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Mitchell: Dyett hunger strikers seek to block access

Dyett hunger striker Cathy Dale, with grandaughter Khalaya Coleman, 7, spoke about the group's meeting with Mayor Rahm Emanuel. | Rich Hein/Sun-Times

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No single organization should be able to squash the ideas that spring forth when people are working to improve the quality of life in their neighborhoods.

But the ongoing hunger strike over who will operate a new high school in the closed Dyett High School building is attempting to block other stakeholders from participating in the process set up to make that decision.

For instance, there’s no question that Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization was at the forefront of the fight to stop Dyett School from closing.

That’s what it does. It agitates. It advocates.

But does that mean KOCO’s voice is the only voice that should be heard on this subject?

What gives me pause is KOCO’s hunger strike doesn’t just target City Hall. It targets other African-American stakeholders.

OPINION

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One of them is Monica Haslip, the founder of the celebrated Little Black Pearl Studio, and executive director of the Little Black Pearl Art & Design Academy, a CPS contract school.

Haslip is proposing that a fine and performing arts school be developed on the Dyett site. Charles Campbell, the former principal at Dyett, has also submitted a proposal.

Both of these entities are being pressured to withdraw their proposals. Hunger strikers even went to Little Black Pearl to hand-deliver its demand.

Haslip, who was in New Orleans at the time participating in events around the 10th anniversary of Hurricane Katrina, said she was stunned.

“I thought we were in a position to bring something really special and positive to the community,” she explained, defending her decision to respond to CPS’ request for proposal.

“The community should be given options and not just be told this is the only thing you can consider, especially if other viable options are available. We in our community should welcome any viable ideas that make our community better and stronger,” she said.

Thus far, Haslip has declined to withdraw her proposal.

Meanwhile, KOCO seems determined to bulldoze its way into Dyett.

Hunger strikers flew to Washington, D.C., on Wednesday to deliver a letter to Education Secretary Arne Duncan, asking him to urge Mayor Rahm Emanuel to give in to KOCO’s demands.

Those demands leave no room for compromise.

“The activists are demanding that the mayor reopen Dyett as a community school that provides wraparound services for students and their families, with a focus on green technology and leadership,” according to a press release announcing the trip.

Despite being targeted by this protest, Haslip said her “heart goes out to the hunger strikers.”

“I support folks in their passion and their beliefs in fighting for what they believe in. From that perspective, regardless of how they view me being interested in applying for that opportunity, I still honor what they do,” Haslip said.

“But just as I celebrate their choice to do what they have done, I feel I deserve the same opportunity. I am simply trying to contribute to my community as well. We do live in a democracy and we should all have the opportunity to participate.”

I don’t want a single hunger striker to end up in the intensive care unit.

But whatever proposal CPS chooses has to be in the best interests of children living in the school district.

Additionally, every interested stakeholder in the “community” has a right to be heard. Anything less is an insult to all social activists.

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