“What do school closures and their disproportionate clustering in communities like Bronzeville, tell us about a fundamental devaluation of African American children, their families and black life in general?” is the underpinning of Eve L. Ewing’s new book “Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side.” The Chicago educator, poet and author of the evocative 2017 poetry collection “Electric Arches” crafts a powerful account of the battle that pitted beleaguered educators and working-class parents against the snarl of political machinations. These fights played out amid the raft of school closings in majority-black Chicago communities in 2013. Ewing’s book thrums with an activist’s outrage. Vehement charges of racism abound within the book, which chronicles Chicago’s well-documented history of racial segregation and oppression while simultaneously depicting a resistance of students, parents, educators and activists who refuse to be silenced in the face of injustice.
Ewing provides readers a gadfly’s view of the various protests that took place in Bronzeville and other Chicago areas. The author deftly captures a flashpoint in a time of citywide angst over Chicago’s global prominence (at the time, the city was contending to host the 2016 Olympics), concerns over escalating violence and neoliberalism’s unfettered encroachment into education nationwide. Ewing’s poetic powers radiate throughout this otherwise academic book, as it absorbs the indignation of downscale African Americans in Chicago, a population perpetually on the receiving end of many of the city’s injustices. Mayor Rahm Emanuel positioned his campaign of closing schools on the grounds that the students who attended them were either at-risk or not performing well on standardized tests. Ewing staunchly claims the practice was racist in its impact if not by design, a charge that resounds throughout Bronzeville’s residents.
Yet Ewing levels her most pointed critique at Barbara Byrd-Bennett, CPS’ former chief executive officer, who is now serving time in federal prison for accepting bribes and kickbacks during her tenure. The author characterizes Byrd-Bennett, one of the mayor’s hand-picked administrators, as either a puppet or utterly blind to the injustice that surrounds her. Ewing gracefully melds reportage, heartbreak, ire and history in a book that showcases the city’s education and racial tensions as a microcosm for the nation’s amalgamated woes.
“Ghosts in the Schoolyard: Racism and School Closings on Chicago’s South Side”
By Eve L. Ewing
University of Chicago Press, 240 pages, $22.50
Eve L. Ewing’s book launch is on October 18 at 5pm, Chicago Teachers Union, 1901 West Carroll, (312)329-0100. She also appears on October 28 at 1:30pm, Ryan Center for the Musical Arts, 70 Arts Circle Drive, Evanston (847)491-5312.
Jarrett Neal holds an MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. His first book, “What Color Is Your Hoodie? Essays on Black Gay Identity” was a finalist for the 2016 Lambda Literary Award.