Chains are coiled on the floor, hungry faces stare out of close-up photographs, and bold posters spelling out D-Y-E-T-T covered the walls of the Uri-Eichen gallery in Pilsen this month. The art exhibit is full of artifacts the Journey for Justice Alliance collected from the 2015 protest to re-open Dyett High School.
On April 16, 2019, Chicagoans gathered on the playground at Woods Academy on 62nd and Racine, an Englewood elementary school that closed in 2013. They had returned for “Ain’t You Heard – What Happens to a Dream Deferred,” a storytelling event presented in partnership with Residents Association of Greater Englewood (RAGE), Borderless Studio, and Creative Grounds. After being welcomed by Anton Seals Jr. of Grow Greater Englewood and Asiaha Butler of RAGE, attendees participated in an evening of music, spoken word, visual art projection, and memory sharing.
When Robeson High School opened in 1977, it was actually too small for the student population at the time. Around 2,300 students enrolled, far more than CPS’s expectation of 1,500. Four decades later, CPS voted to close Robeson, citing severe under-enrollment.
In the years leading up to the closing of Robeson High School in June 2018, headlines spoke of dwindling student enrollment, violence within the community, and low student performance. Before the Chicago Board of Education decision in February 2018 to close Robeson High School, CPS hosted two meetings to gather community feedback. At the first of those meetings, a teacher at Lindblom High School spoke about the need for schools as sites of relationship-building that enable communities to solve problems together. “There are very few institutions in neighborhoods on the South Side that build these sorts of relationships between community members like neighborhood schools,” he said. “By eliminating all of the neighborhood schools in Englewood,” he continued, “you eliminate the institutions that forge these relationships.”
The second floor of Betty Shabazz International Charter School felt immediately familiar. Teenagers bounced between white tiled walls, in and out of classrooms, freely running through the long halls while parents passed by cradling younger children. Chairs lined the hallway in two rows, neatly crowding and condensing audience members as they waited to be admitted into the classroom where the We Real Cool fashion show would take place. As chatter filled the remaining space in the aisle, I tried to figure out why it felt like I had been here before. Like a home that makes you feel instantly comfortable, visiting Shabazz felt like returning rather than visiting.
At Lindblom Math and Science Academy, a selective enrollment school in Englewood, a new cohort of urban planners is on the rise. For the past few months, students taking Honors Human Geography have been investigating the issues facing their neighborhoods and designing projects aimed at addressing them. Three Wednesdays ago, on February 13, seventy students presented their work—podcasts, diagrams, colorful cardboard cutouts—to each other, more students from the school, and architects and urban planners.
On February 12, students, teachers, and staff gathered in the auditorium of Kenwood Academy High School to listen to five mayoral candidates discuss their campaign platforms and answer students’ questions. The town hall was planned and organized by students in the school’s Global Issues class, and students were responsible for not only thoroughly researching each candidate’s platform and crafting detailed questions, but also reaching out to candidates and their campaign staff, moderating the forum, and staffing the event. While only five of the fourteen mayoral candidates—La Shawn Ford, Lori Lightfoot, John Kozlar, Neal Sáles-Griffin, and Willie Wilson (who arrived halfway through the event)—attended the town hall, the event drew a sizeable audience of engaged students.
Kahari here, to briefly introduce y’all to the big homey Desmond “Des Money” Owusu: a native Chicagoan and fellow South Sider whose passions as a designer and photographer have led him to blessing the world with a legacy of projects that are community driven and civically minded. To say the least, Des is a pillar in the Chicago creative community and steward for many others coming up with him. While simultaneously building upon his own streetwear label “We All We Got,” Des also co-owns and runs the Fat Tiger Workshop. A Black-owned clothing boutique alongside friends and colleagues Vic Lloyd, Rello Jones, and Joe Freshgoods.
Parents, teachers, administrators, and students at the National Teachers Academy (NTA) celebrated a court’s decision in December that halted a Chicago Public Schools proposal to convert the elementary school into a high school. After months of protest, community meetings, and court proceedings, there was an unmistakable air of rejoicing as the NTA community gathered in the school’s cafeteria to bask in their victory.