Born out of the Civil Rights Movement: FLOC’s Humble Beginnings

The idea for FLOC was born out of the civil rights movement almost 55 years ago when Reverend Gordon Cosby, a Minister for the Church of the Savior of Washington, D.C., took part in the landmark 1965 civil rights demonstration in Selma, Alabama led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. He came back home and asked himself, “what is my Selma?” That question stayed with him for months until one day, while reading the newspaper, he saw a story about a man who had grown up in foster care. This man had bounced around from place to place as a child, never forming any emotional connections. Eventually, he found his way to crime and ended up on the nation’s Top Ten Most Wanted List. Gordon then turned the paper over and saw a story on how the population was getting so big at Junior Village, an overcrowded, understaffed, abusive D.C. center for impoverished children, that they were putting up tents to house the overflow children. Cosby flipped back and forth between the two articles and realized: this was his Selma. 

After some deliberation, he decided to take advantage of the fact that he had the pulpit on Sundays. So, he drafted a series of three sermons. On the first Sunday, Cosby focused on his experience in Selma-something that was so incredibly powerful to him. After the sermon, he asked anybody interested in his story to stay behind and talk about it with him. A handful of people did.

The next week, Cosby preached his second sermon on the two newspaper articles he had read about the Most Wanted Criminal and Junior Village. Once again, he asked if anyone would like to stay behind after and talk more about the subject. Several more stayed.

On the third week, the chapel was full of about 100 people. Cosby preached about launching a crusade to empty Junior Village of all children–from 6 months to 18 years old–within the year. He asked if anybody wanted to stay, and not a single person got up. They all stayed.

The church began organizing, each person asking themselves what they could do. They tried to reach as many congregations (Protestant, Catholic, and Jewish) in Washington, D.C. as they could and give each the responsibility of getting five children out of Junior Village. They started knocking on doors looking for potential foster parents. They went to the communities where these children were coming from to try and figure out why they weren’t wanted and soon realized there was a bigger, deeper, more systematic problem. And so FLOC was born.

What began as a temporary mission to close down Junior Village and find homes for all of the children housed there, quickly became something more. Cosby realized he needed to structure his new organization for a long-distance run. Since it began in 1965, FLOC has served more than 10,000 children and youth. It has become one of the most respected nonprofits in the community. Today, roughly 25 staff and 300 volunteers serve nearly 600 students per year in local schools and FLOC’s facilities. 

As far as we have come since Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and his civil rights movement inspired Gordon Cosby, we still have a long way to go. Most children in this country, particularly low-income children of color, still do not receive the quality education they deserve. What began as the personal calling of a man wanting to carry out the vision of Dr. King Jr., turned into over half a century of service and dedication to the youth of Washington, D.C. 

On this day, more than ever, we are reminded of Dr. King Jr.’s dream of a country where every child could grow up having the same opportunities and chances for success. Though we are not there yet, FLOC strives to ensure that all students–regardless of race, ethnicity, or neighborhood–receive the support they need to achieve their own dreams. Born from the civil rights movement, guided by a man dedicated to living out Dr. King Jr.’s dream, FLOC will continue to push forward until his vision is realized.

If you can’t fly, then run. If you can’t run, then walk. If you can’t walk then crawl, but whatever you do you have to keep moving forward.” -Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

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