For this Obie, Learning and Labor Is More than a Motto

Last year, Kyo Freeman was asked for help.

A co-chair of Abusua, Freeman was asked by a community member to use his influence to convince the college to open athletic facilities to a local youth group. Although this request was ultimately denied, Freeman's involvement sealed his desire to reach out to the community beyond Tappan Square.

Now a senior, Freeman is one of seven Community Action Fellows at Oberlin College's Center for Service and Learning (CSL). The fellowships combine summer internships with administrative work in the CSL throughout the school year. Freeman's internship was with the Oberlin Black Alliance for Progress (OBAP), a group of parents working for change in the Oberlin public schools.

OBAP began in November 1995, when parents came together to discuss what they saw as problems in the Oberlin public school system: namely, ineffective discipline measures and a lack of minority teachers. The group is now working with the Oberlin School Board to address these issues.

Freeman researched the history of the Oberlin school system and the school board's past actions, gathering information for OBAP members to use in their meetings with the board. The project, Freeman said, was a learning experience for both him and the members of OBAP. Since it is a new group, everyone started together at ground zero, working out what needed to be done as they went along.

"I've enjoyed working with and meeting people there," Freeman said of OBAP. "It's good to see adults doing something. I know it is difficult when you've got a job and kids. I know that it will take a lot for the group to succeed, to stay focused. To use an analogy, if you're a Christian you can't pray one day and quit the next. You've got to keep on praying. I'll definitely keep working with OBAP."

Another part of the fellowship involved summer work at the CSL, in a component Freeman calls "learning about the concept of service learning." One big project undertaken by the fellows was organizing an orientation program for new students interested in community service.

"We were trying to make the transition into Lorain County easier for incoming students," Freeman said. "We put together maps and mass transit schedules so people would know there are more places to go than just the mall. We made a photo album of volunteer sites, so people might be more comfortable going to them. I've learned more about Lorain County working on this project than I have in the four years I've been here. Lorain County has become a lot bigger to me."

This feeling of community awareness should continue for Freeman through the school year. The fellows are expected to work with other students, encouraging them to volunteer in Lorain County and to look beyond the more popular volunteer opportunities in Oberlin. Each fellow is responsible for leveraging 1500 hours of community work by the end of the school year, done either by students whom they've placed at a site, or by themselves.

"We need to broaden what community service has meant to Oberlin over the years," said Freeman. "We need to make Oberlin less of an island in Lorain County."

Working with the community is nothing new to Freeman. Freeman jokes that as a manager at McDonald's during the school year, he is used to serving people--he is just not used to them being happy about it. A history major, he rounds out his activities as a DJ at the 'Sco (in Wilder Hall) and with an R&B show at WOBC, the campus radio station. He's also thinking about trying out for the soccer team, to "broaden his horizons."

After he graduates, Freeman wants to teach for a few years, mainly to get a sense of the lives teachers lead and what sort of daily trials they encounter. In his volunteer work, his job, his activities, and his future plans, Freeman has definitely decided to learn while he serves.

--Anita Buckmaster '95

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