SERVE FIRST THEN LEAD

Bryan Eason, 29, doesn’t know what he would be doing today if CDF hadn’t come into his life. He’s sure, though, that he wouldn’t have felt such a deep sense of purpose nor would he have known “how to hone my talents to affect change.”

Bryan became a Freedom Schools teacher or Servant Leader Intern ten years ago in his hometown of St. Louis, where his mother is a teacher and his father is a radio announcer. When he signed up, he thought of it as a summer job but it altered and shaped the direction of his life, starting with his change of major from media studies to education.

Bryan now teaches special needs children in the St. Louis public school system. “The big thing I learned in Freedom Schools: You are an advocate in charge of making sure kids get to a successful adulthood and you carry that passion into the classroom.” As he has taught various grade levels at different schools in the system, he’s found students gravitating to him because of his passion, and he’s seen staff attitudes in the schools shift because of his example of servant leadership.

Bryan has traveled up the CDF youth leadership ladder—from Freedom School Servant Leader Intern to Ella Baker Trainer to Young Advocate Leadership Training (YALT) national organizer. He has embraced servant leadership— “serve first, then lead”—so thoroughly that it is now “the air I breathe.”

Freedom Schools are about changing the culture of education, he said. The YALT training is about “rebuilding our village” and focuses on community organizing and non­violent direct action echoing the civil rights movement of the 1960s. One of the YALT trainers is James Lawson, who taught nonviolence to students in Nashville before the lunch counter sit­ins in 1960.

“He expressed to us that direct action is disciplined action—a disciplined group of people executing one action they agree on and completing the task.” Bryan participated in a YALT­led rally at the state capital in Minnesota in 2010 to put children’s needs on the political agenda.

Bryan is organizing young people in St. Louis as a Children’s Action Team. They are partnering with other organizations and going door­to­door in poor neighborhoods to find out what resources families need and building a database. Then they will work with others to provide those resources. They are also focusing on school expulsions and suspensions that push children into the pipeline to prison.

“I’m really excited about this work. I believe if you can fix little problems, you can fix big ones.”