Criminalizing Black Mothers and children:the Ella Baker Freedom School

How is the State used against Chicago women of color who organize and unschool or homeschool their children?

Ella Baker Freedom School co-founder Marissa Brown is facing potential criminal charges for homeschooling her 2 daughters! Marissa has been a community activist that has been consistently vocal about her opposition to state sanctioned violence against Black communities

Marissa’s has focused much of her community activism on highlighting and combating the oppression of Black youth in the School-to-Prison Pipeline and stopping police crimes. She has also worked to hold elected officials such as States Attorney Anita Alverez accountable to the people.

It is no coincidence that this Black mother who homeschools her children while organizing the Black community to fight against State sponsored violence would be criminally charged for keeping her daughters out of that very same system! For decades Black community activists have been the target of political and criminal persecution for opposing their oppressors. Please show your support for our Sister Marissa by showing up to her next Family Court date. Here we will find out if the State plan to file criminal charges against Marissa for homeschooling her children against the order of the court to send them to separate Chicago Public Schools against her and her childrens’ wishes. Read more about Marissa’s struggle and donate to her defense fund here:

My name is Marissa Brown (Johnson) and I am a mother of 4, educator and community activist. I am also the founder of the Ella Baker Freedom School which is a network of homeschooling families and volunteers where my youngest two children Trinity 13 & Arissa 10 have attended since our founding in 2012. It is the physical manifestation of 8 years of working on combining the three branches of my life; family, community and education as all three are interconnected.

I am very proud of the Freedom School and the work we, the Freedom School Family, do here. We have a very loving environment for our students (who we call Scholars). We foster inter-generational learning, servant-leadership, critical thinking, empathy building, community building, loyalty, self-awareness, cultural awareness, information seeking, and many other “practical application” skills. In addition to our advanced level general education courses such as Language Arts, Science, Reading and Math, we also hold more non-traditional classes such as Yoga, Political Prisoner Circle, Gardening, Know Your Rights trainings, and “World Management & Global Thinking” (a course that’s a combination of History, Social Studies and Science). All of our classes are free of charge and are lead by volunteers including the children. Our Freedom School volunteers come from all walks of life and have diverse cultural and educational backgrounds.

While me and my daughters have been able to find happiness in our educational self-determination, their father, my ex-husband has not. It is not because the children are lacking from our current educational approach, he is no longer content having his ex-wife teaching his girls. His position is that he should dictate what is best for our daughters contrary to how they feel or my wishes as a mother. It was this controlling behavior that made me finally flee my marriage with little more than a few personal items. Gaining my freedom was well worth the financial sacrifices I made to end the marriage. My ex-husband is still upset that I “quit” by divorcing him and ending over 15 years of control, manipulation and emotional abuse. When it finally became obvious to him that I was surviving even without his financial support and would not return to him he decided to punish me and subsequently our children. Tragically, he has been successful in using The State via the Cook County Circuit Courts as the instrument of punishment wielded against me, my girls and our Freedom School.

For the last 14 months I have been fighting this ugly family court case regarding the education & custody of my daughters. On September 2, 2014 my ex-husband enrolled my daughters in separate Chicago Public Schools without my knowledge or agreement. During this same period he violated our custody agreement by keeping my daughters away from me for three weeks during which they were unreachable by phone or text.  He then filed an emergency motion in Family Court that contained multiple lies and half truths about the schooling that the girls receive at the Freedom School. I received no notice of the hearing (as required by law) and was not there to present my side. The motion was granted and my kids were ordered to continue attending CPS. The judge, Mary Trew (pretty ironic I think) also assigned an Independent Child Representative, Lester Barclay who is supposed to act as my daughters’ attorney and in their best interest.

I have repeatedly advocated for me and my daughters’ legal rights to homeschool and they have been repeatedly denied. In the last 14 months I have done all I could to demonstrate to the court through evidence, statements and motions the quality of the education my daughters receive. Each piece of evidence was dismissed and/or ignored by the judge. I have tried to compromise with my ex-husband to spare the girls from the undue stress that this fight is causing them but he has been unwilling to budge on his position or participate in family counseling. I have encouraged the “Independent” Child Rep to talk to my daughters, Freedom School families and volunteers, or attend a day at our homeschool; he has done none of the above. He was assigned as my daughters representative in October of 2014 and spoke with them for the first time in April of 2015, and then for only about 20 minutes. In that time they voiced their desire to attend Freedom School and not CPS, he never notified the court of their wishes and instead continues to advocate for the girls attending separate CPS schools, one of which his son attended!

This case has deteriorated to the point that recently Judge Trew gave Lester Barclay the green light to file a motion for an Order of Protection against me having contact with my daughters! This demonstrates the extremes The State is willing to go to keep Black mother separated from Black children! It is because of my unwillingness to turn over the care and control of my children’s education to the CPS System that my family is suffering. As a political activist involved with the movement that’s demanding the holding police accountable for their crimes, challenging the School to Prison Pipeline, and educating overpoliced communities on their rights when detained by police, it’s hard to believe that my activities have no bearing on the behavior of The Court and its willingness to tear my family apart. How can I not feel that the State’s blatant abuse of power is not tied to my very public challenging of this System?

An Order of Protection is serious business and reserved primarily for victims of domestic violence. This motion is not being filed against me because there are allegations that I have abused my children; in fact all parties are in agreement that I am a good mother and dedicated educator. I am having the legal custody of my girls stripped away because I have chosen to homeschool my girls – because we dare to practice Self-Determination of our education! Trinity and Arissa love our homeschool family and have thrived at The Ella Baker Freedom School. They are both gifted students and enjoy the individualized learning and cultural affirmations that are the bedrock of our homeschooling collective.  In CPS they feel stagnant and unchallenged. I know that my daughters deserve to have the best education possible and I know that is with me their mother and lifelong primary educator.

Through this series of unscrupulous court maneuvers, my ex-husband has been able to repeatedly violate our Divorce Decree & Joint Parenting Agreement, avoid family mediation, and have the attorney that’s on paper as my daughter’s lawyer argue and file motions on his behalf. I have been excluded from conversations, emails, reports and court hearings continuously. I am on a very fixed income and cannot afford an attorney so I have sought advice from various free legal services and thus far the only legal advice I have been given has involved submitting to the court’s demand that I force my daughters to attend separate CPS schools against all of our wishes. I have not been successful in finding an attorney that is willing to advocate for my daughters and our homeschool pro bono (for free). This puts me at an extreme disadvantage as my ex-husband has been able to get advice and representation by Mr. Barclay.

So what do we need? We need YOUR help in this fight for Educational Rights! There are 6 ways that you can help:

  1. Donate to The “State vs. Freedom School” Legal Defense Fund here:
  2. Legal Support: If you are or know a Family Law, Homeschooling, or Civil Rights Attorney who is willing to work this case Pro Bono please contact us ASAP at
  3. Pack the Courtroom on November 23, 2015 9:00 am @ The Daley Center courtroom 3003: This is very important! We really need the support of allies of Freedom School to show up and stand with my family in the courtroom! Having a large presence may compel the court to follow the law and stop the repeated violation of children and mother’s rights by this court.
  4. Contact the decision makers and tell them that you stand with the Brown Family & the Freedom School and to call off Judge Mary Trew’s attack on homeschooling families:
    1. Judge Mary Trew-  (312) 603-5278
    2. Cook County Chief Judge Tim Evans- (312) 603-6000/
    3. Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle 312-603-6400
  5. Vote out Judge Trew 03-15-2016! Judge Mary Trew has demonstrated no regard for keeping Black families together. She has made rulings which substituted law for personal feelings. Let’s send the message to The State that this behavior is NOT ok! Vote out Trew March 2016 when she is up for reelection.
  6. Help raise awareness about this assault on Black Families! Typically domestic cases have not been viewed as political but they are! With sexism, classism and racism running afoul in this case the only way to win is to get this case out of the shadows and into the public! Please share widely on social media using hashtags #BlackMindsMatter #Justice4FreedomSchool #SOS & #SaveOurSchool. You can also schedule a teach-in for your group to become more familiar with the Freedom School, homeschooling laws, and action steps you can take by emailing us at