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Families try to reconnect with Freedom Foundation members

SELMA — A couple of families with volunteers in the Freedom Foundation talked about their desire for reconciliation with their loved ones Sunday in an open forum at the Carl C. Morgan Jr. Convention Center.

The families spoke for about an hour to a crowd of about 150, then fielded questions during the session, which was attended by supporters and critics of the non-profit organization.

The purpose of the public meeting was to see “no other fathers or grandfathers or brothers or sisters or other family have to go through what our family has,” said Roman Morin, father of one of the volunteers.

The Freedom Foundation is a non-profit organization, which its founders said, was created to reignite the idea of a beloved community where people from various walks of life work together for the greater good of the community.

According to its website, the organization was founded in Parker, Colo., then in August 2007, 50 volunteers moved to Selma to become a part of the community and work as volunteers in a variety of settings, including Selma public schools.

Two families represented, the Morins and Farnsworths, said they were estranged from their loved ones as a result of membership in the Freedom Foundation.

Patricia Morin, mother of one of the volunteers, said when she began to question and challenge her daughter regarding the group Bible study her daughter was participating in, that’s when their line of communication broke down.

Morin said her daughter set limits: Discuss gardening or cooking, nothing to do with the Freedom Foundation.

“Over a long period of time, communication broke down to this point,” Morin said.

An estimated 50 to 60 volunteers from the Freedom Foundation walked into the meeting as it began.

None of the volunteers from the Freedom Foundation spoke in return. Members of the families of those who spoke passed out typewritten statements outside the convention center before the program.

Shawn Samuelson, operations director and chair of the foundation, said in an e-mail Monday, “It was apparent last night’s meeting was centered on the personal family issues of the Morins and Farnsworths and those families chose to deal with their personal business in a public matter. Because the meeting was not about the Freedom Foundation’s work in Selma, we do not have a comment at this time.”

Other volunteers from the organization carried signs and stood in front of the convention center prior to the meeting. Some of the signs read “We love Selma;” “I am a man;” “How many black people go to your church? W.W.J.D.”

The pickets elicited a response from some inside, including Nancy Smith, who arranged the site for the meeting.

“Why do they have to be here? Why do they have to do this?” she asked.

Police officers stood outside first, and followed volunteers into the building.

Selma Police Lt. David Evans, the shift commander, said police were present because when estranged families meet, the meeting can become contentious.

“Everyone behaved appropriately,” Evans said.