Asean Johnson stepped onto the national stage 2 years ago when his mother Shoneice Reynolds, a Chicago Public School employee, was on strike. Deciding to come to the picket lines with his mother, he asked to speak, and the rest was history. Last year, at age 9, he was the youngest speaker at the 50 anniversary of the March on Washington.
This weekend, Asean was one of the featured speakers at the American Federation of Teachers Convention in Los Angeles, California. Asean gave a impassioned speech about the need to reinvest in public education. After his speech, I had a chance to ask Asean and his mother, about a controversial article written by TV pundit Roland Martin called “Send the National Guard to Chiraq“. Ten year old Asean disagrees.
According to Asean, sending the National Guard to Chicago would just, “escalate the violence”. Challenging Roland Martin’s assertion that Chicago residents are walking around in “perpetual fear” Asean, who lives in Roseland, said his community is a “very welcoming and loving community, we just don’t have the resources”. Asean’s mom Shoneice spoke in even more specifics, “we need affordable housing, well funded schools, wrap around services with counselors and social workers. We haven’t been invested in in decades.” Asean called Roland Martin’s use of the term Chiraq, “an insult to the people of Chicago”.
Karen Lewis, President of the Chicago Teachers Union, was also a keynote speaker at the AFT Convention. Karen called Roland’s call for the National Guard, “ludicrous” and said she was, “tired of people offering simplistic solutions”. She further stated, “this isn’t a policing problem, if it was it would be solved. We have places in Chicago that have been economically divested in for decades. How can we pull ourselves up by our bootstraps when we have no boots?”
Jitu Brown, Education Organizer for Kenwood Oakland Community Organization, spoke about how the closing of 50 schools in the Black and Brown neighborhoods of Chicago created a “powder keg”. He said the violence in Chicago is a result of, “an open ended lack of regard for a specific group of people…our communities are being set up.”