The fight for Dyett will go on

After 34 days, a group of parents, teachers and community activists who had been on hunger strike to demand the establishment of a new neighborhood school in a former Chicago high school closed down by the city announced an end to their strike at an event at Operation PUSH on September 19. Below is the speech of hunger strike leader Jitu Brown explaining the activists' decision and what's ahead--his remarks are preceded by a news introduction by Chicago activist and journalist Bob Simpson.

"And this hunger strike has taught people that we don't have to fight by other people's rules. And we can make the decision...if you could please repeat after me...make the decision...that you will not bow down to people that don't love your children."
-- Jitu Brown speaking at Rainbow PUSH

Coalition to Revitalize Dyett spokesperson Jitu Brown speaks at Operation PUSH (Bob Simpson)Coalition to Revitalize Dyett spokesperson Jitu Brown speaks at Operation PUSH (Bob Simpson)

IT WAS an emotional moment for the Dyett hunger strikers at the weekly Rainbow PUSH Coalition livestream TV broadcast on Saturday, September 19. Joined by Rainbow PUSH leaders and other hunger strikers, Jitu Brown made the announcement that the hunger strike was coming to an end after 34 days. Brown pledged, however, that the struggle to create the Walter Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology High School would go on.

The Chicago Board of Education was forced by the pressure of the hunger strike to reopen the now-closed Dyett High School, located in the historic African American neighborhood of Bronzeville. But instead of accepting the proposal that the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett had submitted for a global leadership-green technology school, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) insisted it would reopen Dyett as an arts-focused school, with a technology component.

Although the decision was called a "compromise," the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett was excluded by CPS. Flanked by politicians loyal to Mayor Rahm Emanuel, CPS chief Forest Claypool announced the hastily cobbled together "plan" 15 minutes after informing Coalition spokesperson Jitu Brown that there would be no further negotiations. Coalition members were excluded from the September 3 press conference. So the hunger strike continued.

On the September 9 Chicago Tonight show with Carol Marin, Brown explained why green technology was such an important part of the Coalition proposal for a community-based neighborhood school:

Why did we settle on Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology High School? Number one, Dyett sits in the heart of Washington Park. There's a wildlife observatory there, there's a fully functional pond where people go fishing, there's a thriving youth-run farm and, most importantly, green technology is the number one growth industry in the U.S. So when the mayor imposed an arts school on the community, it was insulting, and that's why we didn't stop. Because what's the number one industry for unemployment? The arts. We are not opposed to a strong arts program in our school, but we just want to see a school that prepares our young people to be the next scientists, the next civic leaders and the next doctors.

At the core of the Coalition's green technology plan is organic urban agriculture. A 2013 United Nation report stated that small-scale organic farms are the best way to ensure that humanity has an adequate food supply while also improving the quality of the planetary biosphere. Dyett students could even participate in researching this through their own urban farming projects, especially when coupled with the global leadership component.

In addition to its global leadership green-technology focus, the rest of the Coalition's proposal envisions a rich, full curriculum, with democratic school governance and deep-rooted community involvement that could make Dyett one of the best schools in the city.

Since the Dyett proposal's neighborhood school model could be adapted to areas of concentration besides global leadership and green technology, it could become a blueprint for revitalizing public education in Chicago. That makes it a threat to the school privatization efforts favored by Emanuel and the city elite.

Below is the speech, edited and lightly excerpted for publication, that Jitu Brown, surrounded by hunger strikers, gave at Rainbow PUSH announcing the end of the hunger strike and the beginning of a new phase of the struggle. You can download a copy of the original Coalition to Revitalize Dyett proposal here.

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Speech by Jitu Brown at Operation PUSH

FIRST, BEFORE we make some statements, I want to give a heartfelt thank you to Rainbow PUSH Coalition. For us, it's truly been Dr. King's workshop. This has truly been freedom's house. For many weeks, we slept here at night, right up on this stage. And whatever we needed, Reverend Wilson and Reverend Jackson and Brother Jonathan Jackson were steadfast in making sure we had that support. So we really want to say thank you.

I would just like to say that the stereotype is that parents don't care and communities don't care, but the reality is that we're not welcome. As we have been fighting for Dyett High School since 2009, my personal learning has taught me that the same thing happening in Chicago is happening in Philadelphia. It's happening in Detroit. It's happening in New Orleans. It's happening in Baltimore. It's happening in Oakland. And it's the destruction of public education as we're being removed from those cities.

So we had talked to every bureaucrat. We had jumped through every hoop. We had been nice. We realized that at some point, our voices weren't valued because at the same time that we were struggling just to have a neighborhood school, other communities that didn't even want resources were being flooded with resources.

So as we began to do this hunger strike (because we want folks to know a little chronology), Chicago Public Schools last year didn't want to reopen Dyett High School, and as a result of consistent advocacy and pressure from the people behind me and also from the community, we won that school being reopened last year.

This year, we stopped it from being privatized. So it will be a public school, a neighborhood school. And now, we are working diligently to make sure that we are part of the vision and the development of that school from the ground up. We are committed to that process. But also, we want you to know that the fight for Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology High School continues.

It does not stop.

But we realize, unfortunately, that when African American people have a strong show of self-determination, that goes against the public narrative. That goes against what people expect us to be. So we began to realize that they will let us die. They will watch us waste away.

This is the 34th day of our hunger strike. We don't want a charter school. We don't want a contract [school]. We don't want to be insiders. We just want the district to do the same thing for the children in Bronzeville that they do for children in Lincoln Park. So the fight for the Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology High School only intensifies.

So we want to announce here today that we are ending our hunger strike. We are going to feed our bodies so that we can rest, take a deep breath, do some pushups and come out swinging. But the most important thing I want to say to you is that what I've learned with these brothers and sisters that are with me is that there should not be one more school closed in this city.

And this hunger strike has taught people that we don't have to fight by other people's rules. And we can make the decision...if you could please repeat after me...make the decision...that you will not bow down to people that don't love your children. Make the decision...make the decision...that justice is worth being uncomfortable for.

Because through this hunger strike, we have seen in a hyper-segregated city like Chicago, we have seen emotional commitment from around the city. I want to give love and thanks to Teachers for Social Justice: Dr. Pauline Lipman, Dr. Rico Gutstein, Asif Wilson who is standing behind me, Monique Redeaux and the rest of TSJ. They have been brothers and sisters in the struggle. I want to say thank you to every organization: Parents for Teachers Northside Action for Justice and every organization in this city that have come together across race and say, "I'm going to fight with you."

When does that happen in Chicago?

So we maintain...even though we are going to get a sandwich...eventually, we'll get that together, we maintain that the fight for education justice has forever been changed. And we are proud to make that contribution. Thank you once again. We really appreciate you, Reverend Wilson, and just thank you very much and that's it.