A call for black representation

May 21, 2013
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For nearly 20 years, the Chicago Public Schools (CPS) under mayoral control has moved an aggressive educational agenda under the guise of “reform.”

Education reform has resulted in the overall disinvestment of black neighborhood schools, the disproportionate dismissal of qualified black educators and the privatization of our public schools.

Despite the community’s staunch rejection of failed education reform, Mayor Rahm Emanuel is set to continue the status quo by shuttering an unprecedented amount of schools this year. Research shows closing schools fails to improve student academic achievement and rarely saves money.

Yet, Emanuel is going full steam ahead with a plan to dismantle 71 school communities that will put more than 50,000 students in harm’s way. The lack of direction for our public schools, the growing violence in our neighborhoods and the absence of economic development within black communities screams for us to elect leaders that reflect our demands for a better quality of life.

The power structure in this city has ignored the quality of life issues within our community. Too often, faces with similar levels of melanin are sent to our community in order to ease the pain, dull the angst and quell the cynicism we intuitively carry because our cultural experience in this city requires such retort.

The latest and perhaps most diabolical scheme being executed by CPS CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett has been soundly rejected by our community.

After thousands of parents said no to closing our schools in multiple community meetings and public hearings, Byrd-Bennett’s take away was that parents see school closures as necessary. Her tone-deaf assessment is offensive to the parental and community voice. Sadly the purpose of Byrd-Bennett is that of an overseer. Her function simply reinforces an age-old practice perfected at the height of our subjugation in this country.

We need leaders that are fastened to the broader struggle for racial, social and economic justice. As a community, we must elect leaders that will stand up and demand dignity for our community, fight for access to capital, pass legislation that uplifts our community and protects families, and resist the temptation to acquiesce to a program that only benefit the favored few.

We must reject leaders who come to us with ideas and plans that harm our children, families and communities. CPS admits that for generations their plans for black schools have netted nothing more than disinvestment and destruction. However, they still intend to carry out these same policies.

The black communities need leaders that will resist the status quo, fight for real community participation and protect the sacred souls of our community — our children. Black leaders must imbibe the hope of our ancestors and move an agenda that is sensitive to our needs. That’s why we — parents, students, educators and community residents — call for an immediate moratorium on school actions in Chicago.

And, finally, we demand that the will of the people, the desire for self-determination and complete empowerment be realized through an elected representative school board.

Brandon Johnson is an Austin resident, parent and six-year CPS teacher. He’s taught at both Westinghouse College Prep. and Jenner Academy of the Arts. He is an organizer with the Chicago Teachers Union and the head of the CTU Black Caucus.

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