Chris Burton’s first experienced a Freedom School National Training at Haley Farm following his freshman year at Davidson College in North Carolina in 2005. “It was empowering because you are in a tent with hundreds like you, likeminded. It shook us all up. Apathy had become cool: ‘Things suck. You can’t do anything about it.’ No. You can go back to your community and do something. You can make a difference.”

Two of Chris’ aunts were teachers in Bedford Stuyvesent; his mother was fiscal officer of a Head Start there. His father remained in Jamaica. He wasn’t sure he was interested in teaching but with that family background, “I thought I’d give it a try. I could see myself doing it.”  He enjoyed several summers as a Servant Leader Intern at Freedom Schools in Brooklyn, then attended a YALT gathering at Haley Farm in 2008.

“That really expanded my view in terms of personal agency. I can go back to my community and do tangible things.” He participated in the 2010 YALT-led rally at the state capital in St. Paul to put children’s issues on Minnesota’s political agenda.

“Garrison Keilor, Al Franken, Mrs Edelman were there. My takeaway was: We have this engrained expectation that leadership comes from the top down. Wait for the next assignment. I learned the power of the grassroots. You connect with people. You respect each other and work together to build something. Everyone has resources to build on. That’s what I learned at the Minnesota event. You don’t have to wait for something to drop on you.”

Since graduating, Chris has worked as chaplain at an Episcopal school in Charlotte, North Carolina and stayed very active in YALT. He was invited to be on the steering committee. 

Chris Burton and his wife just moved to Richmond, Virginia, where he will attend the Union Presbyterian Seminary. “My passion is youth ministry,” he said, and when he completes his studies, he and his wife will settle in East Orange, New Jersey, where Chris grew up in a large extended family of Jamaican origin, or Brooklyn, New York, where he attended public school.

Related Video: