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Dyett hunger strike continues as group adds demands

Dyett hunger strikers sit in front of the school in Bronzeville Friday and discuss their demands. | Tina Sfondeles/Sun-Times Media

The hunger strike continued Friday for a group protesting Dyett High School’s new destiny as an art school as members announced the Rev. Jesse Jackson will help them negotiate their demands with the Chicago Public Schools and Mayor Rahm Emanuel.

On Thursday, CPS and Emanuel announced that Dyett will become an open-enrollment arts-themed high school — which was not one of three proposals submitted to CPS as part of its selection process.

The hunger strikers — now on day 19 — represented one of those proposals. The Kenwood-Oakland Community Organization sought to create the Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology and began their hunger strike on Aug. 17, vowing not to eat solid foods until their goals are met.

“The hunger strike continues and we want the world to know that Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Public Schools do not respect or care about the voices of black families,” said Jitu Brown, the group’s leader.

Brown on Friday announced the group is seeking several demands, including green technology and global leadership in its curriculum; a ‘sustainable school village’ with a coalition of local school councils; for the school to be open until 8 p.m. every day with programs created by the community; an immediate publicly elected local school council; and at least six members of their coalition part of their design plans.

Brown said Jackson will negotiate the demands on their behalf.

Chicago Public Schools CEO Forrest Claypool and other officials repeatedly referred to the art school as a “compromise” solution for the entire community and said there was “a lot of objective evidence” that the community wanted a school with a focus on arts.

The group says there’s no proof the city and taxpayers want an art-based school in Bronzeville.

“When people say it’s a win. ‘You all won something. You should be happy.’ There was no negotiation with the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett. There was no negotiation,” Brown said.

The coalition has fought for five years on behalf of Dyett — first to prevent its 2012 phaseout, then to put another neighborhood school in the South Side Building.

Another hunger striker, Monique Redeaux-Smith, called the city’s plan “disingenuous.” She said the coalition had spent thousands of hours working with education experts to come up with their proposal.

Brown estimated the group has spent at least $10,000 on its proposal, including the organization of five retreats, which sought input from teachers, students and the community.

Jawanza Malone, the executive director of the Kenwood organization and spokesman for the hunger strikers, is the man who started the on-stage protest at Wednesday’s city budget hearing, simply by standing up on the stage and raising a sign. Emanuel was whisked off stage after at least 20 protesters huddled around him.

Malone on Friday said Emanuel did have intentions to meet with his group before he was forced to leave.

“Mayor Emanuel, once we were coming nose to nose, he said, ‘You want to meet. You want to meet.’ I said, ‘Let’s go meet.’ We were going off the stage and as soon as we walked to the stairs, the police cut me off and so that heightened the tension,” Malone said.

Malone said he too was disappointed at the city’s decision and the mayor’s reaction to Wednesday’s protest: “He’s the narrator of the city of Chicago…like every other comment he’s made it’s just disingenuous and trying to twist the facts to appeal to an audience.”