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Dyett Hunger Strikers Weakened and Emotional, But Still Fighting 5 Days In

By Sam Cholke | August 21, 2015 1:18pm
 Activists said they were becoming more emotional but thinking clearer now that they hadn't eaten for five days in a campaign to force a decision on Dyett High School by CPS.
Activists said they were becoming more emotional but thinking clearer now that they hadn't eaten for five days in a campaign to force a decision on Dyett High School by CPS.
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DNAinfo/Sam Cholke

DOUGLAS — The 12 Dyett activists looked weakened on the fifth day of their hunger strike on Friday, but still rallied to hold a prayer vigil in front of Ald. Will Burns’ 4th Ward office.

The group has not eaten since Monday in an attempt to get Chicago Public Schools to make a final decision on reopening Dyett High School, 555 E. 51st St.

“It feels like someone has taken a piece of my soul,” said Jeanette Taylor, one of the 12 activists surviving on liquids.

There were no bombastic speeches or vigorous sign waving on Friday in front of Burns’ office, 435 E. 35th St.

“We don’t have the energy to protest,” Jitu Brown, another of the activists, told two police officers when they showed up in response to a complaint by the alderman’s staff.

A fight with police never seemed to be in the cards though, with the officers saying they supported the activists'’ demands, but had to ask them to move to the sidewalk.

One officer even took a moment to comfort Irene Robinson, who had suddenly burst into tears.

Several of the group said they had cried every day and were finding it increasingly difficult to control their emotions.

Brown said he felt like his thinking was becoming clearer the further into the fast he got, though his energy now only came in brief spurts.

The group was demanding a meeting with Burns, again asking him to support a proposal by the activists that Dyett remain a CPS-run school.

CPS is also considering a contract school proposal for an arts-based high school run by Little Black Pearl and a sports and business school proposed by former Dyett Principal Charles Campbell.

The hunger strike started after CPS delayed hearings on Dyett by a month, now set to be considered Sept. 15, with a vote by the Chicago Board of Education later in September.

"Chicago Public Schools is carrying out a community-driven process to select a new high-quality school for the former Dyett site," Bill McCaffrey, a spokesman for CPS, said when the hunger strike started. "Identifying a high-quality education option for the former Dyett site is a priority for the district, and CPS is reviewing school proposals to determine the best open enrollment, neighborhood education option for the site."

Burns declined to comment, but in the past has said he will not publicly endorse any of the three options.

The Rev. Jesse Jackson Sr. of the Rainbow/PUSH Coalition also joined the hunger strike on Tuesday and is still fasting.

Jesse Sharkey, vice president of the Chicago Teachers Union, has also reportedly joined the hunger strike, but a representative from the union could not be immediately reached to confirm.

“I respect these brave people who are willing to put their bodies on the line for education for their children in this year of resistance,” union President Karen Lewis said Wednesday. “I’m calling on the board and the mayor to call a special hearing so this hunger strike can end before someone becomes seriously ill. I also stand in solidarity with them as they continue to fight to save Bronzeville’s only neighborhood high school.”

A nurse continues to check daily on the health of all those participating in the hunger strike.

The group planned to go back to Dyett to join other supporters until 3 p.m.

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