UPDATE: Students Pack 6/14/12 CCA Board Meeting – Advance the Fight to Force Board to ‘Decline to Renew’ Contract of Racist Teacher
March Today, March Tomorrow and Keep Fighting Until we Win!
On Friday, May 25, 2012, over 200 students walked out of Cesar Chavez Academy (CCA) Middle School and High School to demand a stop to the racist treatment of students from CCA.
The inspiration of the walkouts at CCA did not start with CCA, but started much earlier than that. They started with the walkouts in April from Southwestern and Western with over 200 students uniting and fighting against the closing of Southwestern and other DPS schools, to improve the conditions at Western and to defend public education as a right for all students. BAMN students led these walkouts. BAMN stands for The Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration & Immigrants Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary.
Weeks later, those walkouts spread across the city to Priest Middle School and Southeastern, Kettering and Crockett High Schools. The fighting spirit was sure to spread to our brothers and sisters at CCA. And not only did the word spread there, but CCA took up the challenge and began to fight around their demands also.
The CCA fight started because of racist bullying against students at the school, mainly from a racist white teacher at CCA named Nicole Szymberski. She denigrated students heritage by speaking low of Mexican families, called at least one black student a “black monkey” and told girl students “the bigger the hoops the bigger the ho”. These are just a few of the countless attacks this teacher made against CCA 8th grade students over the years.
The eighth graders had enough, the high schools students were angry about what she did to them in the past, and the seventh and sixth grade students do not want to face her next year. The administration, though they knew about the actions of Ms. Szymberski, did nothing to stop her or fire her. Therefore, the students took action into their own hands to change the situation.
Starting last year, a Latino staff member, Mr. Rios did what far too few teachers, staff or administers do, — stand on the side of the students. When he received reports from students of the racism from this Ms. Szymberski, he did not just ignore them. He told the students to write down what happened and that he would turn it into the administration. But when he turned them into the administration, they basically just threw the students’ complaints into the trash and ignored the situation. Then, they fired Mr. Rios! Mr. Rios went to the Department of Education, and filed a complaint, but the racist teacher is still at the school, tormenting students.
The students turned their righteous anger into action. They began to talk with each other and further spread the word on Facebook to help get their ideas out. Mr. Rios encouraged the students to act, but in the end, it was the students’ determination, courage, organization and strength that made the action happen. On Friday morning, May 25th, the administration went from class to class threatening students with suspension and with the withholding of fun activities from students if they walked out. Eighth graders were told that they would not be able to graduate if they walked out. But these threats did not scare the students out of acting. The students knew they were right to fight back against racist, second-class treatment against them and their fellow students.
The middle and high school students battled their way through the gauntlet of teachers at the classroom doors, administrators at the school doors and the gates that stood in the way of the school property and the rest of Southwest Detroit. Some students jumped over high gates and over brick walls to escape and join the rest of the students on the Waterman Street sidewalk in front of the school.
After they waited a while for more students to pile out, all of the students marched down Waterman, up Vernor and down Livernois to the meeting of the public, though unelected, (CCA is a charter school) school board. The meeting had been moved from 6:00PM at the middle school, to 10:00AM at a school over a mile away, making it harder for the middle and high school parents to attend.
Once at the board meeting, students demanded entrance into the building, but the school staff would not let them in. So they rallied outside of the building and spoke to each other about what had been done to them by this racist teacher. They also demanded that Mr. Rios be offered his job back.
Finally, about 20 students and parents (out of 200) were let into the meeting and they testified about many of the racist incidents that happened to them. The students received nothing more than an insincere statement from the Leona Group, that manages CCA, that they would ‘look into it’. Then the students demanded amnesty from discipline based on the walkouts. But the head of the Leona Group said that he would not micro-manage the school site, even though he had the power to do it, and despite the fact that the students should be treated like heroes and nothing less.
Whether we win our demands or not is based on the balance of power between ourselves and our adversaries, AND whether or not we use the power we have to advance our situation. Therefore, on the day of the march and everyday after that the students met with BAMN organizers and BAMN attorneys to devise a plan and strategize.
BAMN is about doing what ever is necessary to ensure that we do not have to attend schools in which we are degraded for our Latina/o, black or any other culture, race, gender or sexual orientation. We will walkout, occupy, sit-in, march, rally and more to assert our power and win our demands.
The next school day after the Memorial Day holiday, we rallied across the street from the school, continuing to voice our demands. The high school students were not suspended at all and the middle school students were suspended for one day only and no one was expelled. That was a victory. Moreover, after about 70 students, parents and lawyers marched into the school and demanded to be heard, we were able to force the principal to allow the eighth grades students who had walked out the right to attend their own graduation.
But the students’ demands did not end there. Two, very strong young seventh grade girls shouted loudly and angrily that what they really cared about was getting rid of the racist teacher and for the CCA students to not be treated like second class citizens. When they spoke, the room erupted in cheers from the crowd. Everyone in that room could feel the growing discontent of the young people, and know that if we keep asserting the power of our numbers, the administration, no matter how strong they may seem, will adhere to our demands. Upon leaving the cafeteria, the students chanted, “Whose school? Our school!” That chant is true and must be acted on if we are to win.
Southwest Detroit and Detroit as a whole, as well as the nation is under attack when it comes to public education and immigrant rights. Detroit is supposed to be a sanctuary city, meaning that it does not cooperate with the ICE (Immigration and Customs Enforcement), but the ICE terrorizes our communities every day.
When it come to education, Southwestern High School, one of the most integrated schools in the city, in the middle of the growing Latina/o community of Detroit, is being threatened with closure. Schools all over Detroit schools are being turned into EAA (“Education Achievement Authority” schools run by the state) meaning that the school day will be much longer, school will be eleven months a year, but there will be no actual improvement. The plan for education is to degrade our schools and force families out of the city. There are many attacks on our education that the powers that be claim is for the purpose of improving public education, when it is to really destroy it.
War has been declared on our Detroit, and we must battle on to defend ourselves and our people and fight for the life and the city we know we deserve. The middle school and high school students must lead if we are to win. They are proven leaders. Therefore, they should be able to determine the character of our schools and our city.
The sell out mis-leaders of our schools and city want to just continue to sell out. Most adults are too filled with fear to make any moves to make the changes needed to force the ICE out of our neighborhoods, to stop our schools from closing, to get rid of the racist staff members who belittle us. Detroit students are the peers and equals of every other student in the suburbs and in the country. We alone have the courage, boldness, and experience needed to lead our struggles to victory for full rights for immigrants, access to equal, quality schools and to have a first class city to live and grow in. To win, we must be organized.
BAMN is determined to fight and to never give up until we win full equality for all students, immigrants, and poor and working class of all races. We are an organization of leaders.