Since 2006, Free Minds has offered educational opportunities to working class adults who may not picture themselves as college material, but after participating in the program, many students decide a college degree is possible.
Kellee Coleman graduated from Austin Community College (ACC) this September. A mother of three, Kellee is active in the Mamas of Color Rising collective and an involved parent at Campbell Elementary, where her two older children attend school. She plans to start work on a bachelor’s degree this year with the intention of doing more community work, and she ultimately wants to attend graduate school in public policy or African American studies.
As the only program of its kind in Texas, Free Minds, a part of the Division of Diversity and Community Engagement offers a group of motivated men and women a two-semester course in the humanities. Participants read and discuss prominent works, receive support, such as childcare and books and six hours of college credit through ACC. Kellee recently reflected on the transformative power of studying philosophy when she was a student in the program, an experience she took into her future college class work.
When I started Free Minds in 2007, my son UsZee was four months old and I already had my three-year-old daughter Journee. At the time, I was living in South Austin in a one-bedroom apartment and making $8,000 a year. I had a 1987 Chevy Beretta that was on its last leg. It was a hard time.
When we began reading Plato’s Republic in Free Minds, I gained a confidence in myself that I didn’t have before. UsZee would cry inconsolably with the childcare ladies, but I couldn’t bear to miss class, so I would walk around in class nursing my infant son discussing the Thrasymacus question and the idea of the nature of justice. At home I found myself cutting off the TV and reading The Republic to my kids. I would try and explain it to my mom, my brother, random people on the street, whoever would listen.
I don’t necessarily believe it was the content of The Republic that changed me, but more the realization that I could conquer a book like that. I loved being in a seminar environment with people like me, working-class folks, discussing the book and having these interesting conversations about Socrates, feeling affirmed by my peers as well as my professor. I love philosophy, and I love to think about ideas and pick them apart to the atomic level. It is a luxury I really hadn’t tapped into until then.
Reading this book inspired me to go on to read other challenging pieces. It pushed me to always pay attention, and to continue to develop my analysis on my perspective of the world we live in.