Register for our kickoff of the first phase of the SpringMo Black Wellness Initiative

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Research, Rethink and Reimagine Black History

Equipping teachers to Research, Rethink and Reimagine how they teach African American Studies.

Springfield, MO— Timmons Hall will host the Newark, New Jersey high school principal Akbar Cook, Sr. as part of its Black History Month programming in February. Cook is the keynote speaker in the Freedom Classroom 101 Workshop Series and will present at 2:30 p.m. Friday, Feb. 4 at Timmons Hall in Silver Springs Park, 1055 E. Webster St.
The workshop series aims to equip teachers to research, rethink and reimagine how they teach African American studies
Cook became known for creating the Lights-On Program at Newark, New Jersey’s West End High School, which provides students with a safe place to spend Friday nights. Each week, kids eat, play video games, play basketball, and participate in other activities until 11 p.m. thanks to Cook’s efforts. During the summer, the one-night-a-week program initially increased to three, but in 2020, Oprah Winfrey surprised Cook with a $500,000 donation to the school, which allows it to keep its lights on every night.
It is reported that Cook has not lost a student to gun violence since starting Lights-On. He says there has been an increase in daily attendance since making other investments in the school. In 2019, West Side installed a laundry room to provide students with a way to launder their school uniforms. Cook noticed some students were coming to school in dirty uniforms and were being bullied, resulting in chronic absenteeism. While students wash their clothes, a teacher helps them with their schoolwork.
Cook wants his students to be “Career Ready” and able to compete. He works with his students on 4 tracks: Trade school, 2- or 4-year degrees, military, or career readiness. He couldn’t afford to wait on policy change. “He has become the change his school needed.” Cook sees himself in the picture he calls his students his babies and lets them know that they are family.
In 2014 Christine People along with the support of Jim Schmidt, Associate Director of the Springfield Greene County Library, created the Meet n ’Greet Celebration at the Mid-Town Branch Carnegie Library. During that project, Peoples noticed that pre-school children up to the fourth grade when asked how they felt about Black History month and how they felt about themselves, many of the children expressed feelings of being devalued.
So Peoples solicited various community members to come together at these Meet n’ Greet celebrations to teach age-appropriate history, art, and social etiquette, to help children understand and develop a sense of pride in one’s history and in one’s identity.
The Freedom Classroom 101 workshop series is designed to help teachers implement African American studies through Place-Based Education. Each workshop was specifically put together to help teachers research, rethink and reimagine how they teach African American studies benefit schools and the community.
Educators will be challenged to do Research on local black history and the significance of various points along the African American Heritage Trail —Rethink how communities of color sustained themselves and even thrived despite unjust laws and treatment, and to Reimagine themselves in the picture as a way to take education to the next level.

Freedom Classroom 101 Workshops
The following Freedom Classroom 101 workshops training connect to the Meet n’ Greet program framework to assist with setting foundational norms in the classroom.
Kendra Chappell, Teaching Artist; Director- Writer-Counselor and Designer of Art Immersion. Equipping teachers with prep, process, and mindful exercises that deal with hard histories, empathy, resilience, and value through movement and creation.Art Immersion
Saturday, February 26th Meet n’ Greet Assembly 10:30 a.m. – 10:55 a.m.
Session: 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m., Lunch 12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Mark Simmonds is originally from the U.S. Virgin Islands. With his father a part of the military, the family relocated to Missouri of University with a bachelor’s in special education and later earned a Master’s in Special Education. Mark just recently completed his Specialist degree in Education Administration.
Mark has been employed with Springfield Public Schools for 13 years and currently a Principal -Coordinator at Springfield Option Site on Great Circle Campus.
Just Be Present – Connecting with underserved and underrepresented youth. Saturday, April 23rd Meet n ’Greet Assembly Spotlight Presenter 10:30 a.m. – 10:55 a.m.
Dr. Sabrina A. Brinson Author, Activist, Diversity Consultant, and University Professor, Founder and National Director of Boys Booked on Barbershops and Girls Booked on Beauty shops.
Providing training for diverse educators taking students through the program specifically, “Utilizing Culturally Sustaining Books as Curricula.” Culturally Responsive Literature
Saturday, April 23rd
Session: 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m., Lunch 12:00 p.m. – 1:00 p.m.
Taj Suleyman, Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion City of Springfield, Missouri. Empowering students through teachers becoming collaborative leaders through cultural proficiency and restorative practice skills. Establishing an equity lens model of fairness through laws-land-cultural demographics and in the classroom. The Equity Lens Model Saturday, June 11th Meet n ’Greet Assembly 10:30 a.m. – 10:55 a.m. Session: 11:00 a.m. – 2:00 p.m.
Lunch 12 p.m. – 1p.m.
Community Foundation of the Ozarks, (CFO), provided the grant funding for the Freedom Classroom 101 Workshop Series and to bring Cook to Springfield. Last summer, CFO announced that it is deepening its commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion with the first grant programs of the new fiscal year, dedicating additional unrestricted grantmaking funds for nonprofit agencies that work to uplift members of marginalized identity groups.
Seating will be limited to 30 and guests are asked to register by calling 417-864-1046. The presentation will be livestreamed on the City of Springfield’s Facebook page at CityofSGF and on
Timmons Hall, formerly known as Timmons Temple, officially opened to the public in 2019 following relocation to the park in 2015 and four years of restoration work managed by Friends of Timmons Temple. The former church now serves as an event facility offering historical, cultural and educational opportunities,. It is owned and operated by the Park Board and under the direction of Christine Peoples, Coordinator of Timmons Hall.

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