marian-wright-edelman_web.jpgMIAMI — On a national level, Marian Wright Edelman, president of the Children’s Defense Fund, is synonymous with doing what’s right for kids. On a local level, that distinction could easily be bestowed upon Alison Austin, president and CEO of the Belafonte Tacolcy Center in Miami.

That the two organizations are collaborating for the good of Liberty City’s children should come as no surprise.

Edelman will visit Tacolcy on Thursday, May 14 to support the agency’s newest initiative, The Freedom Schools Program, a wildly successful CDF educational initiative that gets children excited about learning while raising their achievement level. Tacolcy is one of two sites in Florida, and the only site in South Florida to participate in the CDF program.

The Spelman College and Yale Law graduate is fiercely committed to “leveling the playing field for all children,” which is a part of the CDF’s mission statement. Edelman, the first woman admitted to the Mississippi bar, has been at the helm of the CDF since 1973, and shows no signs of letting up.

Since 1995, the Freedom Schools Program has enriched the lives of more than 70,000 children. The program incorporates five components in a summer and after-school program that supports children and families. The components are: high quality academic enrichment; parent and family involvement; social action and civic engagement; intergenerational servant leadership development; and nutrition, health and mental health.

Deen Tyler, program director for the Tacolcy initiative, said he became intrigued by the program after Austin “dropped a DVD on my desk.” Once he began watching it, he was hooked.

“It was footage from a Freedom School” in another state, he said. “It was amazing to see the excitement in the kids’ eyes and the engagement between the kids and the staff.”

Tyler said he was even more impressed with the program’s results. A study of the Kansas City Freedom Schools program indicates that children who attend the program score significantly higher on standardized reading achievement tests than children who attend other summer enrichment programs. And black middle school boys made the greatest gains of all.

Florent Eloi, site coordinator for the Tacolcy program, said the program’s official launch date is June 13, the same day that Tacolcy will host a Go Green festival to introduce Liberty City families to employment opportunities in the environmental field.

Two panels of experts will share information on “green” jobs and on healthier eating options. Fairchild Tropical Gardens and the Miami Workers Center are collaborating with Tacolcy for the all-day festival.

In addition to learning more about the “green initiative” that is sweeping the country, Tyler said the festival will afford families an opportunity to meet Tacolcy’s Freedom Schools’ staff and to learn more about the exciting curriculum.

The Freedom Schools’ integrated reading curriculum essentially immerses youngsters in reading by allowing them to select a different book each week.  All activities for that week are geared around the theme of the book. At week’s end, the children are allowed to take the book home, adding to their own personal library.

Tyler said that he and Eloi attended training in Knoxville, Tennessee last March to learn the curriculum, as well as the “hundreds of chants” the teachers and staff use to get the kids excited about reading.  “We’re going back [to Knoxville] at the end of this month.”

“Ms. Edelman will be here to raise awareness about what the Freedom Schools Program is all about,” Tyler said, adding, “It’s everything that I had always envisioned for Tacolcy.”

To learn more about the Freedom Schools Program, visit


WHAT: Marian Wright Edelman visits the Belafonte Tacolcy Center

WHEN: 11 a.m. Thursday, May 14

WHERE: Belafonte Tacolcy Center, 6161 NW 9 Place, Miami

CONTACT: Deen Tyler at 305-751-1295 or

Pictured above is Marian Wright Edelman.