CHICAGO CITY HALL SIT-N DAY TWO: Speakers outlined demands of sit-in as the famous fifth floor of Chicago's City Hall echoed with the chants, prayers, songs and spirit of the Civil Rights and Freedom Ride eras
Between 100 and 200 teachers, parents, students, clergy and community activists stood in the hallway on the fifth floor of Chicago's City Hall outside the offices of Mayor Rahm Emanuel on the morning of January 4, 2011 to demand that the mayor order a halt to the plans for closing and turnaround in the Bronzeville community and elsewhere across the city.
Several speakers gave information at the news conference, which began slightly after 11:00 a.m. Shannon Bennett, one of the leaders of Kenwood Oakland Community Organization (KOCO), said “We have done our due diligence” and reported on 18 months of work on developing a school improvement plan for Dyett High School and its feeder elementary schools (Price, Fuller, Robinson, Mollison and Reavis). Unlike the Board of Education's plan, Bennet said, the community plan would not displace any teacher, staff or students. A KOCO fact sheet distributed during the news conference says, “This plan, grounded in reputable research, decades of education experience and genuine parent, student and teacher input creates a ‘village’ culture with Dyett and its feeder schools, to create excellent neighborhood schools to properly serve students and families who have been historically underserved. This plan is called the Bronzeville Global Achievers Village.”
Bennett told the people in attendance at the start of the news conference (including three Chicago TV news outlets – Fox News, WGN and ABC-Channel 7, none of which aired a report on the story) that despite four meetings with the Board of Education to discuss this plan, the Board’s CEO, Jean-Claude Brizard, has not replied, but instead has allowed the Board to continue its policy of destabilizing schools that serve students of color in the South Side Bronzeville neighborhood.
Bennett also said that KOCO and its supporters have made three requests within the past month to meet with Mayor Rahm Emanuel, but the mayor has yet to respond. Addressing the absent mayor, and explaining why protestors would stage a sit-in in front of the mayor’s office on the fifth floor of City Hall until he speaks with them, he declared: “You will not be allowed to be a mayor for only some people… in an apartheid fashion.”
The second speaker was Betty Dancy, grandmother of three students at CPS schools in the Bronzeville neighborhood. She told how her grandchildren have great potential, but are suffering from a lack of resources at the schools in their community. She told the crowd that the proposed closing of Dyett High School would deprive the community of the second high schools it has lost in the past 12 years. She pointed out that when Martin Luther King High School became "King College Prep" the majority of students from the community, including one of her grandchildren, we told they are not eligible to attend King, which requires certain test scores for admission.
She contrasted Dyett with other schools neighborhood where the Board has showered many more resources but has limited the enrollment so many neighborhood children cannot attend. Despite the extra money and the selective enrollment, these schools that the Board has taken over have failed to achieve better academic outcomes. Dancy demanded that the Board stop its destructive policies, and declared to the crowd: “We will win this battle.”
The third speaker was Steven Guy, grandparent of a student at Fuller Elementary, which is facing "turnaround" if the Board's plans go through. Mr. Guy pointed out the unfairness of the Board labeling neighborhood schools as “failing” when it is the Board’s policies that is making it hard for them to succeed.
The fourth speaker, Rev. Krista Alston identified herself as a community activist who is on the Local School Council of Price Elementary. Price is slated to be closed under the Board's proposed plans. She gave details on the "Bronzeville Global Achievers Village" school improvement plan. She told how the plan would motivate students and give them an opportunity to learn about world cultures, and how Dyett High School would build on the knowledge and interests the students develop at the feeder elementary schools.
The next speaker was Michelle Porter, a teacher at Tilden Community Career Academy High School, which is just west of the Bronzeville community and is facing "turnaround" by CPS. She told why it is unfair for the Board to single out Tilden as one of its “turnaround” schools where the entire staff is scheduled to be fired at the end of the school year. She said that in the past year, through hard work the school has moved from Level 3 probation (the lowest level of academic achievement, according to the Board’s measure of test scores and similar data) to Level 2. She also told how the school earned a multi-million dollar school improvement grant, but the Board for months denied Tilden the opportunity to spend any of the grant money, and instead declared the school to be a failure in need of a turnaround takeover by the Board.
The sixth speaker, Robert Schubreth, a teacher at Marquette Elementary School, described the commitment of teachers who choose to teach in the inner city, and said they don’t deserve to have resources — and then their jobs — taken away.
The seventh speaker was Jitu Brown of KOCO, who described the many attempts made by community organizers to work with the Board of Education and the mayor, and how the organizers have received “no response.” As a result, he said, “We are going to sit as long as we need to sit… and we have more people coming!” Brown said that his group had met twice with schools CEO Jean-Claude Brizard, but that Brizard ignored their proposals when announcing his proposed closings and turnarounds. He said that the group had asked to meet with the mayor but had been ignored.
The final speaker was the Rev. Paul Jakes of the Christian Council on Urban Affairs. He announced that more than 100 members of the clergy supported this protest at City Hall.
“Our young people deserve fairness,” he said, and asked the city and the police to respect the protestors’ First Amendment rights. He asked the group to hold hands in a giant circle around the large hall outside the mayor’s office, and led a prayer calling for victory. “Let the mayor respond TODAY! Let the City Council respond TODAY!” he prayed.
The assembled protestors joined in singing, “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn us around! We’re gonna keep on singing. We ain’t quitting. Ain’t gonna let nobody turn us around. Education is a human right!”
With the songs of the Civil Rights years echoing down the hall from the statue of George Washington at one end of the hall to the entry to the mayor's office at the other end, people began sitting on blankets on the floor or on chairs they had brought for the sit-in they promised would continue until their demands were met.