Remembering the Founding of Roberto Clemente Community Academy

Let’s see if what Clemente has recently started will do justice to the students…

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By: Oscar López Rivera

May 29, 2015 will mark the 34th anniversary of the arrest and imprisonment, of Oscar López Rivera, making him the longest held political prisoner in the history of Puerto Rico. A petition seeking his immediate release awaits President Obama’s signature. Puerto Rican civil society, the United Nations Decolonization Committee, and Nobel Peace Prize laureates are among the many voices urging the president to release him.

From 1968 up to 1974, our community struggled to get a new high school. Every step of the way, it was a challenge that called for a lot of work. The first challenge was to convince the Chicago Board of Education that the community needed a new school. We marched, picketed, even went to Superintendent Dr. Redmond’s home and didn’t stop working until finally the Board of Education approved the construction of a new school for the community. During that time, María Cerda was a member of the Board and she helped to get the new school built.

We thought we had won the battle but, as soon as we had received the good news, a local politician stepped in. It was Alderman Thomas Keanne who would have the final say. We wanted the school to be built in Humboldt Park*. The reason for this was that we didn’t want to lose any more residents of the community and the park was the ideal site for the new school. However, Ald. Keanne had other plans. He owned a tract of property on Western and Division and chose it as the site for the new school. He had the help of some unscrupulous Puerto Ricans to help him push for the school not to be built in the park. Once the Alderman decided the site for the new school was on Western and Division, we knew we had lost yet another battle.

We wanted a new principal for the new high school and an academic program that would meet the needs of the student body. We interviewed a lot of people and one person stood out. He had many good ideas for innovative academic programs and wanted the community to be involved in the school. We submitted his name to the Board of Education, but they had already picked a different candidate: Dr. Pick. She had been the principal of Lowell Elementary and was a complete failure in that school, which had a large number of Puerto Rican students. When she arrived at Clemente, her program for the new school was to teach the female students to be secretaries and the males to do sports and ROTC.

We protested the decision and rejected such an incompetent and insensitive principal. The Board responded by transforming the new school into a police station. Carmen Valentín, who was a counselor, was fired. Other teachers were pushed out and Dr. Pick made the school the mess that it became. We even had to struggle to get the school named after [Puerto Rican baseball player and humanitarian] Roberto Clemente.

We got a new high school, but it was not what we had really struggled for. The curriculum, the physical environment, the principal and the teachers the school needed were not taken into consideration once the school was open. The site of Division and Western caused the community to lose many families who had lived there for years, as well as some of the small businesses that provided jobs to members of the community. But there was always hope.  Let’s see if what Clemente has recently started will do justice to the students, to the teachers, to the parents and to the community and hope that, in the future, it becomes the best school in Chicago. Keep up the good work!

*Editor’s note: In Chicago, the Puerto Rican community is concentrated in the “Humboldt Park” neighborhood, which has a large recreational park with the same name.

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