Sunday West Side marchers, many footsore, stay spirited as 'March for Justice' does its second day

The crowd of parents, students, community members, clergy and teachers gathered at Leif Ericson Scholastic Academy, a Chicago elementary school slated for closing, for the second day of the City-wide, three-day march to protest school closings on Sunday, May 19, 2013. This march on the west side was one of three held on Sunday. Many participants were foot sore and weary from the previous day's march, but were determined to keep on fighting the old fashioned civil rights way with peaceful marching, chants and cheers.

Part of the West Side march on Sunday, May 19, 2013. Substance photo by Kati Gilson.Children came in wagons, strollers, on bikes in baby carriers, on foot and even dogs on leashes for the famous "March for Justice" for the students of Chicago. The youngest marchers were a few weeks old, the oldest -- well, there were retirees in the bunch. Action Now, SEIU, CTU and other organizations were represented. Parents and students proudly wore t-shirts naming their schools.

Prior to the start of the march two out-of-town supporters spoke to the crowd. Philadelphia Student Union representative Sharon Snyder talked about a 200-student walkout on Friday (see story below). Natasha Capers, with The Coalition for Education Justice came from Brooklyn, New York, came to Chicago to offer her support. She talked about schools being closed in New York and no one knowing where the students are now. Possibilities include Potters Field (where the poor are buried) and Rikers Island (the city's detention center) and "floods of mothers’ tears."

“That system can’t have my child!” she said. “End the school to prison pipeline today. We’re walking cause we’re on the right side of right”. She also sated “Thurgood Marshall never thought we’d be walking these footsteps again.”

“My children are mine, not Cook County’s, NY’s, Philadelphia’s or Boston’s. Their destiny started in my womb, I nurtured them and sent them to good teachers. So we walk. JFK said a child not educated is a child lost. We won’t lose any more!”

The march started with 155 participants and slowly wove through Chicago's west side. The second school on the stop was Henson Elementary, which has a Child Parent Center. Hensen parents, students and teachers were there to greet and join the march, which continued on to Bethune Elementary. Another crowd waited at Bethune where parent Felicia Hilson read a letter she wrote to the Board of Education.

Dear Chicago Board of Education,

I ask you to vote on May 22 to keep Bethune School of Excellence open. As a graduate of Bethune, who is now a PAC member and parent, I have firsthand experience of the education that Bethune provides for its students. I know that they are receiving an excellent education from committed and caring teachers, in a space where they feel safe and welcome. I do not believe that any other school, including Gregory, could fill Bethune’s role in the lives of community members and their children.

Bethune is a place where parents can send their children every day knowing that they are going to a warm and nurturing learning environment. It is also a community center that provides resources and classes for parents as well as enriching afterschool programs and sports. I reject the idea that Bethune should be closed simply because CPS has labeled it a low-performing, underutilized school. Bethune students, parents and teachers do not deserve to be punished because of standardized test scores or population change in the neighborhood.

Before you make a decision as serious as closing this school you should visit — walk the halls and look into the classrooms. I guarantee that if you do so, you will not see an empty school where no learning is taking place. Gregory, the proposed receiving school for Bethune, has nothing to offer our students that Bethune doesn’t already have. If you decide to shift Bethune’s students to Gregory, you will not be doing what is bet for our children. You will be breaking the bonds they have formed with their teachers, classmates, and entire school community.

Worst of all, you will be endangering their safety. Please do not force Bethune student to travel the dangerous mile-long route fro Bethune to Gregory this August. If you would not want your own children to walk past abandoned buildings and halfway house everyday on their way to and from school do not expect our children to do it. Once again, I ask you to please vote against closing Bethune.

Half a block from Chalmers Elementary School, the lunch stop, one woman fell and cut her leg. She told the medics to just bandage her up so she could keep on going. They tried to get her to get in a van and she refused wanting to continue the march.

During lunch at Chalmers I talked to a couple of the children. The first was Tamia, age 9 who goes to Ericson. When asked about how she felt about her school being closed she said “I feel sad because I don’t want to go to other schools. We got to do a lot of things like art. It’s closing in two weeks. Me and my friends, we love each other in second grade. I don’t want to lose my friends. I’ll be too sad to make new friends. Why would you close my school? All we do is come here and learn and at the new school we could be stupid. It’s just crazy. We are arching to save our schools, to save it.” Her sister Sara age 4, two younger brothers and her expecting mom accompanied Tamia. All the children completed the entire march.

Tounesia, age 11, from Henson had this to say. “I feel bad. I think it will get more kids hurt and be more dangerous because you got to walk far where you don’t know nothing about and you won’t feel safe at the new school.” Henson students are supposed to go to Hughes in the fall. She described the march they took from Henson to Hughes, “I saw a lot of bad stuff when we marched to Hughes and we saw a whole bunch of people on the corner and it was like needles on the ground and empty liquor bottles. Terrance, age 6 a kindergartener at Hensen said he was mad, sad and “Don’t want to go to new school cause I like this school. You like to learn, I play games and numbers and do work and ABCs.” He told me his favorite books were the 3 Little Pigs and 5 Little Monkeys Jumping on the Bed.

Tounesia went on to say, “I think it will be hard to make new friends because when we marched to Hughes, the kids that were in the park they started coming over by us and saying 'I don’t want those kids to come to our school'. A parent from Leif Ericson, a closing schools said some parents at Sumner, the receiving school told them they would take their kids out of Sumner if the Ericson students came.

Second Ward Alderman Bob Fioretti spoke to the West Side marchers on May 19, 2013. Substance photo by Kati Gilson.Alderman Bob Fioretti came to show his support and march with the students. “This is just the beginning”, he said. “They think they can use public money to build for corporate profit. We need to keep our schools open. They decided to pit community against community. This was a calculated decision to divide and conquer the people of Chicago. We need to change the 5th floor and leadership at CPS. We need an elected school board. We are going to have an elected school board whether they like it or not.”

The march continued to Calhoun North, King Elementary and ended at Victor Herbert Elementary. Over 200 people participated in the march as marcher joined up at various points. Father Tim, the Reverend at St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church, welcomed the tired marchers, with food, drink and fellowship. Many marchers were already preparing for tomorrows march and downtown rally. Some were going to spend the night at the church. St. Andrews is unapologetically pro-union, pro-people and pro-public education.

Considering the number of people hanging out windows cheering, fliers distributed, cars honking constantly and pumped fists in the air it was obvious that the west side is in full support against school closings. Chants of “One term mayor” could be heard over and over as well as pro education chants led by students, parents, teachers and community members. If City Hall thought they could roll through the west side, they grossly underestimated the determination of the people.


May 21, 2013 at 11:39 AM

By: Ken Derstine

Philadelphia walkout -- 2,000 students, not just 200!

The number of Philadelphia students walking out and protesting on Friday was not 200, it was 2000!

Thousands of students are marching on City Hall protesting budget cuts | Philadelphia Public School Notebook

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