Save Collins High School

Wednesday, February 01, 2006

On the March

February 1, 2006

We took to the streets with a tremendous roar. Emptying two busloads of students, parents, teachers, administrators, politicians, and supporters onto Chicago's famous LaSalle Street. We came like a river, emerging from two yellow canyons, pouring purposely onto the doorstep of City Hall. I stood at the exit of my bus high-fiving encouragement to every protestor who stepped off. The chant coming down the stairs and into the dowtown air was loud, "We won't go!" "We won't go!" Signs and banners, handmade, computer printed, the gambit, they came too. Yellow t-shirts, purple ribbons, it was a sea of Collins on the palette. The bus ride was jovial, playful, even calm at times, but here, in the "enemy territory" things tightened up. The chant quieted as we were met outside City Hall by two police officers. The leadership negotiated, the students were formed into a marching line, headed by a 12 foot long banner that read "stop gentrification". The energy built.
City folk began their routines, exiting their offices, stepping onto their sidewalks, paths they had trod hundreds of times. Overcoats on, but hardly buttoned, the 1st day of February was a very mild 46 degrees. The commute, a head down trudge from back door to home door, the quicker it can be done the better. But for these well worn Chicagoans there was something a little bit different about tonight's routine. Where they were usually able to hot step past City Hall there was a swell. A surge, coming at them, loud, and with great determination. It sang "we know the score, don't close the door" Deep, the procession was at least 6 wide, and it stetched back half a block. It came, chased by circumstances undesired, but perhaps necessary. African-Americans mainly, and others. High School Students, even some elementary students, adults of every type, and some who were older, projecting the attitude of having been a survivor of THOSE marches. The commuters were overrun, they moved to the side, suddenly forced to lift their head from the pavement. Some moved faster, others crossed the street, while still others simply stood off to the sides, mouths open, here it came and they weren't ready for it.
We marched. One lap around the block containing City Hall, a welcome to the neighborhood sort of stroll, only louder. The signs were flashed into office buildings where employees looked down in wonder. They were waved across the street at busy commuters, who could not avert their eyes. The signs were a magnet, the colors enticed, the noise surrounded and engaged. Flyers were handed out with the simple message: S.O.S. Save Our Schools. We had printed over 1200 such flyers and they were everywhere. Taped on street signs, on buses, on doors, and they were handed out - anyone who made eye contact was hit with a flyer. In this way I met a former student of mine on the street. A Whitney Young grad. from a time ago who had landed his first job out of college a block up from City Hall. He came down just to see what the hubbub was about, and was not surprised at all to find old Mr. Dudley right in the middle of it. This is how we do it, I told him, and that's only on Wednesdays.
After our circle of the block was complete we punched right through the revolving doors of City Hall, a great snake suddenly immersed in a mouse hole. We fanned out, loudly commandeering the elevators, I would have hated to have been working in the Hall that night. Car after car rode up into the heart of Chicago's power station, stopping each time at the 5th floor to unload its ebullient, emotional, exultant cargo. I had filtered towards the back by this time and I waited to see if any other of our kin would be coming in. Seeing the crowd dissipating I caught one of the last Collins loaded elevators. Nerves grew a little bit more tense. The 5th floor was home to Mayor Richard M. Daley's office, and we weren't going up there invited. After we cleared the 4th floor the noise began to filter into our rising box car. A loud, echoing din, "We won't go!" "We won't go!" "We won't go!" Louder, as the elevator doors opened and I stepped into the mass gathering of Collins, Morse, Ferren, and Frazier (us and the 3 elementary schools scheduled for closing) supporters. The students held tight to their long banner, stringing themselves 8 across, directly opposite Daley's door. We were on the inside, as goal number one, we had made it. Goal two, get someone to talk to us, took a bit longer, but our leaders (Julius Anderson, James Kennedy of Men for a Better Lawndale, and Jeanette Darrough, formerly of Collins HS) were negotiating. Police officers began showing up and the kids grew uneasy. I stepped to the front and calmed them with quiet, confident reminders of Daley's status as a public servant, his responsibility to them, and their parents' tax dollars having paid for his office since its inception. They responded and the chanting began again. An NPR reporter who had been with us since the street march heard my encouragement to the kids, and drew me aside for an interview. I was honored to have the opportunity to speak for my students and the teachers who line up beside me. He came right at me with the hard questions...standards, district support, school closings, and student motivation. I tried to speak well, and honestly, and most importantly I tried to defend our position, and advance our ideas. Only time and the radio will tell if I was successful.
After the interview the leadership trio had emerged from Daley's office to announce that the Mayor was not in, but that a spokesperson had agreed to meet with us, which she bravely did, and that someone would attend our Town Hall Meeting on Thursday from that office. We hailed these as successes, and we rallied the troops back onto the elevators. Having been heard and seen we would get on our buses and go home. The campaign to save Collins, and our sister elementary schools, was off and running.
On a final note, while waiting for the elevators down from floor 5 several print reporters, who had shown up by this time, began moving in on the students with purpose, not quite like vultures, but not like friendly dogs either. To my greatest pleasure, and unabashed pride the students handled themselves. It should not have come as a surprise to me, the students had been handling themselves all day. They rode, they marched, they sang, they hoped, they fought. George W. Collins High School may not have the best test scores, but if these students are any indication, there is a lot to be proud of at 1313 S. Sacramento Dr. And we are proud.

See you tomorrow!


  • At 3:27 AM, Blogger FREEYOMIND said…

    The creation of "Westside Student Nomads" appears to be the latest by-product of this most recent attempt at "Chicago Gentrification". It is widely documented that students who are transfered more than twice can fall up to a year behind their more stable counterparts. Westside residents must galvanize, resist inertia, and prepare for combat. The closing of Collins can only be a done deal if students, teachers,and North Lawndale residents sleep through the battle. I am confident that very little sleeping is occuring in North Lawndale tonight. Something in the air, something in the eyes of young brothers and sisters as they marched down Washington Blvd. Something about this new crop of Male leaders who seem truly committed to fighting the good fight. Something about the local reisdents that says they won't go down easily. Yes, North Lawndale is wide awake tonight. My only wish is that this latest resurrgence of energy is long lasting and wide spread. In closing, our Collins students must realize that their greatness can never be be defined or measured by standardized test. The blood of Great African kings and queens run through their veins. Greatness and potential can never be measured in percentage points. Your greatness is and will be defined by the good that you do. The people who call you friend and the continued resistence that you exert to any and all who attempt to dehumanize or mischarachterize the "GREATNESS" that is you.

    Much Love North Lawndale, Lets sleep tomorrow for today we fight...


  • At 10:03 AM, Blogger J. Dudley said…

    Thanks freeyomind. We are going forward with hope and optimism and the understanding that we carry the support of countless Americans who are equally disenchanted with the state of inner-city education.
    May we all grow strong together, and in that way overcome, and progress...

  • At 12:21 AM, Blogger El Sobrino Malo said…

    Found Chicago Defender article about the protest

    Advice on the posts is to add some line breaks between paragraphs.

    Like the ^^^ line above this sentence. This is much easier to read and not an intimidating mass of text.

    Keep up the good work!

    - Chas (fighting for good editing)

  • At 8:38 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said…

    NSU - 4efer, 5210 - rulez


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