By TIMUEL D. BLACK
I am fortunate that on Friday, Feb. 15, I have been invited to be a guest at President Obama’s appearance at Hyde Park High School, where I was a faculty member for more than two years. I had friends that attended Hyde Park High School more than 50 years ago. I was a speaker at the Carter G. Woodson Elementary charter school recently. The street which was named in my honor is outside DuSable High School, where I happily attended and graduated in January 1937. I write all this to explain my concerns about the plan to close more than 100 public schools in Chicago, based on claims that they are underused and that the students are under-performers.
These decisions are being made in spite of the protests of community organizations and leadership in all of these schools’ neighborhoods. It is interesting that most of those schools are in communities predominantly populated by African Americans and Latinos. I am particularly concerned because of my historic involvement in schools of the Bronzeville neighborhood. More than 90 percent of all the schools identified to be closed are in this and surrounding neighborhoods. The Chicago Teachers union leadership has apparently not been involved in these decisions. There are many of us in my generation and two generations later who have taught and sometimes been administrators in these schools. It is frustrating and somewhat interesting that our academic backgrounds and educational and community experiences have not been consulted. For me and many others, quality public school education laid the groundwork for future life and success. I could go on and on, naming such people in my generation, such as Judge William Cousins, publisher John H. Johnson, musician Nat King Cole and many others of great success in those and later years. All were products of Chicago Public Schools.
What has happened since then? It seems that most of us in my generation came from economically poor homes, but most of us went on to success because of safety in our neighborhoods, quality life at home, and quality teachers and administrators. If there is a single way to reduce the crime, poverty and economic dependency of any people, it is for them to get the education necessary to attain these goals. The Chicago Public Schools can do this, if there is a will with plans to encourage and prepare all of Chicago’s children, regardless of race, creed, social status, and other social factors. It seems to me that these students are being denied the opportunities and the quality of education that were available to my generation, the generation of my children, and to a limited extent, the generation of grandchildren of my peers.
I am very anxious for the welfare of Bronzeville, Hyde Park-Kenwood, and all of Chicago neighborhoods, that they will have the safety, and the sense of community that was available and enjoyed in the past. Will this plan simply deny the residents of these communities the quality of education that will prepare them for the new world in which we all have to live, while donating those same opportunities to other, already privileged segments of our community? These are the questions the President of the United States, the Governor of the state of Illinois, the Mayor of the city of Chicago, and all other political figures that make decisions about this crucial part of Chicago’s life will have to answer one way or another, for the good of our city, our state, and our nation.