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Laura Washington: It’s up to Emanuel to end Dyett hunger strike

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As the Fat Nag, I am on an endless crusade for good health and weight loss in the African-American community.

Not this way.

On Monday, the Dyett School hunger strike will be in its 15th day. Twelve members of the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School are refusing to eat. They are demanding that Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Board of Education consider their plan for a Dyett Global Leadership and Green Technology Community High School.


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The coalition, led by the Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, says it has been battling to preserve Dyett for seven years. Throughout, they charge, city and school officials have ignored, disrespected and deceived them.

CPS closed Dyett in June, saying the school suffered from low enrollment and poor performance. Officials invited pitches to reopen and transform it, and the coalition and two other groups submitted ideas. Then the board delayed a public hearing on the proposals until Sept. 15.

The strikers, which include the parents and grandparents of CPS children, mounted a draconian but timeworn strategy. The strikers are consuming liquids, water, juices and broths. No solid food.

“We want you to understand the desperation that caused these people and the coalition around Dyett High School to take this drastic action, to just get the attention of our mayor and to get some semblance of respect from the mayor and the school board,” Dr. Linda Rae Murray said Thursday at a news media gathering Thursday outside Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s City Hall office.

Murray, the former chief medical officer of the Cook County Department of Public Health and a respected physician, and an array of other health professionals wrote Emanuel, asking that he meet with the strikers and end “a deepening health care emergency.”

Three strikers have been hospitalized.  Others are weak and suffering from headaches and dizzy spells.

“Hunger striking is a very dangerous process and procedure,” she said.  Some are at risk of “irreversible damage,” including neurological complications, kidney and cardiac damage, and “even, including possible death.”

Some already faced health challenges before they started, diseases far too common among African Americans, like diabetes and hypertension, she said.

And, the Fat Nag thought, the elephant in the room: Our obesity epidemic.

It’s no accident that the same people who suffer disease at high rates are now voluntarily starving themselves — to get a community school.

This strike is deadly serious. KOCO specializes in slash-and-burn confrontation tactics. They are sick to death, they say, of being disrespected and ignored.

On Thursday, Emanuel told the news media: “I would remind everybody … within a three-mile radius there are 10 high schools. Within about a mile of the school is King College Prep. So there’s a lot of high schools in that area. How do you talk about another one when even some of the high schools within the 3-mile radius are not at capacity yet?”

School officials have hinted they may not reopen Dyett at all. But the Sept. 15 hearing is still scheduled, a CPS spokesperson says.

The Dyett strikers, like most African Americans in the city, are vastly outmatched in Chicago’s power equation.

Emanuel and CPS don’t want to be blackmailed. They face incredibly complex challenges.

The Dyett 12 don’t want to starve. They want to be heard.

Mayor, you have the power to end this. Meet with them and find a solution.

Too many of our people are dying from violence, poverty, negligence, and, yes, our own poor choices.

No one should die for a school.

Email: LauraSWashington@aol.com

Follow Laura Washington on Twitter: @MediaDervish

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