Every morning as I drive to Chicago’s south side to passionately carry out my heartwork in the Roseland community, deeply rooted in my spirit is a small part of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s I Have a Dream speech. The part of Dr. King’s dream where he hopes that his four children “will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” On that warm, August day in 1963 on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, D.C., there was a call to action for justice and equity. This call to action is what inspires me and what drives me as an educational leader in the city of Chicago.
It has taken years, decades in fact, to dig deep and determine the root of my passion and develop my voice for working with and advocating for children, especially children in urban settings who oftentimes do not have the access or opportunities of children in more gentrified areas of Chicago. Growing up as a biracial, female of color, I first struggled with my own identity and injustices being discriminated against by every race I have had the opportunity to interact with. I was either, too White, too Black, or judged by my appearance without even uttering a word to these owners of injustice. It brought about internal conflict and a strong desire for connection. This is not dissimilar to the desires in the hearts of the children I am blessed to work with every single day at CICS Prairie. The children for whom Distinctive Schools strives passionately to break barriers of injustice for and who are at the center of our innovative practices to develop environments of acceptance, opportunity, and equity.
You are loved
Now that being biracial is more of a socially accepted norm in 2018, my heels are even more strongly rooted in tapping into the needs of our south side scholars and doing everything I can through my personal experiences to ensure our children receive the following messages: You are loved. You are worthy of the best educational experiences. You are capable of attending the best high schools in Chicago. It is safe to trailblaze and have dreams that include college and a future career. And, of equal importance, the message that neither the opinions or harsh words of others, nor the current state of our impoverished communities where hope is oftentimes a forgotten word, has to impact their dreams or direct their futures.
The intersection of justice and injustice
More than 50 years have passed since Dr. King’s I Have a Dream speech, yet we still find ourselves at the intersection of justice and injustice for minorities in impoverished Chicago communities. Despite the daily trek uphill in doing what is best for our children, as Dr. King reminded the world, I will reiterate there is a “fierce urgency of now,” and “[w]e must forever conduct our struggle on the high plane of dignity and discipline.” Now in my 13th year in education, my passion for always putting children at the center of our decision making becomes stronger each year. The advancement of public education and increasing opportunities for minority children is one of our most urgent calls to action, and I am grateful that through my personal struggle with identity and discrimination that I can now empower our youth on the south side. May our collective responsibility stay firmly grounded in advocating for our children, so they are increasingly acknowledged not for the color of their skin, but for the content of the character -- character we help facilitate the development of by creating caring, loving, and supportive learning communities. My personal call to action helps Dr. King’s dream live on, in that amidst a historic cloud of darkness, webring a light of justice and equity to our minority youth.
Jenn Harth is currently the School Director at CICS-Prairie. As an Educator, Jenn has experience in teaching (PreK - 8), curriculum development, and business management experience combined in a well-rounded approach to education management.