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Justice Talks: Anna Jones

Seeing my children starved of education was killing me more than not eating.

Born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi, Anna Jones now lives in the Bronzeville neighborhood on Chicago’s southside. She has four children. Last year, after school district closed the last open enrollment high school in her neighborhood, Walter H. Dyson High School, she and 11 other activists went on a hunger strike. Four people eventually dropped out for health reasons, but Anna and seven others went without food for 34 days. After their hunger strike, the district announced it would be reopening Dyson High School.

Now, Anna Jones is interviewed by NEA writer David Sheridan to discuss the hunger strike, what it means for the Dyson High School community, and what's next.

NEA: Why a hunger strike?

Jones: I am one of the parents with the Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School. We tried to sit down with the mayor, our administrator, and the chief of the school District. We sat down with aldermen. We did sit-ins, we wrote letters, we asked, we pleaded, we begged. Some of us have been arrested. But no one listened to us. When we saw how the mayor and other political people disrespected our community, we knew we had to take a drastic action.

NEA: You went for 34 days without food. That must have been terribly difficult?

Jones: Seeing my children starved of education was killing me more than not eating. I pushed so hard for Dyett because my kids have lost so much. I was hoping all my kids could attend Dyett.

NEA: So it was dissatisfaction with the quality of education your children were receiving that really set you on the road to activism?

Jones: Yes. It seemed like every year my kids were falling further and further behind. I have an eighth-grader, a fourth-grader, a second-grader, and a kindergartener. Due to the closings and mergings, my children went to three different schools in less than a year. My eighth-graders’ reading teacher quit in the middle of the year, and day-after-day she and the other students sat there in that classroom, with a security guard to babysit them. And my kindergartner’s class had 53 students. 53!

NEA: Do you think the educators working in your children’s school care about them?

Jones: When I was on the outside looking in, I didn’t think the educators cared about our kids. But then I became a mentor in one of the elementary schools, I saw that the educators do care. Lack of resources and district policies kept the educators from doing what they wanted to do with our kids.

NEA: Was the hunger strike worth it?

Jones: Definitely. It gave us a voice. It shined the spotlight on our kids and community. You know most of the 49 school closings announced by the Mayor were in Brown and Black neighborhoods. Meanwhile, we saw the Mayor opening new schools on the northside. We’re not competing with those schools up north. We’re happy for those children, but we want the same thing for our children.

NEA: After your hunger strike, the district announced it would reopen Dyett. Do you consider that a victory?

Jones: We see it as a partial victory. Our Coalition to Revitalize Dyett High School did a lot of research, and we concluded that Dyett should become a green technology school. But the district wasn’t interested in our input. The district announced it would be a school dedicated to the arts. Why would offer an arts plan when green technology is the fastest growing industry in the world?

NEA: What now?

Jones: We are going to continue to fight for what’s best for our kids. Education is a basic human right, and our rights are being violated.


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