[Op-Ed] Why One Affluent Chicago School Wants to Merge With a Poor One

[Op-Ed] Why One Affluent Chicago School Desperately Wants to Merge With a Poor One

(Image: Stephanie Fleary)
(Image: www.aumhc.org)

For decades, Chicago government leaders redlined people of color into housing projects and isolated sections of the city, as well as starved them of city jobs and access to a high quality education. What better attempt at redemption and social justice than for the school district to approve the merger of a school with stacked wealth with a school in stacked poverty?

Ogden asked CPS to build an annex to ease the overcrowding and got a resounding no. (You know things have gotten bad in CPS when even the wealthiest schools can’t cajole extra money from the district. CPS may end up running out of money in February.)

When it comes to social justice, opportunities for mutually beneficial collaboration among the powerful and powerless don’t come often. White people, for example, are regularly asked to lay aside their privilege and power at the expense of their own comfort, while black people are often asked to be forgiving, calm, and patient as they experience exclusion and unfair treatment.

The Ogden-Jenner school combo is a potential win-win for all. It could be a model of urban school integration for the nation since it allows kids to stay inside their own communities rather than being bused out of them.

A wise person once told me that the definition of multiculturalism isn’t just having mixed races in a place; it occurs when each race owns the space. This merger would make every child feel like they are at home in their school, and not an unwanted visitor.

Moreover, kids of all races and socioeconomic backgrounds will learn how to work together and accept each other’s differences–and realize just how much they have in common.

My hunch is that the adults involved will learn the biggest lesson.

If families from the Gold Coast, Streeterville, and River North choose to enroll their kids at Ogden International School at the Jenner Campus, I hope they work to create Beloved Community.

That’s what Dr. King called it when people decide that racism, poverty, and violence will not be tolerated; where there are no power dynamics or class distinctions, and deeper understanding resolves all conflicts. Dr. King thought Beloved Community would be achievable if people treated each other as brothers and sisters, realizing that everybody has something valuable to offer.

The black parents at Jenner must play a major role in achieving Beloved Community, as well. They need to display cultural pride and dignity despite their lack of material wealth and social status, while also embracing well-to-do families from Ogden.

The scarred, blood-baked soil of the infamously brutal Cabrini-Green ghetto still cries out for justice and racial reconciliation. And the new Whole Foods, million-dollar condos, and Apple store can’t silence those cries.

CPS needs to make this merger happen for the Fall of 2016. It’s a climactic teachable moment for Chicago, and Hollywood could not have produced a better script.

Marilyn Rhames has taught in district and charter schools in Chicago for the past 11 years and currently serves as alumni support manager at a K-8 charter school. A former New York City reporter, Rhames writes award-winning education commentary featured on Moody Radio in Chicago and formerly in Education Week. She is a 2016 Surge Institute Fellow and the founder of the Christian nonprofit, Teachers Who Pray.