queer positive educational opportunities for Black children in the GTA.” Their target market is working families from working class neighborhoods who don’t feel their kids are being “taught self-love, and a passion for justice and liberation through their formal education.”
But while freedom schools have traditionally focussed on nonviolence, promotional materials for BLMTO’s indicate their version will be very different. Rather than focussing on peaceful activists like King and Mandella, their promotional materials focus on armed rebellions and riots- and, sadly, they don’t even get their names right.
Their first example in their promo video is “the Bussa Rebellion” (Bussa’s Rebellion), an armed Barbados slave uprising where rebels burned down sugar cane crops and violently clashed with the military. Next comes the “Stonewall Rebellions” (Stonewall Riots), violent demonstrations in New York City in response to a raid on a gay bar and treatment of the LGBT community. The final example is the “Nanny Maroons” (the Maroons), a Jamaican group that engaged in a guerilla war against the British led by Nanny of the Maroons.
The video goes on to explain that the Freedom School will “teach art and technology as tools of resistance.” Mediums taught will include visual art, drumming, singing, poetry, and writing. Students will learn about artists connected to the Black Power movement including Nikki Giovanni, Elizabeth Catlett, and Emory Douglas– the Minister of Culture for the Black Panther Party.
LMTO’s Freedom School is led by Leah Newbold who, on the surface, sounds like an excellent candidate for the job. Newbold, who also goes by the name LeRoi Newbold, is a teacher at the Toronto District School Board’s Sheppard Public Africentric Alternative School. She has an interesting background, it appears she has a long history with militant anti-police groups.
In 2006, she participated in one of Montreal’s infamous anti-police brutality marches. She attended as part of the “Pink Bloc”, a queer group who showed up wearing pink outfits and strap-on dildos. About 500 protesters got into a clash with the police that day, throwing “beer bottles and squeegees” at police officers who were brought in to keep the peace. Street signs and mailboxes were vandalized.
Newbold’s Facebook page has several examples of postings where she writes “FTP”, an anarchist abbreviation for “fuck the police”. One posting features a drawing of two masked protesters (one wearing an FTP hat) and poetry from Assata Shakur, a member of the Black Panthers and Black Liberation Army who was convicted of two counts of murder after a shootout with New Jersey police.
In a 2015 interview with the anarchist run Guelph Prison Radio, Newbold discussed a lesson she gave students at the Africentric School about the novel Nightjohn. She explained to her students that “if people were caught teaching slaves to read in Canada and the US they would often have a finger or toe cut off.” This was reported to have happened in the US, but there’s no evidence of it happening in Canada (where we had only a small number of African slaves).
Newbold doesn’t appear to have great respect for her student’s privacy. In October 2015, she posted pictures of her student’s drawings of “Superheros of Black Liberation” on her Facebook page. The same drawings were used in the Freedom School’s promotional video. The video also includes a clip of students singing about Black Lives Matter in what appears to be one of the Africentric School’s classrooms.
Ex-Con Offers “Decision Making” Course for Freedom School Fundraiser
BLMTO launched a crowdfunding initiative last month to raise money to fund Freedom School teaching materials. The web page claims that “the lack of educational materials for children aged 4-10 that teach about Black Canadian and diasporic history is glaring, so we need to make it!” Money raised from their $15,000 target will be used to pay black artists to create the material.
People who donate to the project are able to claim from several different “perks”. Options include a BLM poster, an “End Police Brutality” poster, cupcakes, a manicure, and a tarot card reading. But the most interesting of the perks (and perhaps the most telling) is a “Decision Making” course by city councilor Shelley Carroll’s assistant Leah Henderson.
Henderson is a “white ally” of BLMTO who has been working closely with the group for at least the past 18 months. She was highly active during the occupation of Toronto police headquarters and was seen on-site several times. When the police cut-off the occupier’s power supply shortly before their biggest rally, Henderson helped to coordinate efforts to bring in generators.
Readers who are familiar with Henderson’s background are likely to have already realized the irony of her offering decision-making lessons. She and her ex-boyfriend Alex Hundert (who was also active at the occupation) were both arrested together shortly before the Black Bloc riots at the 2010 G20.
The two anarchists were sentenced to and served over a year in prison- Henderson for councilling young activists which windows they should smash, and Hundert for teaching them how to “de-arrest” people from the police. Both stood up in court to pronounce they were proud of their crimes and that they wouldn’t hesitate to do the same in the future. Neither has made any effort to apologize or make amends.
Henderson has also been assisting BLMTO with their fundraising efforts, both for the overall movement and for the Freedom School. She made a Facebook posting in November 2015 that explained her view on why people should contribute to the school:
“One of the most threatening things the #blackpantherparty ever did was serve breakfast to black children. Food security. Education. Fast Forward to 2015 – where more black lives are in jail and killed by police then [sic] there were then. Black Lives Matter-Toronto Coalition is putting together a Freedom School for black children and parents. To do that, we need to raise funds!”
It’s unknown where BLMTO is getting the money to pay for the costs of operating the school. It’s an expensive proposition to feed and transport students to-and-from the school every day. BLMTO applied for a $22,700 grant from the City of Toronto’s (Henderson’s employer) Community Festivals and Special Events fund earlier this year- city staff recommended against the request due to lack of funds, it would be seriously disturbing to find out if the grant was actually approved.
Is The Freedom School a Safe Space For Toronto Kids?
The Freedom School is promoted as “an entry point” into the Black Lives Matter movement. This might sound alarm bells for people familiar with the movement. Neil Macdonald of the CBC (who supports BLM) described it as “angry”, “mouthy”, and “offensive”- most parents work hard to teach their children to be the exact opposite.
BLMTO has had no shortage of anger and offensiveness and is hardly a kid-friendly environment. It’s not unusual to hear people yelling out angry obscenities like “fuck the police” and “kill the pussy fucking police” at their rallies. Their occupation of Toronto police headquarters blasted out NWA’s Fuck The Police- Toronto Star columnist Desmond Cole tried to justify this by claiming their “rage” is acceptable under the status quo.
The rhetoric one hears from BLMTO’s leaders is often hardcore. Their leaders have claimed that the Toronto Police Service is committing a “genocide” against black people, and they they’re a “terrorist organization” that’s killing blacks “every single day”. Most adults will realize they’re exaggerating, but young children aged 4-10 are more prone to take these statements literally- this could be damaging to young minds.
In Part I of #BLMTO Unmasked we explored the hardcore racism of co-founder Yusra Khogali, and her deeply concerning statements about white people being “sub-huxman”. People would be up in arms if an organization whose leader called black people sub-human set up a summer daycare program.
Khogali isn’t the only example of this type of extremism. BLMTO organizer Zidane Mohamed publicly applauded the murder of two police officers in 2015, Ryerson University president Sheldon Levy called his comments “disgusting”. Co-founder Janaya Khan’s blog is filled with postings about militancy and Black Panthers- in July 2015, she made a Facebook posting praising the Panthers and proclaiming that peaceful tactics are “nonsense”.
Parents who are considering sending their kids to the school, and don’t want them to end up as violent ex-convicts, might want to think twice before enrolling them. Organizations who are considering funding the school would be doing a great disservice to the people of Toronto (let’s hope the city didn’t). People spend a lot of time talking about creating “safe spaces” for kids in this city- all indications are that BLMTO’s Freedom School is anything but.
Stay Tuned for Part III:
At the end of Part I of #BLMTO Unmasked I promised to dig into the organizations alarming connections to city council and the Toronto Police Services Board. I haven’t forgotten this, we’ll dig into these subjects in great depth in the next couple of installments.