Pastors join DFER-IL in pushing parent power via access to choice

Announce ‘Freedom Forums’ on ‘Sacred Ground’


By Chinta Strausberg


When you give families a choice, you give children a chance so that when the 2012-2013 school year begins, parents, will have access to educational opportunities, Rebeca Nieves Huffman, state director of the Democrats of Education Reform-IL (DFER-IL) said Wednesday at Quinn Chapel A.M.E., 2401 S. Wabash, where she announced plans to hold eight “Freedom Forums” citywide.

A strong voice for change and choice, Huffman told the ministers she felt as though they were on “sacred ground given all the social justice movements that were nurtured and launched at the historic Quinn Chapel Church headed by Rev. James M. Moody.

Quoting from Jeremiah 29:11, Huffman said this verse “gives us a little insight into the heart of God as far as what he wants for our children, for our students, for our communities. However, those dreams, hopes and high expectations children have don’t reflect the harsh reality of what is actually taking place in our schools and communities.”

She referred to her late father-in-law, Dr. Samuel Huffman, her advisor, who was the president of Malcolm X College. Huffman will never forgot one of Dr. Huffman’s favorite quotes, “A life without options is a life of slavery.”  When you have no options, you are enslaved to that situation.”

Saying the impact of a high quality education has an impact on the lives of children and their families, Huffman said, “When it comes to education if you are poor, if you are working class in this city, in this country, you are limited as far as your educational options. They are slim to none.”

Huffman referred to two women who “paid the price” for using an address of a relative just so their children could attend a better school. “With all the changes that are going on in the public school system, you guys know parents in your congregations and families that are desperate to get their kids into good schools.”

Referring to the core of DFER-IL’s philosophy, Huffman said,  “When you give parents a choice, you give their children a chance at a life of options.” However, she warned, “We cannot afford to get wrapped up in advocating for any single one type of school option because we see excellence in private Christian schools…in neighborhood public schools…in magnet and charter schools.

“There is not a one-size fix” in educating students, she pointed out. “We must advocate for this type of school, excellent schools where our kids will be prepared to have a life of options. Parent choice in education is empowering….” Huffman thanked the ministers for partnering with DFER-IL  “to be ambassadors for parent choice in education” by hosting ‘Freedom FORUMS.’

With so many Chicago Public Schools closing and students being transferred, both Huffman and Pastor Walter Turner, head of New Spiritual Light Baptist Church and president of the Baptist Minister’s Conference of Chicago and Vicinity, said parents have a choice and that the “Freedom Forum” held at Quinn Chapel was all about “fairness.”

“When we look at everything that is going on in our communities, it is time to take ownership of what God has made us stewards of and that is our children,” said Pastor Turner. “If we can take ownership of our children and our children’s destinies, they will no longer need to feel like they need to be customers. They can be owners of their destinies,” he told a multi-racial audience of close to 200 people.

Referring to the ecumenical gathering of religious leaders, Turner said, “This is what God has charged us to do…to make sure our families have a choice. I am pro-child. I want to make sure I am going to more graduations than I am funerals. I want to perform more weddings than I do graveside services, and the only way we can do that is to make sure our children has a right to education. We’re here about fairness today.”

Called a “young war horse in social justice” by Pastor Turner, Rev. Gregory Seals Livingston, pastor of Mission of Faith Baptist Church, 11321 S. Prairie Avenue, reflected on a brief history of Quinn Chapel which was built seven years after the city of Chicago was incorporated in 1891 and how such great African Americans had spoke at the church like Booker T. Washington and Frederick Douglas.

“Booker T. Washington had to walk 17-miles to school every day. My church is in Roseland. You can walk from here to Roseland and still not cover 17-miles, but Booker T. Washington had to pass schools that would not let him in to get to a special school that would, but he was determined,” said Livingston.

Referring to the time when he taught at DePaul University, Livingston said he had a meeting with African American, Latino and Palestinian students. “The black and Latino students talked about having to cross gang turfs and that’s a real situation, but Palestinian students stood up and said ‘we have tanks in front of us and rocket launchers and we still made it to school.’

“There’s been a shift in our priorities as a people,” Livingston said. “There was a time when it was ‘by anything necessary’ and not it’s not necessary.”

Laying out his case, Livingston reflected on the time when he headed the Westside Minister’s Coalition and there was a contract school, the Austin Business and Entrepreneurship Academy, which pitched the theory;  “An impoverished communities people develop alternative economies” that included underground illegal activities and “alternative families.” “Gangs are family…and they have hierarchies and education….”

Explaining, Livingston said, “We wanted to take that urge and redirect that it” which is why they began a store on the first floor of the school. “The talents were there. It just had to be redirected.”  He said that is key to positively “superimpose upon that infrastructure.”

With America being the freest country on the planet, Rev. Livingston said, “We are the most incarcerated country on the planet as well. Of the 310 million people in America, Livingston said of that there are 100 million who are minorities. “We have 2.3 million minority people in prisons” of whom 1 million are black men, 400,000 black women, 500,000 Latino and 400,000 are white.

Livingston said 7 out of every 10 black boys who begin school in urban areas drop out of school, or 70 percent. “When they drop out, where do they go”? He asked saying “they learn how to survive.”

While black athletic genius is “lifted up,” Livingston said, “that goes back to the American idea that the black body is worth more than the black mind. Intellectual genius is not nourished or lifted up, but what we’re doing here is that we’re recognizing those intellectual talents that exist in these minority communities and otherwise and we say we’ll give them the same kind of support, the same kind of wrap-around” given to athletes.

Referring to a drug dealer named Sean he once knew, Livingston gave the young man some advice using the Kennedy’s as an example. “The Kennedy’s ran whiskey and legitimized their business and became a dynasty in America. It’s time for you to get out of this business because you can’t last long like this. Unfortunately, Sean didn’t last long….”  Livingston said Sean was a genius “but he went to a school that was unable to recognize his genius.

“We need quality people and quality schools that can recognize the genius of our children and not confuse our culture with the genius and we can lift them up,” said Livingston. “What causes God’s genius to emerge? Either you develop it or you come out of the crucibles of suffering that makes you have to be smart. So, let’s choose right. Let’s give a right school for these right kids because every right idea is a God idea and we’re all God’s children.”

Agreeing with Livingston, Pastor Turner said, “It is right that families have a choice. This is not about anybody else. We’re not here dealing with school action….” Saying pastors are considered “gatekeepers in the city, ” Turner said religious leaders ought to be able to “pastor the city.”  “We are gatekeepers, not caretakers” who know best for the families that they “shepherd.”

“We ought to know what’s best for the families that we lead and we ought to make sure that our families have a choice…so our children will have a chance,” Turner told the audience.

Huffman encouraged the ministers to take action including taking and signing the DFER-IL pledge, which states: “I believe that when you give families a choice you give children a chance. I believe that information about and access to quality school choices should be easily available for all. I will do my part to educate and empower the community about quality school options. I will be an ambassador for families and their right to be informed of their education options. I will be an ambassador for students and their right to succeed.”

Huffman urged them to text “Free2Choose to 99000″ to sign the pledge and added, “It’s up to us to inform…and empower them with this action,” she said referring to the power parents can have if they access this information. “We need to break this barrier of their not having access to quality schools.”

Pastor Charles Rogers, Greater Mt. Vernon Baptist Church, said he supports DFER-IL because “I believe children do need a choice in their educational options, and once children have provided options for their children’s education, it would have a greater and positive impact on the future of our community.”

Rev. Moody gave the audience a brief lesson on the history of Quinn Chapel A.M.E.  “You are in the building that housed the first African American congregation ever established in the city of Chicago.”

Moody said the city of Chicago was incorporated in 1837.  In 1844, a prayer band was formed and on July 22, 1847 the Quinn Chapel congregation was formally established.  “Some of those folks who actually established this church were here when Fort Dearborn” was still a settlement.” “They were here before the city became a city.”

Moody said they built this church not just as a house of sacred worship but also that it would be a “venue, a place where people could come” to address community issues and to “work on those problems together.”

Rev. Robert Patterson, past president of the Baptist Pastor’s Conference of Chicago & Vicinity, gave the invocation and Apostle William McCoy gave the benediction.

The next “Freedom Forums” will be held 1 p.m. and 7 p.m., on Tuesday, June 25, 2013, at the New Beginnings Church, 6620 S. King Drive, 1 p.m. & 7 p.m., Thursday, July 11th and July 25th at Another Chance Baptist Church, 1641 W. 79th St., and 1 p.m. & 7 p.m., Tuesday, July 16th at the Mission of Faith Church, 11321 S. Prairie Avenue.

Chinta Strausberg is a Journalist of more than 33-years, a former political reporter and a current PCC Network talk show host. You can e-mail Strausberg at: