Today, the twelve parents engaged in a hunger strike in support of Dyett High School in the Chicago southside neighborhood of Bronzeville are marking their first full week of their action. Here are some things to know.
What Is This About?
In 2012, Chicago Public Schools decided to close Dyett, allowing the last freshman class to finish their education there if they wished. Only a handful wished (and they were reportedly pressured by CPS to wish differently), but they're done, and the time has come to decide what Dyett will become.
There are three proposals out there.
First, an arts and design academy to be run by Little Black Pearl, an arts group that has shown no particular expertise in running charter schools. I would provide a link, but for whatever reason, all attempts to get to littleblackpearl.org a 403 forbidden message. Second, an athletics-based school backed by Dyett principal Charles Campbell. The Sun-Times also links a Mark Coleman to the proposal as a guy who runs a nonprofit, but I can't find anything about him. I can, however, find a Mark Coleman who runs a media company that specializes in lining up financing for big projects-- that Mark Coleman lists Barack Obama and Ari Emmanuel as his "influencers," but that could be some other Mark Coleman. The athletics school proposal came in after the CPS deadline for proposals.
The third proposal, the Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology High School, came from the community itself, early and complete with a partnership with DuSable University, Chicago Botanical Gardens and others. You can read the whole proposal here.
(Nobody, it should be noted, is proposing a group of robust charters so that the people of Bronzeville can have many excellent local choices.)
Um, Wait a Minute
In a poor, black neighborhood of Chicago, there's an outside proposal for entertainment industry, an outside proposal for sports, and a community proposal for science, technology and leadership. I respect athletics, and you know I love the arts, but you tell me which one of these proposals sets the highest aspirations for the children of this community.
Bronzeville is poor, but they have worked hard for their school (back in 2011, just before the district dropped the hammer, they won a grant from ESPN to rebuild their athletic facilities with big fancy upgrades like working handles for doors). They were improving and growing stronger. There's no question they needed some help, but a search doesn't turn up stories suggesting that Dyett was some sort of notorious hellhole in freefall.
So, What's Really Going On
Well, Dyett is located in the northern end of Washington Park, a very desirable chunk of real estate that is one of the two locations in the running to be the location of Barack Obama's Presidential Library. In fact, the proposed location is within a stone's throw of Dyett.
In fact, Washington Park seems to have been in the crosshairs for many years. Back in 2008, when Chicago was feeling the Olympic love, Washington Park was called one of the hottest neighborhoods, a diamond in the rough, and there is still talk about turning it into a community that could attract and support business, arts, and all the trappings of gentrification. And gentrification is a concern in Bronzeville, just as many see it as a hallmark of Rahm Emanuel's tenure as mayor.
But What Is Actually Happening?
CPS is stalling. There were going to be meetings and hearings to settle this decision. They were going to happen this summer, but finally were pushed back all the way out of August into September because-- well, I can't even say "because reason." Just because. The hunger strikers would like the school district to do the right thing, and it's pretty clear that doing nothing while waiting for the community to stop paying attention just isn't going to work.
Why Don't I Know About Any of This
If you google "Dyett hunger strike Chicago Tribune," the only thing you'll see about Chicago's major media outlet is comments about how it's not covering this at all.
Rather than rail about corrupt and incompetent media, I want to just make an observation here. Because you know what would get the Dyett parents in the media? If they blew something up or set something on fire or took some sort of violent, disruptive action that resulted in a few vanloads of police showing up.
That would be followed by a bunch of handwringing and concern trolling and tone policing and people saying, "Well, I understand they're upset, but if black folks want to be taken seriously and earn a hearing for their concerns, they need to be more reasonable and proper in their tone. They need to work within the system. They need to not be so disruptive and take such a confrontational tone. They're just hurting their own cause. I might have been sympathetic if they hadn't resorted to such unseemly behavior."
The parents of Dyett have done it all by the book. They developed their own proposals and presented them. They have petitioned and remonstrated. They have been ignored.
And this is what is most striking to me-- rather than take action against property or other people, the parents of Dyett are taking action against themselves. They are committing a slow-motion act of violence against themselves.
They have approached this exactly as people who complain about protests and civil disobedience and civil disruption say they want, and what do the parents of Dyett get for their carefully calibrated and heart-wrenching action? What they get is an indifferent media and a public that doesn't pay attention because someone who's slowly starving just isn't very exciting.
So everybody who complained about things like the acting out in Fergusson and the other protests that have popped up in the news over the last year, everybody who said, "You know, I think they have a real point and these issues of racial inequity really bother me, but I can't support such destructive misbehavior"-- here's your chance to put up or shut up. You can support the parents of Dyett in their quiet measured stand against the silencing of community members, the suspension of democracy, the trampling of people in a community just because they're black and they're poor and they don't have rich and powerful friends to help them in city hall, or you can admit you just don't give a rat's rear about any of that, and you can admit that non-wealthy non-white folks in this country have little choice except to be loud and rude and disruptive in this country. In either case, I don't want to hear concern trolling and tone policing out of you ever again.
Dyett Is Bigger Than Chicago
Dyett is everything that reformsters say they want-- an engaged and energized community that has shown a willingness to do the bootstrappy work needed to turn their own school, guided by their vision of they want for their children. Their vision is big and global and challenging and loaded with high standards, as well as a vision of using the school to anchor a rising and advancing of their entire community. If reformsters aren't going to speak up for the community and public school in this situation, they never will.
The Dyett hunger strike isn't just about the future of Bronzeville and the fate of the last of the open-enrollment public schools in the area. It's about reformsters being caught in their lies, about being given what they said they wanted and finding an excuse to turn it down so that they can do what they actually wanted all along-- profiteering and a charter system that strips democracy from Those People while busting up their neighborhood. Without a national change in course, sooner or later, all of us will be in Dyett's shoes.
For More Information
This site will lead you to most of the important up-to-date resources. Teachers for Social Justice also has an eye on things. Anthony Cody's Living in Dialogue has been paying attention. And the following clip presents more insight from Jitu Brown and Pauline Lippman-- it's a good quick summary to send to your friends who aren't so into the whole reading thing.
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