For the past month, the same eight Chicago protesters have spent their days in front of Walter H. Dyett High School, a once-bustling but now vacant institution located on the city’s south side. They often spend their mornings strategizing, thinking of ways to make sure Dyett once again transforms into community hub. They spend long, langorous afternoons chatting with supporters and members of the media. They never spend their evenings around a dinner table.
These protesters have forgone food, consuming only liquids, for the past 34 days. They don’t just want Dyett reopened — they want it reopened on their terms. And they are ready to continue to starve themselves — and risk their lives — in order to make sure that happens.
The group has been on a hunger strike since Aug. 17, three years after it was first announced that Dyett High School was slated for closure due to low enrollment rates and poor academic performance. In June, the school closed its doors for good, although the Chicago Board of Education said it would weigh plans to reconstitute the Bronzeville neighborhood institution. After continual delays and inconsistencies, community members involved in the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School were skeptical the board would ever make a decision. They decided to take drastic action.
In the month since, protestors have seen results — but not exactly the ones they want. Earlier this month, the city announced that it would reopen Dyett, but as an arts-focused school. The group wants — and previously proposed — for Dyett to be reopened as a green technology school — a plan that they heavily researched and think will best serve community needs. The board rejected their proposal, so the hunger strike continues.
The larger issue, the protesters say, is how the district and city government ignore the input of local parents and students, especially when that input comes from racial minorities. In 2013, the city’s mayor, Rahm Emanuel, closed 49 schools — a move that was met with widespread resistance and disproportionately impacted minority communities.
“What school district in their right mind would demonize and run away from parents that are activated to improve their schools?” protester Jitu Brown previously told The Huffington Post.
“They just ignore us because they were hell-bent on closing this school and several other schools in this neighborhood, as if there’s no hope for black kids in neighborhood schools, and that’s just not true,” he said.
Earlier this month, Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool said the district worked with community partners when deciding the future of Dyett.
“We arrived at a solution that meets multiple needs: Creating an open enrollment neighborhood high school, producing an enrollment stream that can weather population changes, filling the critical demand for an arts high school on the south side and working with education leaders to create a technology hub,” he said in a statement.
The group of eight demonstrators includes mothers, fathers, grandmothers, teachers and community organizers. There were originally 12 protestors, but several had to drop out over serious health concerns, and since that time, others have joined the group.
Below are testimonials from eight of the original protesters about why they are still on strike, and how going without food has impacted their bodies and minds.
Source: Black Voices | Rebecca Klein