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Joy Harrington
1619 Freedom School

The 1619 Freedom School Receives Largest Single-Year Grant Award from TruStage Foundation to Empower Waterloo Students


Waterloo, IA--The 1619 Freedom School, which begins its third year of literacy instruction on September 18, is thrilled to announce the awarding of two grants from prestigious foundations committed to high-quality, affirming education.

The 1619 Freedom School was granted its largest single-year grant ever from the TruStage Foundation. The $250,000 grant will provide numerous critical functions for the school including teacher development, curriculum book acquisitions, and scholar supplies and materials. 


“The 1619 Freedom School tells us literacy is the linchpin of academic success. Academic success is the linchpin of improving economic inequality,” said Alexzandra Shade, TruStage’s Director of Corporate Social Responsibility. “At TruStage, our mission is to make a brighter financial future accessible to everyone. With this grant from the TruStage Foundation, we are taking a step toward making that mission a reality.” 


The W.K. Kellogg Foundation awarded the 1619 Freedom School $200,000 to be disbursed over two years as part of the foundation’s commitment to providing high quality, culturally affirming literacy instruction. “We are excited to be in partnership with the 1619 Freedom School as they provide students with intensive literacy instruction through a Black history curriculum in a nurturing, asset-based and culturally responsive environment,” says Sakinah Harrison, program officer at the Kellogg Foundation.


Both grants will enable the 1619 Freedom School to further its mission to improve literacy skills of public-school students in Waterloo with the ultimate goal of closing the academic achievement gap between Black and white students in the school district. 

About the 1619 Freedom School

The 1619 Freedom School is a free, community-based, after-school literacy program where students improve literacy skills and develop a love for reading through liberating instruction centered on 400 years of Black American history. The 1619 Freedom School combines intensive, fun, and uplifting literacy instruction through a custom-designed curriculum built by expert educators from Georgetown University's Program in Education, Inquiry, and Justice and the University of Buffalo.

The 1619 Freedom School was founded by Waterloo native and Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Nikole Hannah-Jones. It launched in 2021 to serve fourth and fifth-grade students in the Waterloo Community School District where Black students–who account for 26 percent of the student population–are more than two grades behind their white peers in academic performance. Formal literacy instruction typically ends in the third grade despite this fact. Hannah-Jones and a team of Black women leaders in Waterloo launched the program to address this glaring disparity. The school provides children the furthest behind in reading with affirming literacy instruction to improve this foundational academic skill.

The program’s motto, “Liberation through Literacy,” resides within the Black tradition and belief that education is the key to freedom and seeks to remind children they come from a heritage of Black people who so believed in the power of literacy that they risked their lives for it during slavery when it was illegal for Black Americans to learn to read and write.

The grant awards are especially empowering since the 1619 Freedom School receives no government or public funding for its operations. It is free to all children who enroll. The 1619 Freedom School’s scholars receive school supplies and a personal library of books at no cost to their families. The Waterloo Community School District collaborates with the program, providing free transportation for the scholars and other support.

"We are incredibly honored to receive these grants,” says Hannah-Jones. “These amazing contributions will allow us to provide essential literacy instruction to the students of Waterloo. We can make a lasting impact on the lives of our scholars and, ultimately, the entire Waterloo community.”

Sheritta Stokes, director and curriculum coordinator for the 1619 Freedom School said “These awards will further our work for students, building our scholars’ foundational academic skills so they can thrive. We are truly grateful for the TruStage and Kellogg Foundations’ financial contribution to our mission and their dedication to literacy instruction."

About TruStage Foundation: The TruStage Foundation is a registered 501(c)(3) that serves as the philanthropic arm of TruStage. Efforts of the Foundation center on building equity in the communities we live and serve. TruStage is a financially strong insurance, investment and technology provider, built on the philosophy of people helping people. We believe a brighter financial future should be accessible to everyone, and our products and solutions help people confidently make financial decisions that work for them at every stage of life. With a culture rooted and focused on creating a more equitable society and financial system, we are deeply committed to giving back to our communities to improve the lives of those we serve. For more information, visit  

About W.K. Kellogg Foundation: The W.K. Kellogg Foundation (WKKF), founded in 1930 as an independent, private foundation by breakfast cereal innovator and entrepreneur Will Keith Kellogg, is among the largest philanthropic foundations in the United States. Guided by the belief that all children should have an equal opportunity to thrive, WKKF works with communities to create conditions for vulnerable children so they can realize their full potential in school, work and life. The Kellogg Foundation is based in Battle Creek, Michigan, and works throughout the United States and internationally, as well as with sovereign tribes. For more information, visit

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