More than 1,000 kids took part in a march last week from the Cathedral of St. Paul to the Minnesota State Capitol to call for an end to gun violence. The march received significant media attention, but the organization behind the event was left mostly undiscussed.
The protest in St. Paul was just one of 87 similar events that occurred nationwide. Children who marched in the protests were participating in the Children’s Defense Fund’s Freedom Schools program.
One parent told Fox 9 that her daughter “had no idea what she was marching for.”
“She didn’t know. She knew it was social awareness, but not about guns. I think me and her dad need to sit down and teach about guns,” said the parent.
According to the Children’s Defense Fund’s website, the Freedom Schools program is a “six-week summer literacy and cultural enrichment program designed to serve children and youth in grades K-12 in communities where quality academic enrichment programming is limited, too expensive, or non-existent.”
Students who participate in Freedom Schools engage in a “research-based, multicultural Integrated Reading Curriculum that supports them and their families through five essential components,” the website states. One of those five components of the program is “civic engagement and social action.”
Freedom Schools are offered free-of-charge through partnership with “schools, faith and community-based organizations, municipalities, colleges and universities, and juvenile detentions facilities.” Specific sponsors of the program aren’t disclosed by the Children’s Defense Fund.
The Children’s Defense Fund first launched its Freedom Schools program in 1995 and now has 182 program sites nationwide. More than 150,000 children have gone through the program.
The program is especially popular in Minnesota, where 1,603 children participated in 2018 – second only to California, which had 1,640 children participate.
The Children’s Defense Fund has offices in California, Minnesota, New York, Ohio, and Texas, according to its website. The organization has seven explicit policy priorities, including “gun violence prevention.”
“We work to end the gun violence epidemic in America and ensure all children have a right to live, learn and grow up safely,” its website states.
Emmanual Donaby, director of STEM for Freedom Schools, told Fox 9 that the organization isn’t “trying to take any guns away from anybody,” but added that they are “trying to make sure there are stricter laws to protect the youth.”
Individuals associated with the Children’s Defense Fund have donated heavily to Democrats during the past two election cycles, according to the Center for Responsive Politics. In 2018, Democratic congressional candidates received $23,712 from individuals affiliated with the Children’s Defense Fund, while Republicans received zero dollars.
In 2016, Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton was the top recipient of funds from the Children’s Defense Fund, whose employees donated $10,399 to her campaign.
The Children’s Defense Fund has released a number of statements attacking President Donald Trump and his “divisive, hateful rhetoric.” In response to Trump’s 2019 State of the Union address, Children’s Defense Fund National Executive Director Max Lesko said he was “troubled” by Trump’s remarks.
“The president displayed a view of immigrants that stokes xenophobic fear and demonizes children and families seeking refuge and a better life in America, while ignoring the thousands of children separated from their parents at the border,” said Lesko. He went on to criticize Trump for promoting school choice policies “that would deepen inequities in public school funding.”
“He touted a callous tax policy that gives massive tax breaks to billionaires and corporations instead of reducing the burden on working families,” Lesko added.
The Children’s Defense Fund is a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that claims to provide a “strong, effective and independent voice for all the children of America who cannot vote, lobby or speak for themselves.”
The Minnesota Senate Republican Caucus posted a statement to Facebook that called last week’s protest a “gun control summer camp.”
“Anti-Second Amendment gun control measures were stopped last session but extreme liberal gun grabbers are back in St. Paul,” the Senate Republican Caucus said. “This time they brought kids with that are attending anti-gun summer camps to teach them how to be professional activists. Is this how you remember summer camp?”
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Anthony Gockowski is managing editor of Battleground State News, The Ohio Star, and The Minnesota Sun. Follow Anthony on Twitter. Email tips to [email protected].
Image “Kids Chant ‘Save Children Not Guns'” by Children’s Denfense Fund-MN.