South Charlotte

South Charlotte’s Freedom School benefit follows historical parallel

At 7 p.m. April 30, Shalom Park Freedom School’s fourth annual movie fundraiser will screen the Charlotte premiere of the documentary “The Rosenwald Schools,” directed by Aviva Kempner.

“‘Rosenwald’ is a great fit for our program,” said event co-chairwoman Cheryl Alley. Alley said she was fascinated by the story of Julius Rosenwald, who in the early 1900s helped establish schools for poor, rural African-American children.

“The schools started with Booker T. Washington,” said Tom Hanchett, staff historian at Levine Museum of the New South, who has been researching and writing about the Rosenwald schools since the late 1980s. “Washington realized that white-dominated school boards were spending less and less money on black schools.”

Washington set out to find a philanthropist who would help African-American communities build their own schools, Hanchett said.

Washington found that philanthropist in Julius Rosenwald, who was from 1908 to 1924 the president of Sears, Roebuck & Co; Rosenwald also was chairman of the company from 1924 until 1932.

“Rosenwald understood that we are all connected,” Hanchett said. “He knew that if the African-American community did not thrive, none of us thrive.”

A three-way partnership began, between Rosenwald, who provided challenge grants; the local African-American communities, who provided nickels, dimes and sweat equity; and local school boards, Hanchett said. Ultimately, Rosenwald provided the seed money for more than 5,500 schools, including 25 in Mecklenburg County.

“The Rosenwald schools were a great example of self-help and powerful drive for education that has been part of the African-American experience forever,” Hanchett said. “There is a parallel to the Freedom Schools (begun in the 1960s) when hunger for education bubbled up in new ways.”

“Rosenwald was bringing education to economically disadvantaged rural African-American communities, and today the Shalom Park Freedom School is joining with Huntingtowne Farm Elementary and Sterling Elementary to prevent summer learning loss,” Alley said.

The Shalom Park Freedom School is a collaboration of eight Shalom Park agencies: Temple Israel, Temple Beth El, the Levine-Sklut Judaic Library, the Charlotte Jewish Day School, the Sandra and Leon Levine Jewish Community Center, Jewish Family Services, the Jewish Federation of Greater Charlotte and The Foundation of Shalom Park.

This summer, the Shalom Park Freedom School will celebrate its fifth year providing a free six-week summer educational program for economically disadvantaged children from two Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools: Sterling Elementary and Huntingtowne Farms Elementary.

“These two schools have year-round CMS faith-based partnerships with Temple Beth El and Temple Israel, respectively,” said fundraiser co-chairwoman Amy Lefkof.

This year, Shalom Park Freedom School is increasing enrollment from the previous 50 scholars. “We are so excited that we are going to have 80 scholars at the park this summer,” said Lisa Garfinkle, steering committee co-chairwoman. “The program is so great, and we know it’s successful. To maximize the number of children who can participate has always been the goal.”

The Shalom Park Freedom School is free to the scholars, but the cost to run the summer 2015 program is $90,000.

“Over 50 percent of the funding is raised from individual donors,” said Garfinkle.

The Charlotte premiere of “The Rosenwald Schools” will benefit the Shalom Park Freedom School.

“Both the movie and Freedom School make us realize that our notion of community is at its best when it is expansive and we care about people who are in need,” Lefkof said. “Ethnicity, religion, and economic disparities do not define or limit our ability to establish community.”

Marissa Brooks is a freelance writer. Have a story idea for Marissa? Email her at

Want to go?

The Shalom Park Freedom School fundraiser, featuring the documentary “The Rosenwald Schools,” will cost $10 in advance or $15 at the door, at 7 p.m. April 30 at the Sam Lerner Center for Cultural Arts, Shalom Park, Levine Jewish Community Center, 5007 Providence Road in Charlotte.

▪ Details: 704-366-5007 or

▪  For information on the documentary “The Rosenwald Schools,” visit