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Two Dyett Protesters Stop Hunger Strike as Health Dangers Escalate

By Sam Cholke | September 15, 2015 2:26pm
 Cathy Dale was one of two school activists forced to quit on the 30th day of a hunger strike for health reasons.
Cathy Dale was one of two school activists forced to quit on the 30th day of a hunger strike for health reasons.
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DNAinfo/Sam Cholke

GRAND BOULEVARD — Two Dyett activists have said they will stop their hunger strike because of health problems.

Cathy Dale and Jeanette Taylor-Ramann both said at a Tuesday press conference at in front of the closed Dyett building at 555 E. 51st St. that they could not continue with the 13 others on a 30-day hunger strike for health reasons.

“I come to this with a heavy heart and a damaged heart I did not have 30 days ago,” Dale said.

On Monday, Dale had said, "We are prepared to die."

But on Tuesday, she said an electrocardiogram had revealed she was having dangerous heart palpitations and needed to resume eating.

“It’s not pain, but you’re conscious of your chest being there all of a sudden,” Dale said, adding she would break the hunger strike later Tuesday and start eating small amounts fruits and other solid food.

Taylor-Ramann said her doctor told her that her blood pressure was dangerously high.

“My blood pressure is off the charts and you can’t take the medication unless there’s something in your system,” Taylor-Ramann said. “This is something they’re telling me I’ll take permanently.”

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She said she’s lost 35 pounds during the hunger strike and has struggled to fulfill her duties as chairman of the Mollison Elementary Local School Council and help care for a granddaughter born Sept. 8.

Both were part of the original 12 who started a hunger strike on Aug. 17 to try to force CPS to negotiate on the future of Dyett.

The group was one of three vying to get their proposal for Dyett accepted by CPS, before the district suddenly said it would abandon the process on Sept. 3 in favor of an open-enrollment arts-based school run by CPS.

The hunger strikers are now fighting for a seat at the table as CPS pivots to a new plan for the school, which in 2009 the district said it planned to close after the 2014 school year.

The group has pressed for a meeting with CPS officials about the future of Dyett, but a meeting has not yet been scheduled and CPS said Monday it is already moving ahead with the selection of a principal for Dyett.

"As we announced on Sept. 3, Dyett will reopen as a neighborhood, open-enrollment high school in the fall of 2016," said CPS Chief Education Officer Janice Jackson on Monday. "The new school concept was celebrated by a broad coalition of community groups, clergy, and elected officials representing Bronzeville and the larger South Side community, and it will incorporate key themes identified by the [Request For Proposals] process, such as a technology hub for the larger community, and the need for fine-arts programming that are consistent with the legacy of the school's namesake, Captain Walter H. Dyett."

The hunger strikers said they are not satisfied with CPS’ plan unless it involves input from the community.

“We’re determined to take what’s ours because our children can’t speak for themselves,” said Anna Jones, one of the hunger strikers. “We are beyond compromise at this point.”

The group got an added boost of support on Tuesday from black-owned press around the city.

The Chicago Crusader and the Windy City Word publishers both said they are officially backing the hunger strikers and are devoting more coverage to the Dyett issue.

“This week there will be a headline in our black newspapers to open Dyett as the school the community has respectfully asked for,” said Dorothy Leavell, publisher of the Chicago Crusader. “We feel [CPS’] offer to make this an arts school is insufficient and we stand with the people who have not eaten for 30 days.”

Rabbi Brant Rosen of Tzedek Chicago and other rabbis were expected to deliver a letter to Mayor Rahm Emanuel during Rosh Hashanah Tuesday afternoon calling on the mayor to meet and negotiate with the hunger strikers.

The hunger strikers were also planning a march to President Barak Obama’s home in Kenwood at 4 p.m. for a candlelight vigil.

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