Community Chest: Fela Barclift Founder and Director, Little Sun People

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Fela Barclift, center, with State Senator Kevin Parker, parents and Little Sun People.

To provide an excellent childhood education that particularly includes a well-developed curriculum imbued with cultural connections and important information relative to young children of color that will create a strong sense of personal identity, purpose and confidence at all times.

This is the mission statement for Little Sun People, a prodigious child care center located in Restoration on Herkimer Street. Equipped with a robust curriculum, a child-centered environment and a faculty that leads with love, Little Sun People is a proven front-runner among preschools in our community, a special place that seeks to enrich not just the children, but to reach through the children into the community and the world.

The Founder and Director of LSP is Fela Barclift. Born in Cairo, Georgia and raised from an infant in Bed-Stuy, Fela remembers hearing Malcolm X on television as a child, noting that experience as a big part of what sowed the seeds of self-determination into her fabric. “I heard him speak on television when I was 11 and I was so inspired by listening to him. Every time he was on television I’d be trying to watch and listen. Hearing his words helped to lead me to look for African-centered organizations in my community.”

Her search eventually led her through the doors of the East Organization and into the role of teacher at Uhuru Sasa Shule (Freedom Now School). She was one of the school’s first teachers, teaching the girls even while she was just a freshman in college herself. In time, Fela left Uhuru Sasa and returned full-time to college. She was diligent in her studies and wanted to become a lawyer. However, instead of going into law, Fela got married and started a family. When her first born was ready for early child care education, Fela began to seek out schools that fit her child’s needs both academically and culturally. Unable to find such a space, and with the luck of having an empty floor in her family’s brownstone on Jefferson Street and Tompkins Avenue, Fela decided to create her own kind of early child care education. She is now and has always been dedicated to instilling values in our children at a young age. “It is so important for the early stages of childhood education because that is the foundation and if that isn’t strong then everything else is weak as far as I’m concerned. And a weak identity and a weak self-image will reflect throughout a person’s life. So, I really wanted my daughter to have a positive image of herself.”

Little Sun People opened in 1981. There were four children in her first class. Pretty soon, what started as a parent fulfilling a personal child care need became a labor of love for Fela. “I didn’t think about it as a school, I just thought child care, but I knew that it was going to be African-centered and I’m going to help my child form a positive and a beautiful image of herself so that she knows who she is in this world and what her potential is.”

The school lasted in that brownstone until 1985 when Fela moved the institution into its current space in Restoration. It’s been there ever since. Now in its 38th year, Little Sun People is still using perseverance, consistency, love and commitment to guide our community’s children in the right direction. “I think the secret of our longevity is that I never went into this work as just a job. This is a passion for me and it is my contribution. I couldn’t have gotten a better opportunity to do work where I feel a sense of personal and soul satisfaction. I feel like I am contributing to my community. I’m doing positive and meaningful work, and it gives me a reason to get up every day. At Little Sun People, we respect, we honor and we love and emulate people of African heritage. We believe in us and we teach that to our children.”