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Freedom Festival: Voices of Hope

In July, immigrant families, college students and other community members gathered in St. Paul, Minn., to celebrate their community work together.

The theme for this year’s celebration was inspired by a series of essays written by the school's participants—many of whom are new immigrants—published earlier this year in Voices of Hope: The Story of the Jane Addams School for Democracy. The Jane Addams School is a community initiative where participants self-organize in learning circles and pairs, mixing English speakers with native Hmong-, Somali- and Spanish-speakers. The school is inspired by the vision of democracy, productive citizenship, and popular education held by settlement house pioneers like Jane Addams, who created Hull House in Chicago.

After a potluck meal that included tamales, Hmong egg rolls, pasta salad, and fresh-cut watermelon, Pakou Hang, a young candidate for St. Paul City Council, read an excerpt from Voices of Hope about her visit as an adult to the Ban Vinai refugee camp, the place where she was born in Laos. In the spirit of the Jane Addams School—where all languages and cultures are equally valued—Hang’s words were interpreted into Somali, Spanish and Hmong.

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The afternoon featured music and dance performances by participants from the school’s Hmong, East African, Spanish-language, Teen, and Children’s learning circles, and culminated in a public recognition of the more than 70 participants who naturalized as U.S. citizens over the past year, and the more than 20 participants who graduated from high school or college.

“It was energizing to see immigrant families, college students and other community members come together to celebrate individual and collective accomplishments from the past year,? said Derek Johnson, director of West Side Initiatives for the Center for Democracy and Citizenship. “Celebrating community work helps us all to move forward together into new learning and new work.?

Hubert H. Humphrey Institute of Public Affairs