Defend Public Education

How We Won Catherine Ferguson Academy

Posted in Uncategorized by Nicole Conaway on June 26, 2011

Catherine Ferguson Academy is staying open! Summer school starts tomorrow.

The school will continue to exist, not as A DPS school, but as a charter run by Detroit charter operator Evans Solutions. Some argue this isn’t a victory because it wil be a charter. Try telling that to the students of CFA. This is a complete victory for them. They still have their school, their “safehouse”. And they have it because of thier determination to keep it, because they organized themselves and supporters, because – as Danny Glover said at our rally – of those among them who “put their bodies on the line” and be arrested rather than let their school be taken away. This is a real victory, and our Demands for CFA Remain the same.

The victory could not have been achieved without leadership and organization. Below is the BAMN perspective on how this victory was won.

Catherine Ferguson Academy (CFA) will stay open. The announcement could come as early as today at this rally. (June 16, 2011) The announcement that someone has come through with money to keep Catherine Ferguson open could be made by actor Danny Glover, or Detroit Federation of Teachers President Keith Johnson, or a prominent Detroit pastor, or a Foundation spokesperson, or even the new Detroit Public Schools Emergency Manager Roy Roberts, the man Governor Snyder appointed to destroy public education in Detroit without sparking a riot. If CFA is kept open, we win. Yes, to prevent the closing of our school in the future, or its transformation into something very different from the CFA we are fighting to keep open; we will have to maintain our struggle and continue to build the power of our new movement for civil rights and social justice that created the basis for victory.

The people who offer the funding will demand as a condition to receive the money, that every student, teacher, staff person and administrator have nothing more to do with BAMN, and that BAMN is barred from the school. But that policy can only be enforced if we chose to abide by it. No one who wants to see Catherine Ferguson survive will enforce a ban on BAMN or betray their own leaders. We will have to make sure that the brave and bold BAMN student leaders- teens, babies and toddlers- and BAMN leader Nicole Conaway, the one Catherine Ferguson teacher who stood with us, are not expelled, fired, transferred or jailed. Our leaders, like Rosa Parks, sat down so that we could all stand up. They are not just the pride of Detroit; they are for literally millions of women worldwide who are following this struggle, heroes and role models.

We know that there will be new attempts to sell off our school, cut back our programs and classes, etc. All civil rights victories are partial until the oppressed take power. The pact that Dr. King signed to end the 1963 struggle in Birmingham that we attribute today to breaking the back of the old Jim Crow was very limited in scope. Dr. King’s real victory from Birmingham was that it provided millions of people who had lived as second-class citizens for decades, with the inspiration to fight and the belief that poor black people could beat the whole white establishment. Keeping CFA open is likely to be that same kind of victory, imperfect and incomplete in form, but for all those who have followed the struggle, vindication of BAMN’s assertion that the black, Latina/o and other oppressed communities have tremendous social power, that we can start winning real victories now if we just organize and act.

We have a lot of work ahead of us to defeat the attack against public education here and across the nation. Detroit, the city we love and are proud to represent, has faced the most concerted, bi-partisan, racist political attack of any city in America since Radical Reconstruction ended in the late 1800’s. Detroit is the testing ground for the new Jim Crow. Education Secretary Arne Duncan has designated our city ground zero. The continued decimation of Detroit is pressed by both the Democrats and Republicans.

The proponents of the new Jim Crow and their billionaire backers hate everything about Catherine Ferguson. Catherine Ferguson faces and will continue to face threats of closure precisely because everything about the school, from its educational philosophy to its brilliant and successful black teens, babies and toddlers, proves the lie of every racist, sexist , anti-gay and anti-youth stereotype needed to buttress and to further the implementation of the New Jim Crow. In a society where being a teenage mother enslaves most to a life of poverty and limited opportunity, CFA is like the first “safe house” stop on the underground railroad to freedom, a place of new beginning and hope for young women who have been told by so many that their own lives are over.

Describing Catherine Ferguson to a stranger, it is possible to list a number of its assets and strengths, the day care, the farm, the group discussions, etc. But the school is more than just its parts, it is a place filled with hope, a place where we learn to believe in ourselves and feel safe to experiment, where we learn that nothing is set in stone or pre-determined. Keeping Catherine Ferguson open is just another way of saying to all the bigots and Detroit-haters that the fight can never be taken out of Detroit, and with a few more movement victories, we will lead the nation again and defeat the New Jim Crow just like we defeated the old Jim Crow.

If the decision to keep CFA open is not announced today, either before or after the rally, it will occur sometime in the near future, because, we, the BAMN student, teacher and community leaders of this struggle, believe that losing CFA is not an option, and we know that it is possible to win this fight. Our support is growing across the city and across the nation.

Our rally today is a great opportunity to take our struggle a step further. We need to build on the policy that has put us within a heartbeat of saving our school. Most mass demonstrations today are treated like funerals. Many activists, even those who sound very militant, are scared to put down the coffin and pick up the struggle. We cannot allow today’s demonstration to become a memorial service for Catherine Ferguson, or a day when everybody talks the talk and nobody walks the walk.

Catherine Ferguson students are prepared to do another sit-down/occupation of the school. If hundreds of other people join them on the inside and on the outside of the school we can take the next step forward to victory. We must not allow anyone’s fear of organization, of action, of thinking big or being associated with the “BAMN radicals” to hold back what we all know we need to do to win.

When Dr. King arrived in Birmingham, Alabama in 1963, he was condemned by both the black and white leaders of the city. Most of the black churches in Birmingham opposed his tactics and denounced him as an outsider. When Dr. King began the Birmingham campaign in April 1963, there was no children’s crusade or even a clearly formulated plan of how the movement could win. For long stretches of time it looked like he would lose. But the one thing Dr. King knew for sure was that the only way to discover the road to victory was to stay in the fight and to keep on acting. We can win this fight for Catherine Ferguson and build on our victory if we just maintain the fight and keep moving forward.

We urge everyone who stands for equality and justice and is tired of being scared- – scared to defy some authority figure, scared of going to jail and having no back-up, scared that being yourself is not good enough, scared of who knows what — to join us in making this fight. On April 15 when we sat down or picketed outside we were different people. When we stood together and fought, even when we sat handcuffed in the back of police squad car, we felt free for the first time. Those of us on the outside felt our fears slip away, as we took bolder and bolder actions to defend our brothers and sisters who were arrested. By the end of the evening the fear was gone, and joy and love filled the void. We became the people we looked up to and respected. None of us were born leaders; we just made a decision to take a stand and stuck to it. We are learning how to lead through the process of just trying to always stand on the truth and never doubt the certainty of our cause. It is a decision we will be proud of for the rest of lives. We urge every person who wants to be free and to see the best side of themselves come out, to join us in this fight. We intend to win, and we would be so happy if you would come along.

June 16, 2011


Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration and Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary (BAMN)     855-ASK-BAMN (855-275-2266) Twitter @followBAMN


One Response

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  1. Akees Writing Unit said, on November 19, 2011 at 2:02 AM

    BAMN perspective on how this victory was won.nicely writen enjoyed reading it
    Summer school starts tomorrow.:D

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