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Clergy demand justice and mercy for Dyett hunger strikers...

Ohanian Comment: Sharon Schmidt provides important context for what's happening at Dyett High School: Sabotage and Stall:

Despite attempts by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his latest (and fourth) "Chief Executive Officer" to claim that they need more time before making a decision about Dyett, the work of the coalition trying to restore Dyett has been going on since the very beginning of the Emanuel administration in May 2011.

by Sharon Schmidt

With Dyett High School supporters going into their third week of a hunger strike, Christian and Jewish clergy called on Mayor Rahm Emanuel, at a press conference on August 31, 2015 at City Hall, to âact justly and mercifullyâ and heed the parents who are risking their lives for an open enrollment, high quality public school in Bronzeville.

Since August 17, a dozen people have refused solid food in their demand that Rahm Emanuel and his appointed school board follow the community's wishes and use the now shuttered Dyett High School Building at 555 E. 51st St. for an open-enrollment high school that would focus on "global leadership" and "green technology."

"We need an upper echelon public school for our students," said hunger striker Dr. Aisha Wade-Bey, a parent, teacher and Bronzeville resident. "We want our children to be trained as leaders."

Bey told Substance that going into the third week of her hunger strike that her "spirit and soul are strong in solidarity" with all the supporters, but that she is feeling very weak and "can't do much" other than be present in the action. As part of the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School, Bey had worked hundreds of hours with others to complete the Dyett RFP (request for proposal), which she said was a "rational and top proposal."

Opening the press conference, Audrey May, the coordinator of the group PEACE (Parents Educators and Clergy for Education) and a Chicago Teachers Union staffer, said Mayor Emanuel should put as much effort in running Chicago as he did his race the previous day and lead "like a mayor, not Ramses." May said Emanuel should have compassion and put himself in the place of the community members who are starving themselves.

The next speaker, Rabbi Brant Rosen echoed May, and referred to the Egyptian pharaoh who turned his back on God's people: "Those who read the the Bible, the Torah, know what happens to leaders who harden their hearts to freedom," he said.

"It's a shameful reality that families would starve themselves for a decent, open-enrollment school," Rosen said, calling the hunger strikers moral role models. He said the hunger strikers are "putting their bodies on the line, risking permanent damage" for the love of their community.

"At the least, listen," Rosen said. "Be fair." He said the hunger strikers had many supporters throughout the city, state and nation.

The next speaker, Rev. Liz Muñoz, also pleaded for mercy and justice. "Do not abandon the children of God," she said.

Muñoz, who had taught in the Los Angeles public schools before coming to Chicago, told Substance that her Episcopalian congregation Nuestra Señora de las Americas in Logan Square supports the hunger strikers. "We may not be directly affected, but we are affected" by CPS' school decisions throughout the city.

The final clergy member to speak at the press conference, Rev. Robert Jones, pastor of the Mount Carmel Missionary Baptist church, quoted the book of Micah: "What does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God."

Jones asked for continued prayers.

May closed the press conference by reminding Emanuel that he says he "loves this city." then leading the group in singing. The hunger strikers, supporters and clergy sang:

Ain't gonna let nobody turn me âround,

Turn me round, turn me âround.

Ain't gonna let nobody, turn me âround.

I'm gonna keep on a-walkin';, keep on a-talkin',

Walkin' into freedom land.

Despite attempts by Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his latest (and fourth) "Chief Executive Officer" to claim that they need more time before making a decision about Dyett, the work of the coalition trying to restore Dyett has been going on since the very beginning of the Emanuel administration in May 2011. After observing the closing off of the schools in the Bronzeville community to the general population from the community, the members of the coalition, led by the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO) took up the Board's challenge and developed a comprehensive plan to continue the public's use of the beautiful (and relatively new) Dyett building as a general high school. By 2011, that plan, which is the current plan, was in place and had been presented to the Board of Education.

The Board began a two pronged policy that might be called the two "Ss" -- Sabotage and Stall.

SABOTAGE: The Sabotage came by virtue of the Board's refusal to admit new students to Dyett High School after 2011. This kind of sabotage had been successful in furthering the Board's policy of massive privatization for more than a decade. As early as 2006, the Board stopped allowing Collins High School to take in new 9th grade students. A couple of years later, the same policy of choking off the supply of students was done to Austin High School. In both cases, it became clear that the sabotage of the existing general high school was part of a plan to turn the buildings over to private operators.

The Collins High School building -- despite its origins in the struggles of the West Side Black Community to create a "school in the park" -- was undermined by CPS policy. Ultimately, the Board then voted to divide the school into two parts. Part of Collins was given over to the Academy for Urban School Leadership (AUSL), while the rest of the building was given to the controversial North Lawndale College Prep charter high school. Collins was destroyed as a general high school serving the community and turned over to two versions of the Board's privatization campaign.

Meanwhile, the Austin High School building was suffering the same fate. Then Board of Education President Michael Scott announced that in order to stop the gang violence at Austin the Board would freeze 9th grade. Each year, Scott (or his successors after he committed suicide following the failure of Chicago to get the 2016 Olympics) proclaimed that Austin needed to continue fighting gang violence and drug gang crimes by stopping student access to the school. Within four years, Austin had no students, and suddenly, the Board closed Austin as a general high school and began turning over pieces of the building to charter schools and other unusual configurations.

Meanwhile, the people who wanted to continue supporting Dyett developed their plan to keep the school open for the community as a general high school. They repeatedly brought the plan to the Board, with the support of both community leaders and the University of Illinois at Chicago.

THE STALL: And yet in 2015 the mayor and the latest CEO of CPS continued claiming that they needed "more time." The time they had taken had simply sabotaged the existing Dyett, to the point where in June 2015, the school graduated only 13 students. Reporters who ignore context and history noted that Dyett was supposedly a waste of CPS money during another time of austerity.

— Sharon Schmidt
Substance News





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