Kimberly Pearson grew up in a middle class home in Prince George’s County, Maryland, and studied elementary education at Oakwood University, a historically Black college in Huntsville, Alabama.

She discovered the unique nature of Freedom Schools the year she wasn’t there. She and her best friend applied to be teachers, or Servant Leader Interns as they are called in Freedom Schools, when Kansas City Freedom Schools staff came to the university to recruit in 2005, just as her senior year was ending. She decided against it because she didn’t want to go to Kansas City and instead took a job in a summer day camp in Huntsville.

Her friend called her from the training in Tennessee. “She said, ‘You’re missing it! Next year, you have to be here.’ She told me about camaraderie between the different people there and what the training was all about, the books and the music. At the summer camp, we didn’t have any training where we met other people. We weren’t really prepared. We were thrown in with the kids and it was, ‘Keep them entertained and make sure they don’t get hurt.’”

She went the next summer after she’d spent her first year teaching in an elementary school in Jacksonville, Florida. Again, she saw a sharp contrast, this time with the school system’s professional development sessions. “Everything was so different— the positivity and love and unified energy. I’m naturally energetic and I felt like I belonged there.” Kimberly had studied creative and performing arts in high school, and she realized at the training that “I could bring who I was as Kimberly and impact children.”

Back in Jacksonville, she took what she’d learned and put it into her teaching. She let her creativity shine through. “It made me a better teacher. My students’ test scores went up and so did the sense of community in the classroom. A lot of disciplinary things I’d had to deal with in my first year went away.”

She then became an Ella Baker Trainer and trained college students to become Servant Leader Interns, which had an even more “profound” impact on her. “It focuses on servant leadership in a way that is so personal. It’s about taking pride in being a servant and being able to express humility in a culture that says ‘Me first.’ Being an Ella Baker Trainer means putting the needs of community and children first.”

After five years of teaching, Kimberly, went to Andrew’s Theological Seminary and now is the chaplain at her alma mater. She says her Freedom Schools experience helped prepare her to build relationships and help students find their voices and purpose. During school holidays, she takes students to other parts of the country to do community service projects and acts of kindness for underprivileged children and families. She intends to start a Freedom School at Oakwood University because “Freedom Schools changed my life, and I want to be able pass that on.”