The Beginning Of The End

Narrated by Erisa Apantaku


ERISA APANTAKU: February 19th, 2018. President’s Day was a holiday for Chicago Public Schools, but not a day off for the students, parents, and residents of Englewood.

In fact, a few hundred of them chose to march to Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s Ravenswood home that rainy Monday. They were protesting CPS’s decision to close all four ‘neighborhood’ high schools in Englewood.

(ARCHIVED RECORDING, MIRACLE BOYD: Mayor Rahm Emanuel, I would like to share something with you. You are a racist.)

APANTAKU: That’s Miracle Boyd, a student from John Hope High School—one of the four high schools in the South Side neighborhood. A week earlier, Chicago Public Schools CEO Janice Jackson announced an update to the district’s plan: rather than close all of the schools at once, three of them—Hope, Harper, and TEAM Englewood—would phase out. This meant  students currently enrolled would not have to transfer midway through their high school years. They could stay put and graduate. But the modified decision left out Paul Robeson High School. Its students would be forced out of their school at the end of the 2018 school year.  

John Hope High School student Miracle Boyd readies her letter that was delivered to Mayor Rahm Emanuel's home. Photo: Olivia Obineme

John Hope High School student Miracle Boyd readies her letter that was delivered to Mayor Rahm Emanuel's home. Photo: Olivia Obineme

(ARCHIVED RECORDING, BOYD: ...There are enough children in Englewood to support more than one high school, Mr. Mayor.)


APANTAKU: On February 28th, just 10 days after Miracle Boyd’s speech, the CPS school board voted unanimously to accept the proposal. Hope, Harper, and TEAM Englewood will be phased out over the next three years. Robeson has closed and will be torn down, making way for a new, $85-million neighborhood school. (DRUMMING SOUNDBYTE) A new school that none of the current high school aged students in Englewood will be able to attend. And where will this school be built? Right where Robeson High School currently stands. Constructed in 1977, Robeson will be demolished in 2018. Its four decades as an institution meant something to the people who learned there.

KEITH HARRIS: The teachers at Robeson actually taught. I went to Whitney Young my freshman year. Not to diminish Whitney Young, but I wasn't challenged.

APANTAKU: Worked there.

FAB COLLINS: I would tell my kids no matter what you was going on, talk to me. Don't be scared to talk to me. If I can help you I'mma help you. If not, I'mma get somebody to help.

APANTAKU: Made friends there.

LIZ CHAMBERS: We were in Division 850, which was the honors division we're proud to say. And we met freshman year and we're still best of friends after 44 years.

APANTAKU: And even made enemies there.

KEISHA RUTH: So OK, we faught, her sister jumped me and you know, we got broken up by security and all her kiki braids came out.

It’s like that Open Mike Eagle track, written about Chicago Public Housing, specifically the Robert-Taylor Homes.

(MUSIC, "My Auntie's Building" by OPEN MIKE EAGLE: It was people there and kids there / And drug dealers and church folk / And they hit that shit with a wrecking ball so hard / Thought the whole earth broke / All them people dispersed though)

APANTAKU: For the next hour we’re going to take you through those four decades of Robeson history, beyond the recent news blips. We’re going to tell it through the stories of people from the Robeson community. Before we begin, I want to introduce the team. I’m Erisa Apantaku.

OLIVIA OBINEME: I’m Olivia Obineme.

BRIDGET VAUGHN: I’m Bridget Vaughn.

BRIDGET NEWSHAM: And I’m Bridget Newsham.

APANTAKU: For the past six months, we’ve been exploring the history of Robeson High School, all 40 years, starting with 1977.