Twelve supporters of revitalizing Chicago's Dyett High School campus began a hunger strike Monday morning as they continue their call for the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) system to adopt a long-proposed community plan to turn Dyett into a "global leadership and green technology" high school.
The Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School, which created the plan to re-open Dyett as a global leadership and green technology school, spearheaded the hunger strike. The 12 hunger strikers, including community and faith leaders, education activists and public school parents, held their protest outside the now-closed school, located in the Washington Park neighborhood at 555 E. 51st St.
"We are tired of our voices not being heard," said hunger striker Jitu Brown with the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, one of many groups behind the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School. "There has to be accountability to the public for the destabilizing of schools in our community and the sabotage of our children's education."
Brown said the hunger strikers will only drink water and "light liquids" and are prepared to remain outside Dyett "as long as the creator allows us to be out here."
"We don't plan to leave," he said. "We plan to be here."
The coalition is one of three organizations pushing competing proposals to CPS to install a new open-enrollment, neighborhood high school at Dyett, which officially closed this June after the school board voted to phase it out in 2012 because of poor academic performance and declining enrollment. Following increased community opposition to the school's closure, CPS began accepting proposals in late December for a new school to re-open at the Dyett campus in the 2016-2017 school year.
"Chicago Public Schools is carrying out a community-driven process to select a new high-quality school for the former Dyett site," CPS spokesman Bill McCaffrey said in a statement in response to the hunger strike. "Identifying a high-quality education option for the former Dyett site is a priority for the district, and CPS is reviewing school proposals to determine the best open enrollment, neighborhood education option for the site."
CPS was slated to hold a public hearing on the three proposals last Monday, but pushed it back to September 10. The district is currently in the midst of dealing with its 2016 budget, and school officials said earlier this month that the hearing needed to be postponed to ensure there was "adequate time to review community feedback and proposals."
Coalition members are upset because they say the proposal's wait for consideration has been too long. Although the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School officially launched in November 2013, Brown said members of the group have been discussing their vision for Dyett with CPS officials since 2009.
"We've been jumping over every hoop. We've gone to every board meeting. We have sat with every important CPS official, only for them to leave, and then having to start over again," Brown said. "So no, we're not waiting anymore."
Another hunger striker argued that CPS is not listening to what the community wants.
"We feel like we are being pushed to this drastic measure," said Prudence Browne with Teachers for Social Justice, which helpd craft the coalition's proposal. "And that's why I'm out here, because I don't know what else to do. I helped to write a proposal. I show up to board meetings. I advocate, and it's not being heard."
Hunger striker Jeanette Taylor-Ramann, Local School Council president at Irvin C. Mollison Elementary, began to cry when asked why she's participating in protest.
"There's not enough of us doing this to show (the children that) they are loved, to show them that (there's) people out here who care about them, to show them that education is the way you can be anything you want to be," she said.
The hunger strikers saw support from their allies this morning, including Cook County Commissioner Jesus Chuy Garcia. He applauded them for standing up for what's "fair and just," and said he was "very moved" by the group's decision to go on a hunger strike in an effort to improve public education for Chicago students.
Here is more from Garcia plus comments from Brown and another hunger striker, the Rev. Robert Jones of Mt. Carmel Missionary Baptist Church:
In addition to the global leadership and green technology plan, CPS has received two other proposals for the Dyett campus. The non-profit Little Black Pearl, which operates a contract school in the North Kenwood-Oakland area, is proposing to run an arts high school at the Dyett site. The third proposal, which CPS accepted despite its late submittal, is for an athletic career academy spearheaded by Dyett's former principal Charles Campbell.
Check back with Progress Illinois as this story develops.
UPDATE 1 (08/18/15, 1:36 p.m.): The Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. is expected to stand in solidarity with the 12 Dyett hunger strikers later this afternoon at the Rainbow/PUSH national headquarters, 930 E. 50th St., according to the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School. Coalition members are in day two of their hunger strike.
UPDATE 2 (8/19/15, 12:00 p.m.): Chicago Teachers Union President Karen Lewis offered her support on Wednesday to the 12 activists on a hunger strike over Dyett High School. She called on others to also stand in solidarity with the hunger strikers, and urged the school district to hold a special hearing on Dyett.
"I respect these brave people who are willing to put their bodies on the line for education for their children in this year of resistance," Lewis said in a statement. "I'm calling on the Board and the mayor to call a special hearing so this hunger strike can end before someone becomes seriously ill. I also stand in solidarity with them as they continue to fight to save Bronzeville's only neighborhood high school."
"Those with the moral courage and those who believe in strong neighborhood high schools should join these parents in this historic and courageous act," the labor leader added "My thoughts and prayers are with these bold individuals who are engaging in an ultimate act of resistance. [Board President] Frank Clark and Mayor Emanuel must not ignore these voices. Save Dyett High School."
UPDATE 3 (08/20/15, 3:42 p.m.): Dyett activists are in day four of their hunger strike. United Working Families Interim Executive Director Alex Han issued this statement in support of the hunger strikers:
We stand with the 12 brave hunger strikers who have committed to go without food and put themselves on the line for education and for the children in their community. We call on the Mayor and the Board of Education to call a special hearing on Dyett High School. We encourage others to join us in support of the Dyett hunger strikers as they fight to save Dyett High School. For over five years community members - including parents and teachers - have fought to keep Dyett open, often times risking arrest and other personal dangers. United Working Families will always stand with those fighting to strengthen public education and Chicago's neighborhood schools.
UPDATE 4 (08/20/15 5:08 p.m.): Chicago Teachers Union Vice President Jesse Sharkey joined the Dyett hunger strikers Thursday morning. In a statement to the media, Sharkey said, "This is a group that has held numerous protests, sit-ins and taken arrests in order to create the kind of change needed in their community. This action is about listening to their voices, and this hunger strike is the last resort of people whose voices need to be heard."
UPDATE 5 (08/21/15, 8:47 a.m.): The 12 original Dyett hunger strikers plan to bring their protest to the South Side ward office of Ald. Will Burns (4th) Friday morning. Burns, who also serves as the chairman of the Chicago City Council's education committee, has come under fire from the activists in the past because he has not endorsed the coalition's global leadership and green technology proposal.
UPDATE 6 (08/25/15, 7:54 a.m.): The Dyett hunger strikers on Monday called on Little Black Peal, which has a competing proposal to re-open a new school at Dyett, to withdraw it application. The group protested outside Little Black Peal. Click through for more on this update.
UPDATE 7 (08/25/15, 8:16 a.m.): Leaders with Chicago Jobs With Justice will participate in a one-day fast on Tuesday in solidarity with the Dyett hunger strikers, who are in their second week of protesting.
In a message to supporters on Monday, Chicago Jobs With Justice urged others to also join the one-day solidarity fast outside Dyett High School, 555 E. 51st St.
Chicago education activists are in the ninth day of their hunger strike. They are calling on the Chicago Public Schools to adopt a community-driven proposal to open a district-run "global leadership and green technology high school" at Dyett.
UPDATE 8 (08/25/15 1:55 p.m.): The Dyett hunger strikers are expected to see support Wednesday morning from American Federation of Teachers President Randi Weingarten.
Weingarten and Illinois Federation of Teachers President Dan Montgomery are scheduled to attend a Wednesday morning rally at the Dyett High School campus with the hunger strikers and their allies, according to a news release.
At the rally, the labor leaders and education activists will call on the Chicago Board of Education to adopt the community's proposal to re-open Dyett as a global leadership and green technology high school.
UPDATE 9 (08/26/15 1:25 p.m.): Chicago Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35th) visited the hunger strikers Wednesday morning.
"[W]hile Chicago Public School bureaucrats sit in a newly remodeled office and make decisions to underfund our neighborhood schools, Bronzeville neighborhood parents and community leaders are on hunger strike fighting to open Dyett Global Leadership & Green Technology High School, the quality public school their children deserve," the alderman said in a statement. "This is true parent involvement. These are the heroes of Chicago, and when I was invited to support them I did not hesitate to stand by their side this morning. I call on Mayor Rahm Emanuel and his appointed Board of Education to listen to Bronzeville families and immediately approve the community-driven plan for Dyett High School."
UPDATE 10 (08/27/15 9:40 a.m.): Health professionals are urging Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel to intervene in the controversy over Dyett High School so the hunger strike over the school's future can end.
Nearly 20 health organizations and professionals, including Linda Rae Murray*, former chief medical officer for the Cook County Department of Public Health, have signed onto a letter urging Emanuel to take action. Some who have signed the letter are scheduled to speak at a press conference this morning over their concerns about the health of the hunger strikers and to urge Emanuel to accept the coalition's green tech plan for Dyett.
Here's text of the letter:
Dear Mayor Emanuel:
We are physicians, nurses and other health care professionals working in the City of Chicago. Many of us have visited the hunger strikers camped outside of Dyett High School for nearly a week.
We write to you to express our support for the just cause around which our fellow Chicagoans have rallied, and to register deep concern as medical professionals about the deteriorating state of their health as individuals. As you must know, the longer this protest continues, each of the twelve hunger strikers is vulnerable to a variety of conditions that compromise their overall well-being and may result in permanent damage to their health. None of us want this. We trust you share our deep concern about this very serious situation.
The parents and grandparents, friends and relatives of Dyett students have turned to this tactic as a last resort. We implore you to hear their concerns and give serious consideration to their proposal to preserve the integrity of Dyett High School as a public, open-enrollment high school in the heart of the historic Bronzeville neighborhood. They have a proposal on the table for the Dyett High School of Global Leadership and Green Technology. We urge you to accept it.
We consider the current situation to be a deepening health care emergency in our city. It is one that you can abate by reaching out to the strikers, entertaining their grievances and accepting their proposal.
Please exert your leadership and demonstrate your compassion by intervening in what is an increasingly dangerous health emergency. As doctors and nurses who have treated gun shot victims, terminally ill patients, and even children who we have lost all too soon to injury and disease, we feel we have to speak out as loudly as possible in this instance where the health of community leaders is at stake and further damage to their health is preventable. This is a serious situation. Please intervene now. We are counting on you to do the right thing.
Linda Rae Murray, MD
Susan Avila RN
Peter Orris MD MPH
Rachel Rubin MD MPH
Peter Sporn MD Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine.
Richard Stephenson MD
Susan Rogers MD
Cynthia Henderson MD MPH
Peter Drapper MD
Bob Cohen, MD Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine and UIC School of Public Health.
Arsh Kaur Dhaliwal MD
Geraldine Gorman, RN, PhD
Nurses for Social Justice and Clinical Associate Professor, College of Nursing at University of Illinois @ Chicago
Erin Raether, RN - Nurses for Social Justice, Chicago Healing Justice Network Deborah Sontag, Family Nurse Practitioner
Ruth Oppenheim-Rothschild, RN Nurses for Social Justice Wendy Mironov, RN, NSJ
Mary Bowm, MSN, RN, WHNP-BC
National Nurses Organizing Committee/National Nurses United
*An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated Linda Rae Murray was the current chief medical officer for the Cook County Department of Public Health. She is retired.