D is for Dyett High School

Follow Jitu Brown on Twitter: @brothajitu

Right now, in Chicago, 12 people are entering week two of a hunger strike.

Yes, in Chicago, Illinois. 

A local media blackout means the story of the hunger strikers is not getting out the way it should, so let’s all do what we can to help.

Read Chicago teacher Michelle Gunderson’s post in Living in Dialogue for some background info:

The twelve people have committed to withholding food – parents, grandparents, teachers, a minister, and community members – forming a hunger strike to keep the only open enrollment high school in the Bronzeville community of Chicago.

Dyett High School is named after Chicago Public Schools music teacher and all-around  very accomplished musician, Walter Dyett:  

…the tough and volatile bandleader who trained everyone from singer-pianist Nat “King” Cole to avant-garde trombonist Julian Priester, from comedian (and former bandleader) Redd Foxx to singer-guitarist Bo Diddley (who studied violin)….

Having received a bachelor of music degree from VanderCook College of Music in 1938 and a master of music degree from Chicago Musical College in ’42, Dyett clearly was the compleat teacher: triply blessed with a virtuoso’s ear, advanced musical training and the organizational ability to turn generations of poor kids into moneymaking entertainers.

When Dyett realized, for instance, that the Chicago Board of Education wasn’t going to provide the musical instruments  his band required, he created the “Hi-Jinks” show, a musical revue staged by students that drew audiences from across the city and generated enough cash to buy all the instruments he needed.

Source: Howard Reich, Chicago Tribune

But that was then. Dyett died in 1969. Today, the high school that bears his name has been under attack for at least a decade, thanks to the forces of public school privatization, who want to take over and control publicly (under) funded education:

The demand is simple – the hunger strikers want a public high school designed by the community to re-open at Dyett, not a contract school from a failed supplier or a charter operation.

The Bronzeville community wants to decide what happens to Dyett. But the Chicago Public Schools won’t give them an answer. Instead, they keep pushing off the decision, even in the face of the hunger strikers.

“We’ve been pushed to the point of putting our bodies on the line to say enough is enough,” said Jitu Brown, one of the organizers of the coalition that includes the Chicago Teachers Union, the Chicago Botanic Garden, Teachers for Social Justice and other groups.

Brown and others said the hunger strike was prompted by what they characterized as a long series of delays to make a final decision on the future of Dyett since announcing in 2009 the school would be phased out in 2015.

Is this what school choice comes down to? From Michelle Gunderson: “Rhoda Rae Gutierrez and Pauline Lipman consider Dyett High School a victim of the 3Ds of education reform – destabilization, disinvestment, and disenfranchisement.”

 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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