Skip to content
Join our Newsletter

First-Generation Brooklynites Are Getting Into College Thanks to This Growing Organization

Freedom and Citizenship is in the process of creating similar, life-changing programs in 25+ universities by 2024.
A Student and his TA
A Freedom and Citizenship participant and his mentor. Photo: provided.

For Crown Heights teen Jasmine Greene, navigating college applications during the beginning of the pandemic was no small feat.

Greene, who just finished her first semester at Mount Holyoke College, said her success was supported by Freedom and Citizenship at Columbia University, a quickly expanding education nonprofit that has helped nearly 400 first-generation and low-income students achieve their higher education goals since its launch in 2009.

In efforts to reach more students, Freedom and Citizenship recently founded Knowledge for Freedom, which will create similar programs in more than 25 universities by 2024, including schools like New York University, Fordham University and University of Rochester.

"I feel like the Freedom and Citizenship program really prepared me for the type of discussions we have in my college seminars," Greene said.

The free program includes an intensive academic summer workshop where students live on Columbia's campus and take a course on political philosophy, take part in year-long civic leadership projects, receive one-on-one mentorship and college application support.

Jasmine and her friends, meeting up after their virtual summer program in 2020. Jasmine is second from left. Photo: Courtesy of Jasmine Greene.
Jasmine and her friends, meeting up after their virtual summer program in 2020. Jasmine is second from left. Photo: Courtesy of Jasmine Greene.

Freedom and Citizenship has recruited participants from 11 Brooklyn high schools so far, including Uncommon Charter High School, Brooklyn College Academy and East Williamsburg Scholars Academy, among others.

"It was also helpful to meet people who have similar-but-different backgrounds with the same goals," Greene said. "And, my mentor â€" I mean those relationships just really impacted me."

Greene has been enjoying her sociology classes and is planning on joining the volleyball team on campus.

Executive Director of Freedom and Citizenship Jessica Lee said the work the organization was doing was deeply personal, as Lee's mother was also a first-generation immigrant and college student.

"In this program, I see the kind of students who remind me of my mom â€" students who are eager, ambitious, excited, a little bit brave and can still use a lot of help feeling comfortable, finding their voice and achieving their goals. Those are the students we recruit and support."

Freedom and Citizenship cohort on the grass at Columbia. Photo: provided.
The Freedom and Citizenship cohort on the grass at Columbia. Photo: provided.

Lately, Lee's been busy training professors and teaching staff at the participating schools for the new Knowledge for Freedom program, which is modeled after Freedom and Citizenship's blueprint.

"I'm training them on everything from how to teach to high school students, to how to recruit students and all the things it takes to do this kind of work successfully," Lee said.

Knowledge for Freedom is cofounded by the Teagle Foundation, an organization focused on humanities and education.

Frieda Adu-Brempong, a Bronx local and Freedom and Citizenship graduate, said her experience with the program 10 years ago continued to have a positive impact on her life.

"I would say the one thing that I saw the most immediate result of from the program was being able to speak up in the classroom," Adu-Brempong said. "And, you know, my GPA thanked me for it, so it was cool."

Adu-Brempong is currently looking to further her education and attend business school.

"Now I work in the civic sector, which has been a really nice throughline from my experience with Freedom and Citizenship into my professional life," Adu-Brempong. "I feel like the program does a good job at selecting and fostering really thoughtful citizens."

Each year the program welcomes a cohort of New York City students the summer before entering their senior year of high school.

Last summer, the program was remote, but this upcoming summer the program will take place in person on Columbia's campus, so COVID-19 vaccination will be required.

Apply now for the summer 2022 cohort.

Miranda Levingston

About the Author: Miranda Levingston

Miranda Levingston is an award-winning reporter and editor passionate about covering the change-makers in her borough.
Read more