West Siders filled pews at a Humboldt Park church for nearly two hours at a recent town hall meeting to discuss problems in their neighborhood.
U.S. Rep. Danny K. Davis (7th) hosted the forum at Tabernacle of Faith Baptist Church, 531 N. Kedzie Ave. Former alderman Ed Smith moderated as hands flew up one by one, mostly to discuss education and violence.
Brandon Johnson, an organizer for the Chicago Teachers Union, echoed what several community members have been saying for a while now — that the mayor and many in the community don’t see eye to eye.
“We demand and need an elected representative school board,” Johnson said at the Nov. 4 forum.
Families continue to feel the aftermath of mass school closings from last June, Johnson said. Children, he added, are struggling to get acclimated in their new environments, and some still find it difficult to safely walk to school.
The community, Johnson insisted, needs to push for change.
But if the community wants an elected school board, it must get support from state lawmakers, said Tonya Johnson, who is running for 9th District state representative. She told the crowd that more people must register to vote so “their voices can be heard.”
Town hall meetings about the conditions of West Side schools are taking month.
Topics include learning about the schools’ academic performance, special programs and what role legislators play. The topic of education volleyed back and forth at the town hall as part of a discussion about street violence and drug dealing.
Some residents said there needs to be stronger male figures for “the pant-saggers,” a term some used to describe young men who are slacking off in school and committing crime.
Minister Chris Burton, who helps run MB Life Changing Ministries, told the group he recently launched a program called The Man Up Project. He said he works with young men in prisons and asked for their support, hoping to get enough money to house the men once they’re released.
“I created a program because I came from where they are,” Burton said, who recently wrote a memoir, The Unlucky Bastard.
Though many people shared their ideas and promoted their events, most people don’t follow through with plans for change, both the residents and Rep. Davis said.
“The thing that is missing is a sense of permanency. The black community is not rising up to the challenge,” Davis said.
After hosting community meetings for more than 30 years, Davis said he doesn’t see the level of community organizing he saw in the 1960s. But the black community in general, Davis added, has “accomplished a lot” over the years, but, he said, if people want change they need to organize, fight and get the youth involved.