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Dyett Hunger Strike Ends with Dinner, Declaration of Victory

By Sam Cholke | September 22, 2015 8:37am
 School activists said they will continue to push CPS on Dyett, but will now resume eating.
School activists said they will continue to push CPS on Dyett, but will now resume eating.
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DNAinfo/Sam Cholke

KENWOOD — School activists have declared their 34-day hunger strike a success after ending it on Saturday and are promising more actions to pressure Chicago Public Schools on Dyett High School.

The 15 hunger strikers said they were celebrating Monday after having successfully pushed CPS to commit to reopening Dyett High School as an open-enrollment school and bringing national attention to the effects of school closings on the South Side.

Jitu Brown said the group was breaking its hunger strike Monday with a dinner with its supporters at Rainbow/PUSH headquarters, 930 E. 50th St., but was planning more protests later in the week to push for more from CPS.

“We’re going to heal our bodies, do a few push-ups and eat a few sandwiches so we can come out swinging,” Brown said.

The hunger strike started on Aug. 17 after CPS delayed meetings on reopening the school closed at the end of the 2014-15 school year. School activists started the protest, believing CPS was either backing out of an earlier promise to reopen Dyett or to hand the school over to a private operator.

On Sept. 3, CPS announced it would reopen Dyett as an arts-themed open-enrollment high school, but the hunger strike continued until Saturday as the group pushed for more influence in planning the school.

State Sen. Kwame Raoul (D-Chicago) said Monday that he had acted as a neutral mediator for the group “helping to get their message through.”

He said he reached out to CPS leadership on Thursday about the group’s “modest” demands.

“It’s about having an entity that opens it doors not just during school hours, but after-school hours and can make things safer for all community stakeholders,” Raoul said.

The group said it is still talking to CPS officials and is hopeful that it can get green technology as part of the curriculum, a local school council in the first year and curriculum aligned with the local feeder elementary schools.

The chance to get a representative on the council designing a reopened Dyett seems to be passing.

CPS on Monday released the list of 15 people who will help re-imagine Dyett. Included in the list are saxophonist Ernest Dawkins, artist Theaster Gates from the University of Chicago, 1871 CEO Howard Tullman and others.

The list includes people well known on the South Side like the presidents of the DuSable Museum of African American History and the Muntu Dance Theater, but no one from any of the three groups that responded to CPS’ request for proposals from April.

“We have no issue with the people on the list, but we would like to be on it,” Brown said.

CPS is putting more emphasis on technology, if not green technology specifically as the hunger strikers asked, as the plan starts to take shape. The plan now includes a technology innovation and training center, one of the things the advisory council will be in charge of shaping and giving a mission.

“We have a tremendous opportunity to develop a modern, high-quality high school at Dyett, and these industry leaders will help us ensure that vision is realized,” CPS CEO Forrest Claypool said in a prepared statement. “They bring a wealth of experience and wisdom crucial to the development of this progressive school and technology center on the South Side.”

The group was planning its first major action unrelated to Dyett in over a month on Monday night with a candlelight vigil in Kennicott Park for Tyjuan Poindexter, who was shot and killed Saturday in the 4400 block of South Greenwood Avenue.

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