Meadows-Livingstone School teaches young African Americans about themselves and their cultural history
"Sometimes, when I was at my old school, they talked about blacks badly," said one student. "They said they were stupid and dumb. And I still didn't believe it, but now I learned about my heritage and I learned that we're stronger and we have more spirit."
Or, as he said, "Black power makes me feel strong."
A 12-year-old who would be leaving the school soon told me a story of how the school influenced. "One of the kids in my neighborhood, he said, 'We're all niggers,'" he explained. "I said, 'No we're not. We're regular black kids.'"
As another child put it, "Black power means that you have strength and nobody can push you around, like, like you're just a little duck and everyone else is a coyote."
From a long line of teachers, Meadows' life work has been dedicated to educating and empowering young people. She taught her first class at age 10, before studying education at Kansas State University. She was teaching at Montessori schools when she decided to start her own.
Meadows-Livingstone school came out of a wave of alternative education informed by 1960s liberation movements. The Black Panther party, a part of the history that the children Meadows-Livingstone learn, had a 10-point platform laying out the ways that racism intersects with inequality in education, along with housing, treatment by the justice system, and other facets of society.
Point five says, "We believe in an educational system that will give to our people a knowledge of the self. If you do not have knowledge of yourself and your position in the society and in the world, then you will have little chance to know anything else."
Meadows-Livingstone continues this part of the Panther legacy, and not just ideologically.
"At one point in our school we had maybe 15 kids whose relatives had been Panthers," says Meadows.
"We have a grandfather who brings fruit every week," she says, continuing the spirit of the Free Breakfast Program. "And he was a Panther."
The children also learn about prominent Panthers. "They play a Panther tag game, and they would cry if they couldn't be Angela Davis or Huey P. Newton," she said.
On Fridays, the children read poetry. "They really like to recite poems written by African Americans, it gives them hope. They're stuck on Langston Hughes, they like Gwendolyn Brooks too."
The school costs $700 a month, but many of the students are subsidized by The Basic Fund, a private foundation.
Meadows also uses partnerships with city institutions to enhance the curriculum. The children spend time every week swimming at Garfield public pool on Treat Street, and playing tennis, and partnering with Acrosports for tumbling lessons. The swimming lessons hold a particularly strong symbolism, as generations of African Americans in Jim Crow states were denied opportunities to swim.
Tributes to Black historical figures decorate the school's walls. Children's art on "Black Inventors" and "Louis Armstrong, the king of jazz" are displayed, along with a large version of the iconic photograph of John Carlos and Tommie Smith doing the Black Power salute at the 1968 Olympics.
When asked about Malcolm X, 20 hands shot up to talk about a figure important to their studies.
As one child explained it: "Malcolm X, he said if somebody's hits you or hurts your family, he's not going to turn the other cheek. He's going to fight back. He's like, you hurt my family, I'll hurt yours. Martin Luther King, he said if a white person hits you, don't fight back, make peace."
"That's nonviolence" another chimed in.
When listing their personal heroes, many kids included King and Malcolm. "Muhammad Ali, Yele, and you, Gail!" one exclaimed, the middle hero referring to the school's drumming and African Civilization teacher, Akinyele Sadiq.