Nikole Hannah-Jones Opening 1619 Freedom School in Waterloo

Nikole Hannah-Jones stands for a portrait at her home in the Brooklyn borough of New York, Tuesday, July 6, 2021. Hannah-Jones says she will not teach at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill following an extended fight over tenure. (AP Photo/John Minchillo)

By Ty Rushing

September 1, 2021

Waterloo native Nikole Hannah-Jones is launching a free, after-school program in her hometown aimed at improving literacy while also centering the Black experience as part of the curriculum.

The Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist announced the 1619 Freedom School through her Twitter account on Tuesday. For the inaugural year, the program will focus on fourth-grade students at Walter Cunningham Elementary School whose standardized test scores show they are behind.

“It’s not enough to succeed if your community is struggling,” Hannah-Jones wrote on Twitter. “You have to try to pull people up with you. I am so proud to announce the launch of the 1619 Freedom School in my hometown of Waterloo, Iowa, labeled in 2018 the worst place in U.S. to be Black.”

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A ProPublica database highlights the racial disparities in the Waterloo Community School District, including higher discipline rates for Black students and Black students’ grades, on average, being significantly lower than their white peers.

Hannah-Jones worked with four other Black women in Waterloo—including veteran educators—to jumpstart the program along with officials for Georgetown University in Washington, DC, and the University of Missouri-Columbia.

The 1619 Freedom School—which is not named after The New York Times’ 1619 project that Hannah-Jones spearheaded, but after the year the first enslaved Africans were brought to what is now America—is privately funded to circumvent conflict with Iowa’s law against using teaching curriculum that addresses sexism, slavery, racial discrimination, racial oppression, and racial segregation.

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“’Freedom School’ evokes the legacy of the free, community schools launched by (Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee) during the Civil Rights Movement in order to educate Black youth on their history and empower them to fight their oppression with the goal of achieving social, political, and economic equality in the United States,” reads a press release about the school.

The school will be located in downtown Waterloo’s Masonic Temple, with a second location slated to be housed in the community center at ALL-IN-GROCERS, a new Black-owned grocery set to open in Waterloo in 2022.


by Ty Rushing


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  • Ty Rushing

    Ty Rushing is the Chief Political Correspondent for Iowa Starting Line. He is a trail-blazing veteran Iowa journalist, an Emmy-nominated filmmaker, and co-founder and president of the Iowa Association of Black Journalists. Send tips or story ideas to [email protected] and find him on social media @Rushthewriter.

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