“Hello, my name is La’Mont Geddis. I’m a student at Howard and I want to get involved in Freedom Schools, I want to make a difference,” La’Mont said in a call to CDF from a pay phone right after a professor in one of his classes talked about CDF and Freedom Schools. The response: “Great! You’ll be perfect for our Freedom School in Columbia Heights.”
This happened 18 years ago, in 1995, and La’Mont has since proved to be a valuable asset in the public schools of Washington, D.C.—an African-American man deeply committed to education, who has taught some of the most challenging children in some of the most challenging schools in the district.
La’Mont grew up in a working class family in Queens, New York—his mother was a housekeeper; his father a truck driver—and he always wanted to be a teacher. He studied education at Howard, but much of what he knows and feels about children and how to reach them came from being a teacher or Servant Leader Intern at Freedom Schools. “I wish I could mandate Freedom Schools for all schools of education.”
His long list of what he learned through Freedom Schools begins with “understanding poverty.” He’d thought it had only to do with money. “I found out there’s emotional poverty and love poverty and mental poverty, and that’s what makes up an inner city school. These children are victims of poverty and sometimes, hurt people—hurt people. So how do you help them, not exclude them, give them a voice? That’s what Freedom Schools helped us understand.”
La’Mont’s first teaching job—a fourth grade class that had had six teachers by the time he got there in October—was so difficult he almost quit. He kept in mind the Freedom Schools message to both the college students and the children: “You can make a difference.” He used many of the Freedom Schools techniques he’d been taught and he persisted. “I ended up loving that class and vice versa. I’ve followed some of them through college.”
La’Mont went on to volunteer at the Maya Angelou Public Charter Schools, which serve children who’ve had difficulty in other schools. He became the principal of its middle school, where 43 percent of the students are in special education. Last year, the school made the top five percent of the city’s middle schools with growth in achievement. This fall, he began working as a school leader at the Malcolm X Elementary School, a failing school the district is attempting to turn around.
“Teachers can become almost like robots. You go through the lessons without bringing in passion or creativity or empathy for the students. I’ve heard teachers say, ‘I don’t give parents my personal number’ and ‘I don’t make home visits.’ No. You’ve got to bring the school into the community and put all you’ve got into it. That’s the heart of Freedom Schools values. Teaching is not a profession. It’s a ministry.”