One year later: Dyett hunger strikers celebrate, reflect

On Aug. 17, 2015, a group of South Side community members decided to go on a hunger strike to preserve Dyett High School, 555 E. 51st St., as a neighborhood school. Due to the tenacity of the 12 hunger strikers, who participated in a liquid-only fast for 34 days, Chicago Public Schools (CPS) announced that Dyett would reopen for the 2016-17 school year as an open enrollment neighborhood school.

One year has passed, and on Tuesday, Sep. 6, 150 new students will walk through Dyett’s doors thanks to the sacrifice made by the hunger strikers. Several of the hunger strikers and their supporters celebrated the one-year anniversary of the strike, Wednesday, Aug. 17, at Rainbow PUSH, 930 E. 50th St.

“The energy that we feel is the victory that the people in this room achieved,” said former Illinois State Representative candidate, Jay Travis. “There is still work that needs to be done…we are not finished yet.”

The events that led up to the hunger strike were the closing of Dyett back in 2014 and CPS’s interest in reopening the school as a contract school this year. Community members rallied together and partnered with academic advisors to come up with a proposal for a global leadership green technology-based curriculum, which was denied by CPS and former alderman, Will Burns.

The Coalition to Revitalize Dyett feared that the only neighborhood school left in their community would become a selective enrollment or contract school, so to take a stand for what they believed in, they began a hunger strike.

“You diet to lose weight, but you fast to gain strength, and you all made that important sacrifice,” said Rev. Jesse Jackson, Sr.

Memorabilia from the hunger strike that received both national and international attention was on display at the gathering, including the chains strikers used to chain themselves to a statue, one of the folding chairs the strikers sat on each day of the strike on the front lawn of Dyett and many photos that captured the hunger strikers at their most vulnerable moments.

Though Dyett will have an arts-based curriculum rather than the green technology that the coalition had hoped for, Jitu Brown, one of the hunger strikers and the National Director for the Journey for Justice Alliance, said that the coalition is working with the school to incorporate some green technology aspects into the curriculum.

Brown also said that there will be a permanent exhibit inside of the school to honor the hunger strikers that played the important role of keeping the school open to the community’s children.

“Our mission is to make sure our legacy continues in our neighborhood,” Brown said. “This is a huge victory and we recognize that.”

They are still fighting for an elected local school council, which Principal Beulah McLoyd has said in the past will not happen until the school’s third year in.

Students in the Bronzeville neighborhood will once again have the opportunity to have a quality education in their own neighborhood school, which the hunger strikers said is what matters most in the end.

“I want to thank you all for having the love and bravery to fight for my school,” said Parrish Brown, a 2014 Dyett graduate who was valedictorian of his class.


[Via: Hyde Park Herald]

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