Speech by Shantell Steve to Operation PUSH on February 27, 2010... 'Truth is dangerous to people doing wrong...'

[Editor's Note: The following speech was supposed to be delivered to the February 24, 2010 meeting of the Chicago Board of Education, as Shantell explains below. It was not delivered and teachers from CORE and students protested against the censorship during the Board meeting. On Saturday, February 27, 2010, Shantell delivered the speech at the Saturday meeting of Operation PUSH].

Shantell Steve (above, speaking at microphone) of Chicago's Percy Julian High School delivered her speech at the February 27, 2010 meeting of Operation PUSH (Rainbow PUSH coalition) following the Chicago Board of Education's censorship of her on February 24, 2010 at its monthly meeting. Standing to the right is Jonathan jackson of PUSH, who has been leading many of the protests against Chicago's "turnaround" program. On the left is Julian High School teacher Xian Barrett. Substance photo by Kristine Mayle.Good morning everyone, I would like to take the time to thank Jonathan Jackson and Rainbow PUSH for inviting me and actually allowing me to speak.

As some of you might know, on Wednesday [February 24, 2010], the Chicago Board of Education invited us to be honored and then decided that Kellina Mojica and I were too dangerous to be allowed to speak to the people of Chicago. Because on that the day they had already planned to vote to close 8 schools and they knew we would tell the truth about this terrible process. In a way, they are right — truth is dangerous to people doing wrong. Kellina and I were at the board to be recognized for our work to promote a democratic society so it was especially ironic to be silenced. So I would like to share some excerpts from that speech.

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. once stated that "True peace is not merely the absence of tension, it is the presence of justice”. I have lived this meaning over my four years at Julian High school. I have worked with different social justice groups like Jaguars for Justice and Chicago Youth Initiating Change to promote strong student voices in our community and education in general. I have advocated for peer-to-peer mentoring and teacher-student mentoring as an alternative to punitive interventions for so-called “at-risk” students. Most of all I have fought for student and community voice in the reforming of our schools — opposing Renaissance 2010 and its closing and turning around of schools against the wishes of our communities and the betterment of our educations. In our experience Ren2010 disrupts schools and takes away the heart of what school is all about—our relationships with teachers.

Our work has been successful in some areas but in others we are still fighting for change. We have made great strides in promoting student voice and improving our individual school. While we have been calm and truthful with the board, they have ignored our voices and continued on their path of injustice. It made me rethink the Dr. King quote: I thought, maybe sometimes to bring true justice, you not only have to endure tension, you have to bring tension to the situation. If they are too comfortable, people with power will not allow justice to flourish. Many people see a good student as playing by the rules, but my activism has shown me that we can’t bring justice unless we decide what’s right and move forward—even as resistance. What good is doing what you are told when the people telling you are sabotaging neighborhood schools all around you?

The Board often refers to first section of the Board Meeting as the “Good News Section”. As if the community section is the “bad news” section. But the only people who truly know how to improve community education are us, the students and the communities who have been long neglected. So we must join together to bring some serious positive tension and demand the implementation of justice in Chicago education. After all, that’s what this recognition is about—helping remind those in power that our schools belong to all of us.

In the end, I hope the board is right. I hope that us raising our voices is critically dangerous to them. These 8 schools must be saved and if the Board is too cowardly to act against the mayor’s wishes, then we must join together to make it tense enough to stop these turnarounds and closings. That would be the best news of all for our Chicago democracy.


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