Joy Village, a new school for black youth and education in Athens, opens


The summer break ended on Wednesday as thousands of children across Athens returned to class.

But Wednesday marked more than the first day of the new school year for some of those children. For them, it was also their first day as the first generation of students in a one-of-a-kind school.

joy village school specializes in the education of black youth and welcomed its students for the first time with a procession and music.

The day began for the students with a procession to the school building with their parents, teachers and supporters – their village. Instruments played as the village sang ‘Funga Alafia’, with its words coming from the West African language Yoruba, meaning ‘welcome, in peace, we salute you’, according to school principal Lora Smothers.

“The overwhelming feeling I have today is one of gratitude,” Smothers said.

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When the students reached the front of the school building, remarks were made by Smothers, a member of staff via a poem, and then by community elders.

The students were divided into groups according to their level. The school educates children up to eighth grade.

These groups reflected the names of some of the most important parts of black history in Athens: Reese Street, Hot Corner and Linnentown.

The groups were invited to come forward and each received a direct message individually: “There is a place in our village that only you can occupy. We need your gifts. We celebrate you. We will support you. And we welcome you to the village.

The students then crossed a threshold to signify a new beginning.

It takes a village

A brief breakfast began with the students, parents and staff, giving the three facets of the village the opportunity to spend time together.

For parents and grandparents Collisa Lankford, the new school offered her daughter and grandson things she felt other teaching methods lacked.

As a former educator, Lankford was concerned with certain aspects of the public school system, including its teachings on black history.

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At Joy Village, Black History is a specific subject that students will learn alongside reading and math.

“I’m thrilled to have found Joy Village,” Lankford said.

For Lankford’s daughter, Aniya, math was actually what she looked forward to the most. It’s his favorite subject.

But overall, 8-year-old Aniya said she was excited and remarked that “classrooms aren’t like that” while pointing to an open door. Aniya also said that her last school didn’t have a “comfortable corner”.

Lankford said the class size was another aspect of Joy Village she loved. She said that while some public school classes could have up to 30 students, her daughter’s class had a total of four students.

“[Aniya] is visual. She needs to see things. In a setting like this, the teacher will be able to figure out how each student is learning and then teach the learning style because it’s not such a large group of students, said Lankford.

Aniya was also thrilled to be able to start school with a friend from the public school system who was now one of the students in her class. The two transferred to Joy Village together from Barnett Shoals Elementary, according to Aniya’s mother.

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The first day of the school process allowed the students of Joy Village to enter the classroom. The parents participated in the morning activities, but slowly withdrew as their children became familiar with their new surroundings.

Smothers said that for the rest of the students’ first day, the school would have a morning meeting with caroling. After that, students went to their main classrooms where they learned math, language arts, and black history.

After class, the children had lunch and recreation followed by a dance class to end the day.


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