Asean Johnson Helped Save His School, Next Stop: Mayor?
WASHINGTON HEIGHTS — Little Asean Johnson climbed up on a chair, leaned into the microphone and really let the mayor have it.
"Rahm Emanuel is not caring about our schools. He's not caring about our safety. He only cares about his kids," the third-grade class president at Marcus Garvey School said at Tuesday's rally against school closings. "He only cares about what he needs. He don't care about anything but himself."
Veins bulged in the boy's neck when he screamed, "We are not toys. We are not going down without a fight."
There were only a few hundred protesters in the crowd when Asean spoke from the heart about Emanuel's plan to shutter 54 schools in mostly black neighborhoods: “This is racism right here.”
But word spread quickly on social media — and the YouTube video of Asean’s speech was viewed more than 80,000 times.
And on Wednesday, Marcus Garvey Elementary in Washington Heights — one of 54 schools set to be closed as part of the largest school action in U.S. history — was just one of four schools that were spared.
Asean was at school when the Board of Education took its final vote. So I caught up with him after he had supper and finished his homework. The sun was going down as he dribbled a basketball in the driveway and shot at an imaginary hoop.
He was all smiles when I asked, "Do you think you helped save your school?"
"Yes," Asean said, humbly.
"But I don’t think it was just me. … It was the parents that came out and the students that came out to help Marcus Garvey."
He transferred to Garvey from private school this year. He loves the computer lab and library and his teachers. His classmates in Room 205 voted him class president even though he’s still "the new kid."
That's why Asean got mad when he found out Mayor Emanuel and CPS boss Barbara Byrd-Bennett planned to close his new school.
He remembered what his mom always told him.
"The thing she taught me is to be active and fight for what you believe in and fight for what you love," Asean said.
He's just 9 years old, but knows that if he was forced to walk to Mount Vernon Elementary that the kids in that neighborhood would want to beat him up — or worse.
"They would try to kill us," he said.
So, Asean wrote letters to Emanuel and Bennett, but never heard back from them.
Last weekend, he marched with protesters for three days in a row chanting "Education is a right. That is why we have to fight."
On Tuesday at Daley Plaza, he climbed up on that chair to let out all his frustration.
"It came straight from the heart. I didn’t really have no notes down or nothing," Asean said. "I just got it through my mind and I said it."
After he left the stage, Chicago Teachers Union boss Karen Lewis endorsed Asean for mayor in 2025 — when he'd be 21 years old.
"That made me feel appreciated," Asean said, "and a little shy."
Now it's got him thinking about a future in politics, well, if his first career choice doesn't pan out.
"Just in case my basketball and football careers don't work, I'll have president, lawyer and scientist as backup plans," he said with a giant grin. "Maybe mayor of Chicago."
Asean's mom, Shoneice Reynolds, is so proud.
"I'm extremely proud of his courage," she said. "I'm extremely proud of his grades. He's an honor student. He really blossomed when he got to Garvey. … And just his fight, his desire, his passion."
Reynolds says Mayor Emanuel should listen to her son's message — even watch his speech on YouTube — to really know what life is like for kids from her neighborhood.
"I think he should [listen] because the children are the ones directly affected. The children are the ones who have to sit in those classrooms. The children are the ones who have to walk to those schools and go into those different communities. … The children, that's what we’re here for."
Asean smiled, hugged his mom and ran back out on the driveway to dribble and shoot at his imaginary hoop until his mom cut short his fun.
"It's 8:06, Asean," Reynolds said. "It's getting to be that time … time to get ready for bed."
There's school tomorrow at Marcus Garvey Elementary — and next year, too, thanks to Asean and all the folks who cared enough to fight.
Room 205's class president — if he wants to be mayor some day — needs a good night's sleep.