Here’s How I Know Black Lives Don’t Really Matter to the Chicago Teachers Union

As a parent, former substitute teacher in Chicago Public Schools, and also as a community advocate and union organizer, I understand directly the issues affecting our schools and our children. I believe all schools should be equipped with enough resources to support students. However, I do not support a strike by the Chicago Teachers Union.

Although the union says it is fighting for justice for students, you cannot convince me that CTU is truly working from an equity lens. Their track record shows no evidence of equity. No matter what the union has done, Black students have never been supported and their needs are never adequately addressed.

According to the latest Illinois School Report Card data, there now stands a 36-percentage-point achievement gap in literacy between Black and white students in CPS.  For math, the gap is similar. Plus, there is a nine percentage point gap between Hispanic and Black students in both literacy and math. Our children–Black children–are behind in both literacy and math. This problem is not getting solved.

I will never stop fighting for my children.

Black Children’s Needs Are Routinely Ignored By CTU Teachers

The reality is the needs of Black children are often ignored, even in highly-resourced schools.  My own children have experienced this blatant disregard. From the moment my twin sons entered kindergarten, they and I faced bias and discrimination within the school system. When they entered second grade, these issues accelerated tremendously.

Their teacher was a white veteran educator in an affluent CPS building in Lincoln Park. The teacher underestimated my sons’ academic ability and never recognized or attempted to cultivate their creativity. He was relentless in demanding my sons be evaluated for special education. While Black parents I knew in neighborhood schools could not get the specialized services their children needed, my sons’ school was forcing it down our throats—even reducing their grades to justify these biased demands.

When I took my complaint and evidence to the network chief, the principal was forced to change my sons’ grades immediately. However, the damage this teacher did to my sons continued. By the end of the school year, their test scores and grades had dropped. I was fighting an uphill battle.

Although it was a struggle financially, I decided to remove my sons from CPS and homeschooled them. Later, I put them in a private school until eighth grade.  In the end, they both were able to test into selective enrollment high schools: one to Jones and the other to King College Prep. 

Unfortunately, my family’s story illustrates the harsh reality that many Black families are still facing in Chicago’s  public schools. Parents are ignored. Our children are not adequately supported, and their academic needs and abilities are often overlooked. 

Many parents in my community have so many obstacles to deal with on a daily basis. They lack the resources and support to navigate through the system.  A CTU strike will create additional barriers for them and their children.

Many Chicago Parents Who Support CTU Turn a Blind Eye to Black Children  

Meanwhile, other Chicago parents who support the strike don’t seem to understand these realities. I’m in a predominantly white social media group for parents. Many of the group’s members support the CTU. A few days ago, a question was raised regarding parents’ plans for children during the strike.

I observed parents openly sharing all the resources and support they will have in the event of a strike. Some group members are themselves teachers and will have the luxury of taking their children to the picket line with them. (It’s important to note that about 80% of Chicago teachers are of racial backgrounds other than Black.) Other parents explained they have supportive family members, from husbands to grandparents. Still others have the money to pay for au pairs or fee-based educational programs while their children are not in school.  

Reading their posts frustrated me to the core. I could not help but think: What will Black working-class couples living paycheck to paycheck do? What will single Black mothers do? What about the large percentage of Black working grandparents who care for their children’s children? Has anyone ever considered the needs of Black students who have no stable adult to care for them and who rely on a free educational environment to keep them sane and secure? 

When CPS closed schools in our community, I fought. Nor will I sit by while CTU walks away from our kids.

Chicago Teachers Union: Stop Using Our Community

Time and time again, history has shown us that Black lives don’t matter. The struggles we face are invisible.  They only become relevant when someone is trying to convince us to support their agenda, whether they are seeking our votes, access to government grants or popular support for some other self-interested agenda. I am tired of people and institutions dangling Black issues in the air and using my entire community as a sacrificial lamb to support the needs of the majority.

To help create culturally relevant solutions to the problems within CPS and to address the real needs of our students and families, I started Black Parents SPEAK, a platform for parents and caregivers to share information, resources and supports. We also provide assistance with advocating for students and training to help parents understand data and school policy. 

I’ll know it’s time to support the Chicago Teachers Union when the Chicago Teachers Union supports our work and our community.

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Natasha Dunn

A resident of Chicago’s South Shore neighborhood, Natasha Dunn has spent more than a decade organizing with parents to help them access early childhood opportunities. Natasha is passionate about promoting greater equity for parents across Chicago. As the mom of three children, including twins, she supports fellow parents in meeting every child’s unique needs.

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