Franceria Moore attended a high school in North Carolina equally split between Black and White students. After a racial incident divided her classmates, she helped form a student race relations committee that brought in trainers to facilitate discussions and started a Break the Barrier Day that encouraged students to eat lunch in the cafeteria with people they didn’t know.

“I think I recognized then that people listened to me—that they saw me as a leader—but I didn’t embrace it or know what to do with it. I cared tremendously about social and racial equality but it didn’t seem like other people my age cared. I felt like the odd man out.”

Then she attended a Freedom Schools training and thought, “Wow! I’m not alone! Other people care about these things too and they’re not all 40 years old.” From then on, Franceria embraced servant leadership—so much so that she’d rather be out in the community talking to people or mentoring a teenager than doing anything else on a Saturday night.

Her first Freedom Schools experience—in 2006 after her freshman year at the University of Houston—was with Katrina refuge children in Baton Rouge. Another intern, emotionally devastated by the storm, quit and Franceria taught her classes as well as her own. She had one student who lost it every time it rained.

By this time, her parents had divorced. Her mother drove a school bus for 12 years while getting an associate’s degree, bachelor’s degree and then a master’s degree in educational counseling. With her mother as a role model, Franceria left Houston and began studying education at the Baton Rouge Community College, working to pay her way. She taught in a Freedom School every summer and became an Ella Baker Trainer. This taught her “how to teach, how to present yourself as a young person to be taken seriously, how to be a person of integrity.”

She worked as a paraprofessional in the school system, giving workshops on life skills in the GED program. In one exercise, she wrote on a flip chart 20, 30, 40, 50 and asked the students what they saw themselves doing at those ages. One boy, 16, wrote, “I don’t see myself” at every age. Not long after that, he stole a car, ran into a pole, and killed himself and two others. “He had no hope. That kept me up at night.”

Franceria became project director of the Freedom School in Baton Rouge run by the Desire Ministry and director of its after school program. In 2010, it shifted from providing services to supporting other nonprofits. “We heard you wanted to start your own nonprofit,” the director told her, and offered to help.

Her organization, iHope, runs a Freedom School in the summer, an after-school program called “Think Tank” and a mentoring program. Franceria, now 27, says she always has in mind, “returning the investment CDF made in me.”