FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:                

October 24, 2023

CONTACT: David G. Wilkins, President, Manasota ASALH   (989) 980-0555

Dave Harralson,  Corresponding Secretary (941) 870-5516


$200,000 Community Foundation of Sarasota County Grant Supports the Manasota ASALH Freedom School

The Freedom School offers courses in Black History

SARASOTA, FL—Manasota ASALH Freedom School (MAFS), which offers accurate lessons in African and African American history, will resume next month, thanks to a $200,000 grant from the Marilyn G. Harwell Fund, a component fund of the Community Foundation of Sarasota County.

Run by the Manasota branch of ASALH (the Association for the Study of African American Life and History), the Freedom School’s mission is to teach the true history of Africa and African Americans, at a time when such instruction is being restricted in Florida’s public schools.

The Freedom School piloted its program last spring, amid the passage of new legislation, commonly referred to as the “STOP WOKE” act, which restricted what and how teachers were to teach concepts of race, color, sex and national origin, potentially subjecting them to lawsuits and loss of employment for discrimination under the new law. While the school is patterned after the freedom schools of the 1960s that arose as part of the Civil Rights Movement to empower Black students and families through education, MAFS is open to every learner, regardless of race.

“It’s critical that all students, not just Black students, can learn about Black history, which is American history,” said Manasota ASALH President David Wilkins. “The teaching of factual history plays an essential role in fostering a civil society and these lessons are as important today as they ever were.”

The free sessions, which begin on November 4, 2023, and continue every Saturday (with breaks for holidays) through April 20, 2024, build on the success of the MAFS pilot program, which ran from February through April of this year and involved 50 students. That pilot program was sponsored by several philanthropic institutions, including the Community Foundation of Sarasota County. This second session of the program is also supported by a $25,000 grant from the Foundation in addition to the grant made by the Harwell Fund.

Aimed at students in grades K through 12, the classes will be conducted by certified teachers and aided by volunteers. The 11:30 a.m. – 3:00 p.m. sessions will include a free lunch and be held at Girls Inc., 201 S Tuttle Avenue, Sarasota, FL 34237. Interested students can register at

The Freedom School, which seeks to foster critical thinking and informed citizenship, will cover subjects including;

  • The history of Africa.
  • Origin of the slave trade.
  • Brutal realities of the Middle Passage.
  • The economy of the antebellum South.
  • Emancipation and its aftermath.
  • The Civil Rights movement.
  • Achievements and challenges of contemporary Black America.

The grant is provided by the Community Foundation of Sarasota County’s Marilyn G. Harwell Fund. Harwell was a philanthropist, long-time community volunteer and former book publisher who passed away in 2021 at the age of 91.


About Manasota ASALH: Manasota ASALH is a local branch of the national Association for the Study of African American Life and History (ASALH), the organization credited with founding Black History Month. Since its founding in 1995, Manasota ASALH has pursued its mission to promote, research, preserve, interpret and disseminate information about Black life, history and culture to the global community. Manasota ASALH has supported Black students through the provision of scholarships to high school students accepted to accredited colleges or universities. Since the inception of its scholarship program, Manasota ASALH has given more than $540,000 in scholarships to 290 deserving students. In March 2023, Manasota ASALH began The Freedom School, which teaches African American history. For more information about Manasota ASALH, visit or call (989) 980-0555.

About the Community Foundation of Sarasota County: The Community Foundation of Sarasota County is a public charity founded in 1979 by the Southwest Florida Estate Planning Council as a resource for caring individuals and the causes they support, enabling them to make a charitable impact on the community. With assets of $460 million in more than 1,570 charitable funds, the Community Foundation awarded grants and scholarships totaling $45.3 million last year in the areas of education, the arts, health and human services, civic engagement, animal welfare and the environment. Since its founding, the Community Foundation has been able to grant more than $396 million to area nonprofit organizations in our community thanks to the generosity of charitable individuals, families, and businesses. For more information, visit or call (941) 955-3000.