Chicago has been called the most segregated city in the nation. I would hope that image diminishes as new neighborhoods like Hyde Park and the South Loop are being developed and downtown Chicago expands with blue bikes and transportation street adjustments.
Chicago Public Schools have been the center of America’s urban educational crisis and here we are again, where segregation still lives. There is a qualitative difference between Black schools and White Schools in Chicago. There is a difference between schools on the south/west side and the north side. Chicago public schools are not equal, enters a new public school model – Charter Schools. Chicago is clearly developing two different school systems.
One of the significant happenings in Chicago in 2013 was Mayor Rahm Emanuel along with his board at Chicago Public Schools closing 57 South and West side schools. These schools mostly serve African American student populations. The schools were said to be under-performing and radical change was necessary to include shutting the schools down completely.
The verdict is still out on that decision and determination will be made only by the matrix achievement of performance as new models of transfer and blending schools with safe passage routes will be judged. Some of the schools suffered low population and consolidation was in order. Some of the schools demonstrated poor academics. It is important to note that the African American population has shifted with a downturn, thus decreasing the population of the schools.
Since the historic closing of the 57 schools, Chicago has been told that white schools are overcrowded in some instances and new schools will be considered and Hispanic schools seem to be expanding to accommodate their population growth. The UNO schools are incredible.
The school closings were controversial. From the public hearings and the outcry, it is clear that schools in a neighborhood is not just about schools, but a lot about community. Real estate agents sell housing based on school location and quality. Not only did 57 schools close, but suddenly there are 57 white elephant vacant buildings in the neighborhood that can decrease property value.
The hell raising from the school closings came rightfully and strong from the teachers union. So, what happened to quality education in the neighborhoods?
Remember the Willis Wagons?
Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. came to Chicago at the invite of the late Al Raby in 1965. His Chicago Crusade was about education and housing. There was protest in the streets about Chicago’s double standard on education. At that time, there was what The Woodlawn Organization coined the “Willis Wagons.” The ad hoc add on trailers was named after then Superintendent of Schools Benjamin C. Willis.
Black schools were overcrowded. The racist solution was portable aluminum mobile school units. They were 20 x 36 foot installed on vacant lots. This was the ghetto double shift school day solution to overcrowded Black schools, again mostly on the South and West sides of the city. School segregation was in full view. People of all types were in the streets protesting, boycotting, raising hell, objecting to the trailer classroom, while white schools had empty seats.
Dr. King’s presence brought national attention. The north too had segregated schools, he demonstrated. Where was the union voice? Well, at that time Black teachers were still looking for certificates to qualify them as teachers rather than the union cards.
The Legacy Project
Fast forward to 2013. Pastor Charles Jenkins, the second Pastor to head Fellowship Baptist Church (45th and Princeton) had a brilliant idea and a business plan. Last year on December 31st, the Green Family (owners of Hobby Lobby Stores) based in Oklahoma made a historical donation. They presented him with a $9 million land gift of the property located at 8522 South Lafayette, the original home of Johnson Products Company, founded by George Johnson. On this site, George Johnson and company built one of America’s most successful businesses making consumer and professional products for African American hair and skin care. The Hobby Lobby endowment is the largest ever gifted to an African-American Church in American History.
Jenkins follows The Reverend Clay Evans in his ministry. Rev. Evans had his bout with Chicago’s political structure that is, Mayor Richard J. Daley regime. Evans invited Dr. King to the Fellowship pulpit when other ministers and the six then Black aldermen were told by the fifth floor to shut King down in Chicago. Simply put that meant not to have King appear in local churches, schools, community organizations, or block clubs. King took to the streets on flatbed trucks and rigged microphones and spoke from limited pulpits.
There were a precious few churches were Daley’s wishes were ignored. Punishment came to Evans in the form of his new church building at 45th and Princeton being shut down. The bank loan signed, sealed and delivered suddenly was cancelled. So the frame of the building that became home to Fellowship stood unattended for about six years. Loan denied, construction denied because Rev. Evans would not deny King his pulpit. For this reason Evans became a powerhouse and a legend. Evans waited patiently for the political turn to build one of the most successful churches in Chicago, where presidential candidates would come for his blessings.
The New Fellowship
Fellowship Baptist Church, under Jenkins’ leadership seeks new quarters because it has outgrown its current building and wants to build bigger and larger. Jenkins’ great sense of community and need analysis survey figures with a development the size of the property that has been donated to him, thinks he can fulfill a deficit of the African American community. Independently he observes that the Black community does not just need another mega church for Sundays, but what about medical services, retail outlets, restaurants, recreational/sports facility and most importantly, a school.
The Horizon Science Academy Charter School
The Legacy Project includes a charter school, The Horizon Science Academy. This is a school known for its rigorous college preparatory curriculum with a math, science and technology emphasis.
Jenkins went to the drawing board with the Horizon founders to determine if African American students could use smaller school sizes, a longer school day, parent direct involvement and a comprehensive all hands on deck approach. The school would be a Chatham Charter school with a focus of students living in the Chatham community. Siblings are automatically entered, to keep families together. Sounds good right? Sounds like the perfectly correct things to do right? The school is ready to open in fourth quarter of 2014 with new a building, students selected and teachers in place.
The school would start with 450 students in kindergarten through 8th grade. A grade would be added each year and eventually serve 730 students at full capacity from kindergarten to high school. The school has a track record of 14 years. The Horizon School Academy is successful, serving mostly minority students coming from disadvantaged families. Their students graduate and go directly to college. They currently have three schools in the City of Chicago.
Currently, The Concept School is being considered by Chicago Public Schools for acceptance and approval. There is strong community support to include the business sector, local churches, block clubs, Aldermen Brookins and Sawyer. The community is excited and welcomes the Horizon Science Academy with open arms. Parents eagerly seek a choice.
The Legacy Project is one that considers the African American community beyond its church base. It will create about 400 new jobs from construction to businesses. It will fulfill an economic deficit. New businesses will open rather than close. New opportunities will spring forth. An old community improves. A new world-class school opens. Jenkins has viewed the Chatham community with a holistic view. The Chatham community was once called the most middle class community in America. This project will restore that status and have a positive impact on the South Side. Crime will decrease. Young black males will come off the corner.
In January the Board of Education will vote for this Charter School – Horizon Science Academy to go forth. It is deserving of support. While the board is clear on what it closes, it is not clear on what it opens.