“We’re all toys:” Chicago Public School closings affect thousands

Blog, Coursework, JOUR 279, Writing

Video courtesy of Video Catalyst Project

Somewhere behind the oversized podium, there’s a young boy ready to speak his mind. The microphone was removed from its stand to accommodate the smaller-than-average speaker, but a chair instead came to the rescue. Clad in red, the color the Chicago Teacher’s Union has made so visible this past tumultuous school year, 9-year-old Asean Johnson addressed a crowd Monday, May 20, protesting the imminent vote to close more than 50 Chicago Public Schools.

“Rahm Emanuel thinks that we all are toys; he thinks he can just come into our schools and move all [of] our kids over gang lines,” Asean, a Marcus M. Garvey third-grader, said to the cheers of the crowd. He was fighting to save his school on 103rd Street and Morgan Street in Chicago’s Washington Heights neighborhood.

Johnson’s moving words worked – Marcus M. Garvey Elementary was one of the four schools spared last minute before the Chicago Board of Education swiftly closed 50 Chicago Public Schools in their vote Wednesday, May 22. Mahalia Jackson Elementary, Ericson Elementary and Manierre joined Garvey on the sparse list of saved schools. Canter Elementary will close in 2014, but the remaining schools have been ordered to shut down at the end of this year, a decision that will affect roughly 27,000 children, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Mayor Emanuel, the city and the Board of Education’s decisions to close the schools, according to Chicago Tribune reports, will help the city’s current education budget deficit of $1 billion, according to NBC News.

“This is racism…we are black and we are proud, we are white and we are proud,” shouted Johnson. His mother, Shonice Reynolds, stood proudly behind him, smiling and raising her right arm with a fist in solidarity.

It is African-Americans that will feel the hit of this vote hardest. Of the 50 schools shutting their doors for good in June, all but five lie on the South and West sides of the city. 39 of these schools, according to the Chicago Sun-Times, are more than 90 percent African-American students.

Starting in the 2013-2014 school year, students will be relocated to other nearby elementary schools to solve the underutilization problem. The closed schools were all operating with much fewer students than their capacity, the majority under 50 percent utilized. The gang lines Asean told the crowds about? They’re real, and a new reality for students on their way to school.

Marcus Garvey was spared, but Kohn just a couple of blocks away wasn’t as lucky. The students from elementary school at 104th and State streets will have to crisscross dozens of former crime scenes on their new walk to school. One route from Kohn to their receiving school, Lavizzo Elementary, experienced upwards of 20 violent crimes between January 2012 and April on the five-block route between the two schools, according to the Chicago Sun-Times.

Mayor Emanuel’s appointed school board has made its decision, and there is little now that can be done to save the schools. Asean, however, has done his part.

The video of his speech, carrying the message so many adults have tried to get across over the last two month is on its way to becoming viral. After only one week online the video has gotten more than 200,000 views.

“Education is our right, that is why we have to fight,” Asean ended his speech in unison with the roaring crowd.

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