Honored by Obama–Silenced by the Chicago Board of Education

Yesterday, I completed my transformation from observer to activist when I spoke at the Chicago Board of Education meeting where they cast a cowardly vote to close or overhaul six Chicago Public Schools.  The day began at 4AM.  I won’t pretend to be a modern day Joe Hill–part of the reason I was up early was to tidy up for my cleaning lady.    However, I was on the 5:38 downtown where I stood for 2 hours in line so that I could get a chance to speak to the board.   It was a long and exhausting day and the local NBC affiliate interviewed me so I got a quick shot of fame with my friends and coworkers.  It was a sad event though seeing people who fought so hard for their schools being closed down.  There was, however, one amazing moment.

Shantell Steve was recognized by Barack Obama in a speech earlier this year, “And then there’s Shantell Steve, from my hometown of Chicago, Illinois. Even when bouncing from foster home to foster home in the toughest neighborhoods, she managed to get a job at a local health center; start a program to keep young people out of gangs; and she’s on track to graduate high school with honors and go on to college.”

I read an the comments in the Sun-Times story about Shantell and one idiot said, “We all know that being an “honor” student at a Chicago Public School is akin to being a special ed student at a suburban school.”  Not only would very few suburban students be able to make it in this girl’s circumstances.  Very few city kids could either.

Shantell and Kellina Mojica were recognized by the Board at the beginning of the meeting for winning second and third place in the Democracy in Action Awards, which are citizenship awards given to high school students.  The Board had told them that they would be speaking at the meeting, but suddenly pulled  a switcharoo and instead called on the honorary student member of the board who was given an award by the Dusable History Museum to speak for all 3 students.

The problem is that both Kellina and Shantell are powerful speakers as well as students at Julian High School.  They have seen first hand how destructive the board’s turnarounds have been as the students unwanted by the turnaround schools have been shipped off to Julian.  Shantell and Kellina were going to speak about closing schools and the board knew it, so they muzzled them.   The Board has always been irony challenged, but this goes above and beyond the call of hypocritical behavior.     As Linda Lutton of WBEZ put it, “The board has a pretty good idea of what they’re going to say, and they’re gonna talk about school closings, because they have before, and I was sitting at the meeting thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, we’re gonna get off to a fiery start.’”

Fortunately there was help.  Carol Caref like me is a CORE member.  She’s a very petite white haired woman who has a calm and gentleness to her that belies the kind of strong willed patience that can stop a tank.   She was called on to be one of the last people to speak on a day where many people expressed their anger at the board. Carol was firm in a showdown with Board Vice-President Clare Munana.

Finally, Carol prevailed and a tearful Shantell took the microphone.   Even at her young age, her activism has taught her exactly what was going on.   The Board knew how she felt, saw the CORE button she was wearing, and tried to censor her.  She told the Board that she had lived through the turnarounds and knew the kind of destruction that they caused first hand.   She told the Board how she felt  “disrespected” by being invited to speak — but not allowed to speak. “They all talk about ‘children first,’ but when a student got up to speak, they wouldn’t give the student a minute.”

It’s pretty amazing when a mutli-billion dollar organization like the Chicago Board of Education shows such fear of  a couple of high school girls.   I was once terrified of high school girls, but I was a high school boy at the time.   These girls are amazing speakers, but I guess in Chicago the only thing we have to fear is free speech.

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One Comment on “Honored by Obama–Silenced by the Chicago Board of Education”

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