Myah Woods was a shy, nervous child, not one to speak out or speak up. Then she went to Freedom Schools.

Myah is from Bennettsville, South Carolina, Marian Wright Edelman’s hometown. She began attending Freedom Schools at age six and has literally grown up in this CDF institution—from student to Servant Leader Intern to Ella Baker Trainer. CDF has had a “huge impact” on her life—her knowledge, her skills, her choice of career and especially her drive to change the conditions in her community through the education of its children.

That timid child stepped out of her box. She says, “Freedom Schools was really the first place somebody actually saw I had some potential outside of academics. It was the first place I got a chance to develop leadership.”

She remembers the college students or Servant Leader Interns as they are called in Freedom Schools putting her in leadership roles in the finales, the end of summer event for parents and the public. “I never thought I had a speaking voice. They forced me to speak. The interns saw something in me that I didn’t see until I did it.” At 15, she became part of the junior leadership team. “We wrote the whole finale one year. The Servant Leader Interns tweaked it but we did everything.”

Myah attended Coastal Carolina University. Her mother was a teacher but she didn’t think she wanted to be one. She first majored in biology intending to become a pharmacist. The summer after her freshman year, she went to Haley Farm for the Freedom Schools National Training. She learned about leadership as servant leadership—“giving 100 percent without expecting something every time” and “not leading for your own purpose but to help others.”

After two summers teaching at the Freedom Schools in her hometown, she switched her college major to education. She decided that “working with children, you have a direct hand at changing the future.”

Now 23, Myah is an Ella Baker Trainer—a trainer of the Servant Leader Interns—and a 5th grade public school teacher in Bennettsville. She estimates that about 75 percent of her teaching strategies come from Freedom Schools. She uses a cooperation contract as a method of behavior management to help students realize that they are responsible for their behavior and for one another. She set up her classroom for cooperative group learning so students are better able to resolve conflict and problem solve.

“When I had the interview to teach here, I was asked several questions and each of my answers was related to my Freedom Schools experience. That’s how I know how much Freedom Schools impacted me. Every question I answered with something from Freedom Schools, not from college.”

Myah said that as more children in Bennettsville attend Freedom Schools and as more of its teachers come out of Freedom Schools as she did, the culture of education there is beginning to change. “I sense more excitement. At our teachers’ convocation before school started this year, we sang ‘Something Inside So Strong.’”