Barbara Kelley-Duncan’s CDF Freedom Schools Story
Barbara Kelley-Duncan first learned about CDF Freedom Schools® as an employee of the Children’s Defense Fund. In 1996, Kelley-Duncan served as Vice President for leadership development in CDF’s Black Community Crusade for Children®. In that role, she helped run several programs including CDF Freedom Schools. Her experiences at CDF motivated her to start her own program years later.
Following her work at CDF, Kelley-Duncan served as Vice President for Enterprise Development at Casey Family Programs and opened their first east coast office. She then served as CEO of the Carolina Youth Development Center, a residential program for abused and abandoned children. CDF Freedom Schools had never operated from a residential program before that point, but when she pitched the idea to members of the community, they wholeheartedly supported it.
“This gave our young people the opportunity to grow and develop and experience things they had never experienced before,” said Kelley-Duncan. “People really came out.”
The CDF Freedom Schools scholars had the opportunity to meet community speakers, participate in trips, and engage in community action. The community was especially supportive of the CDF Freedom Schools program’s participation in the National Day of Social Action, during which scholars are encouraged to advocate publically for a social issue that is important to them.
“Young people had no idea they could make an impact,” said Kelley-Duncan. “On National Day of Social Action, they learned they could have an impact and they do need to work for social justice. That opened their eyes.”
Both during and after CDF Freedom Schools, Kelley-Duncan got to see the scholars and the Servant Leader Interns (SLIs) who worked there grow their confidence and drive and continue to support the program after they finished. She recalled a pair of twins in the program who later went on to serve as SLIs and one young man who switched his major from math to education after serving as an SLI. It was clear to Kelley-Duncan the program had a noticeable impact on scholars’ and staff’s futures.
“I think once you are a scholar and/or an SLI, it’s in your blood. It’s who you are,” said Kelley-Duncan. “It impacts your life and in one way or another you carry that out for the remainder of your life.”
While Kelley-Duncan has now retired, she continues to be involved in initiatives designed to help children. She has served on multiple committees to ensure social and racial equity and a quality education for all children. While she aspires to step away from these activities and fully retire, she cannot deny the impact CDF Freedom Schools has had on her life.
“It just continues to live in me and I’m sure that’s why I continue to work on education and social justice issues,” said Kelley-Duncan. “The ‘Freedom Schools Way’ is a way of life and it always impacts me.”