Dyett hunger-strikers vow to continue fight

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SHARE Dyett hunger-strikers vow to continue fight

On Wednesday morning — Jeannette Taylor’s 10th day of a hunger strike aimed at saving a neighborhood school in Bronzeville — paramedics removed her from a Chicago Board of Education meeting because she was too weak to walk out on her own.

As Taylor, 40, was taken to Northwestern Memorial Hospital, her fellow hunger strikers — a dozen in all — sat in folding chairs outside Dyett High School, 555 E. 51st St., where they have spent their days since giving up food on Aug. 17.

One of them, Jitu Brown — who has lost 17 pounds since August 17 — began feeling dizzy about noon and grabbed a friend’s shoulder, but stumbled. Onlookers called an ambulance.

“Paramedics checked me out and said my blood pressure is a little high,” said Brown shortly after the incident. “But I didn’t want to go to the hospital. So I told them I’m staying here. My body may be weak, but my spirit is strong.”

Brown has been drinking liquids and vegetable broth for sustenance.

Another in their ranks, Irene Robinson, 50, was hospitalized Monday for about 24 hours. At the hospital, she refused to eat food that doctors said was necessary for her to take her high blood pressure medication.

“I’ll be here until I die,” Robinson, who has grandkids who attend CPS, said Wednesday outside Dyett.

Hunger-strikers Irene Robinson and Jitu Brown at Dyett High School on Wednesday. | Mitch Dudek/Sun-Times

In 2012, Chicago Public Schools decided to close Dyett High School this June citing low enrollment and poor performance. Rather than closing all at once, CPS phased out the student body so last year, only 13 seniors remained, finishing their school careers in a nearly empty building.

But faced with community backlash, including arrests at City Hall of some of the folks now on hunger strike, CPS accepted proposals on what should become of the school.

The hunger strikers and other members of the community offered their proposal they’ve developed over the last five years: transform the school into The Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology Community High School, which would partner with the DuSable Museum, Chicago Botanic Gardens and UIC’s College of Education. A contract school also has been proposed, as well as a sports-themed neighborhood school.

Randi Weingarten, president of the Washington D.C.-based American Federation of Teachers — which boasts 1.6 million members — joined the hunger strikers Wednesday at a news conference outside of Dyett.

“These hunger strikers are pursuing justice — not for themselves, but for our children,” Weingarten said. “And they’re not simply saying to the mayor or the school board ‘Do something.’ They have a plan that they have worked on. It is a fantastic plan. . . . This is a community that’s saying ‘We want to take responsibility.’”

About 100 people gathered at the news conference applauded Weingarten.

“The question is,” Weingarten added, “why hasn’t it happened yet?”

At the Board of Education Wednesday, numerous speakers called on CPS to approve the green tech plan for Dyett.

And board member Mahalia Hines also called for some resolution to the Dyett question.

“This has been going on well beyond this board and I think we either need to get a yes or a no,” she said.

Board president Frank Clark replied that “the Board is not immune to the people who choose to enter into a hunger strike and put their health at stake to get a resolution on something important to them. . . .

“We do need to reach a conclusion, it may or may not be the conclusion that everybody wants, but a conclusion I think is necessary as soon as we can do that.”

CPS moved a hearing on Dyett from August to Sept. 15, and expects to present its recommendation to the board on Sept. 29.

Taylor, a mother of five children, had told the seven board members Wednesday, “I should not be hungry in 2015 over a neighborhood high school that’s supposed to belong to the community. We’ve been working on Dyett since 2009 and CPS has not followed its own process.

“You all were supposed to have a meeting on August 10 and make the decision today and it has not happened because you do not respect black and brown parents. That’s a shame,” she said.

Then as she tried to walk out with help, she stopped short of chamber doors and paramedics were called.

Outside Dyett, Prudence Browne, who teaches education classes at the University of Illinois at Chicago, said she joined the hunger strike in hopes that her presence would keep older folks, whose bodies are more vulnerable, from doing so.

Browne, 40, of Rogers Park, planned to meet with a group of undergraduates from the University of Chicago on Wednesday afternoon on the lawn outside Dyett to talk about what she’s doing and other education issues.

Anna Jones, 36, who has four kids in CPS, sifted through a plastic bag that contained different teas as the news conference broke up. “They calm me down. Especially green tea,” she said.

The hunger strikers, who have been sustaining themselves on liquid diets, said they feel weak and have experienced headaches.

They’ve been sleeping in beds at Rainbow Push headquarters, which is nearby, at 930 E. 50th St., before resuming their posts outside the school each day.

They pass their time chatting about politics and other things. Browne brought a chessboard.

“We’re going to see this though,” Jones said.


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