Cong. Danny K. Davis (D-7) held a town hall meeting Monday night at Michele Clark High School to address the problem of the high dropout rate among African-American males. The Congressman brought together a distinguished panelist group to discuss and answer questions. The panelists were: Michael Scott, president CPS; Rev. Johnny Miller, Mt. Missionary Baptist Church; Phillip Jackson, executive director, Black Star Project; Dr. Linda Goodwin, director, Dept. of Dropout Prevention & Recovery; Donald R. Pittman, CEO, Office of High School Programs; Nate Dixon, representative, Chicago Teachers Union; Dr. John Young, principal, Hales Franciscan High; Dr. Aisha Ray, professor, Erickson Institute; Jack Wuest, executive director, Alternative School Network; and Marice Latzzis, student, West Side Alternative School.
Cong. Davis paid special thanks to Mrs. Annette Gurley, principal, Michele Clark School; James Deanes, officer, School & Community Relations; LSC members James Shannon, graduate intern, Geographic/Community Economic Development, Chicago State University; Dolores Pidgeon, chairperson; Ben Montogmery, and many others.
In a brief statement, Davis indicated “there are 600,000-plus [African-American males] in colleges and universities, 900,000-plus in jails or prison, almost a third more. Black boys drop out of school faster than any other population group in the United States of America. There are more black males in special education than any other population group. In fact, it has gotten so bad, when you go to church, it’s hard to find a young African-American male. I’m in church practically every week of my life, and sometimes I don’t see a single one. I talked to two college classes last week?”there wasn’t a single African-American male in either one. We have to deal with the fact that many African-American children don’t acknowledge or recognize a father in their lives. We give out scholarships every year. We gave out 30 not long ago. We were looking at the applications where it said, list your mother and father and their occupation, what they do. And about half the kids put either unknown or N/A.”
Audience members lined up to make their statements, offer ideas or suggest solutions. Following are a few excerpts:
Marcia Lopatka, a teacher from Ella Flagg Young School: “One of the things I believe in is that our children can be anything they want to be. Intelligent isn’t passing a test?”as long as I’m teaching school, nobody is going to tell me that my child isn’t smart because they can’t pass a test. I teach on Saturdays because I choose to. I have 24 children in sixth grade who show up. They go to school because they chose to be there. I have 21 children who are boys. I have plenty of fathers who come and help.”
Officer Franklin (Chicago Police Dept.): “One of the solutions in helping our youth, back in the ’80s I ran a motivational program with the help of Cong. Davis and Rev. Hunter. Once a month we would talk to the children about their aspirations. We can start this program again.”
Gene Rice: “First of all, 35 years ago we had more than 600,000 jobs on the West Side. Families were together. Right now you can’t even get a decent job on the West Side. I am [what you would call] a child of the West Side. I worked at Western Electric. They had 45,000 jobs. I left there and went to General Foods. They had 1,300 jobs. Where are those jobs and the families? Once those jobs left, what came to the West Side? Drugs and crime. Now you have no jobs on the West Side. So this is why we have the problem. With jobs you can help solve the problem, but you do need to have education and educate the people. You’ve got to have jobs to help the situation because all that out there right now is drugs. And that is what is changing our community?”no jobs, drugs.”
Davis replied: “I agree with you wholeheartedly in terms of the job crisis that exists, not just on the West Side of Chicago, but all over inner-city America, where most black people live. What you say is true, Western Electric, Sears Roebuck used to have 10,000 people work there every day right where my office is. But the jobs are gone. What do we do? But we still got to function, notwithstanding the fact that jobs are gone. What do we do?”
Felicia Daniels: “I’m a kindergarten teacher, and I need help. What can I do when my boys come to school [and] they don’t know their letters, but they know about Snoop Dogg. This is kindergarten, so I need some support. When they’re babies, they come in with issues. They need a psychologist. They see too much, they know too much, what can I do?”
Michael Scott, CPS president responded: “Does anybody know the age that children have to be in school? It’s seventh grade. Our worst testers in Chicago Public Schools are primary science. Schools that are on probation get an extra million dollars to spend as they see fit. That would beg the question, what do they spend the money on? Typically they spend the money on extra staff or a computer solution. I submit to you that the discretionary money ought to be spent to reduce classroom sizes.”
Dr. Aisha Ray, professor: “One of the issues that we know about Chicago Public School children and children generally is that (particularly young children) they come to school often with serious mental health problems. Kids from our communities sometimes come to school with issues (post-traumatic stress disorder). They are exposed to extreme violence. They cannot attend to their lessons. They cannot sit still. They have problems with depression, and they cannot attend to learning. We need early childhood mental centers, and we desperately need it in schools.”
Michael McDowell: “I’m a student at Austin High School. I’d just like to bring up a couple of points. First, jobs, lack of knowing between community, adults and youth?”not knowing what chance they have. If they make it out of Chicago Public Schools, there is much out there. There is funding and opportunities for them, but it’s the lack of them knowing. In education reform, we talked about how can you can change something without talking to someone it directly affects? I’m a young African American, this meeting here is for young African Americans, but how many young males do we see here? Not many. So on that part it’s a lack of knowing by the whole community. That means we didn’t put the word out good enough. I think a good program would be “youth motivating other youth,” because I can see it at my school. At my school I’m in the I.B. (International Baccalaureate) program. Students in the regular program, which I was in last year?”some when they first came in, didn’t even know we had computers for them to use. They didn’t know we have a state-of-the-art chemistry lab. They didn’t know we had Texas Instruments graphing calculators, because they were shut out from using them. And the only kids that knew were the I.B. kids; only kids that got to go to use graphic calculators on every test is the I.B. kids?”lack of knowing.”