Black officials organize to protect West Side schools amid Englewood closures

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Ald. Emma Mitts (at podium) and U.S. Rep. Danny Davis announced a West Side education summit at a press conference on Monday. | Provided by Tumia Romero

The West Side Black Elected Officials took notice when Chicago Public Schools decided to close and consolidate four high schools in Englewood, and they’re organizing to make sure that West Side schools don’t see the same fate.

Ald. Emma Mitts (37th) and U.S. Rep. Danny Davis, D-Ill., announced Monday morning a major summit scheduled for Feb. 24 at Malcolm X College, where elected officials and the community will discuss solutions for improving the quality of education for West Side students.

The summit was organized in response to talk of elementary school closings on the West Side, Mitts said, and the announcement comes as community organizers are outraged at the Englewood school closures.

RELATED: 3 Englewood high schools slated to be closed in June instead will be phased out

“That’s why we are doing the summit: the potential talk of school closings, the uproar that came from that talk in the community. That is to say we no longer want someone to give us a plan; we want to give you the plan of what we want in the community,” she said. “Rather than someone trying to tell us from the top down, we want to go bottom up.”

The alderman said that she became concerned when she saw kids from Englewood showing up at City Hall.

“They came in protest of the school closure, and I asked them where they were from, and I found out they were from Englewood,” Mitts said. “I feel very bad when the community don’t have a voice. And I think we were doing the summit even when they was talking about schools in Englewood, and some of the people in Englewood have asked about coming together on this.”

Following community backlash, CPS announced Monday that it has decided to phaseout three of the schools more gradually than initially planned.

The summit will be an opportunity for West Siders and elected officials to come up with solutions for improving their schools, but The West Side Black Elected Officials already says it will be calling for Mayor Rahm Emanuel to appoint someone from the West Side to fill a vacant seat on the Chicago Board of Education.

“It’s an opportunity to represent not only the West Side, but to represent African-Americans as a whole,” Mitts said, encouraging residents and parents who attended the community meeting to consider submitting their resumes.

Davis clarified that WBEO is officially asking for a West Side appointee, but not necessarily an African-American appointee. “I think we said ‘West Side,’ but we think we know what the implication is for what we’re looking for,” he said.

State Rep. La Shawn Ford (8th) said elected officials “heard the cry of the community” when they learned that the city possibly had plans for closing schools.

“We stood up immediately and said we want to be in charge of what happens on the West Side because we see what’s happening over in Englewood,” he said.

While Davis and Mitts are teamed up on this summit, they’re divided on who they think is the best candidate for the West Side in the gubernatorial race.

Mitts has been supporting J.B. Pritzker, and she’s standing by him following the release of a recording in which Pritzker made racially charged comments while discussing potential African-American politicians to fill the U.S. Senate seat vacated by Barack Obama.

Mitts said she spoke with Pritzker after the release of the tape, and though she acknowledges that the tape may “sound offensive,” she’s able to forgive him because his comments on the tape don’t reflect the J.B. Pritzker she knows.

Davis, however, said the tape is “so unfortunate” and revealing that Pritzker has “certain feelings, thoughts and ideas” that are disrespectful. He said that “harm has been done,” and while some African-Americans will forgive Pritzker, they won’t forget what he said.

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