Earlier this month, a scenario played out that perfectly describes the glaring inequity in in the City of Chicago. In Lincoln Park, parents and students gathered at a hastily called and secretly planned press conference to celebrate the opening of a new $17 million annex to help ease overcrowding at Abraham Lincoln Elementary School. The decision to build the annex took some years and was not without controversy. Parents of Lincoln elementary children had vocalized their desire to stay in their neighborhood and had wanted their children to attend the neighborhood school. Mayor Emanuel’s remarks at the announcement of the proposal to build a new annex are the height of irony:
“For all of you who have been waiting for this day, praying for this day, going to meetings on days that rain, snow and sleet, this is your day. This is your future, and congratulations to the children of the City of Chicago.”
The irony of his remarks are heartbreaking when one considers that, just a few miles south in Washington Park, a group of parents have gone without food for weeks while their neighborhood high school Dyett, sits empty — a cavernous reminder of the back-burner status it’s received despite years of prayers, waiting and meetings to pull together a plan to convert the school to a Global Leadership and Green Technology Academy.
At the Lincoln Annex press conference, CPS CEO Forest Claypool said to the attendees, “I can see from this room that people are invested.” Yet he and the administration could not see from the years of planning, working with institutions of higher education on curriculum development, meetings, petition-gatherings, town halls, and more, that those parents in the neighborhoods surrounding Dyett High School were also invested?
Because the countless hours of planning was not a show of investment. The protests, sit-ins and other actions to garner some basic level of attention from the administration was not investment. Because foregoing food for a month so far, is not investment. Apparently, it’s not investment, because these parents do not have the luxury of living in a neighborhood on the side of town that the administration actually cares about.
Many of these parents are low-income and are therefore seen as low-value. And because of their lowly status, they lack the political clout to have even their very own local elected representatives stand up for them. Instead, those local representatives have ignored them and even locked them out of the very press conference to announce the fate of their years of work.
Parents in Lincoln Park got what they felt they needed to stay in their neighborhood, and in Chicago generally. They have every right to get what they need and to have their local representatives advocate on their behalf to those who can actualize their plan. Unfortunately, parents in too many other neighborhoods don’t have this option. Instead, their neighborhoods are seen as afterthoughts and the massive disinvestment that leads to diminished populations is treated as collateral damage.
I hope that those parents in Lincoln Park who had their press conference interrupted can understand that the protestors’ anger is not directed toward them. Parents all seek to do and have what is best for their children. They have that in common and I hope that those Lincoln Park parents can understand the Dyett parents’ ire is rightfully directed to an administration that has failed them time and again.
The deeper tragedy is that an administration’s inability to treat neighborhoods equitably has now led to frustrations that have boiled over. An organization is a reflection of its leadership. A city reflects the values of its leadership. It’s clear from the scenario that has played out that in Chicago that all neighborhoods and all parents are created equal — but some are apparently more equal than others. This is Chicago’s shame.