I have lived in the Fifth Ward for more than 73 years and remember the impact of losing the Fifth Ward School. My oldest son attended Foster School for kindergarten in 1965.
As a primarily Black school, it was closed the following year as part of District 65’s desegregation plan, which put the burden on Black families like mine. My son and I now had to get up earlier in order to catch the bus to take him to Lincolnwood School in north Evanston. Sometimes he fell asleep on the bus on his way home, much later than if he had been able to attend a nearby school. No longer could he walk home with friends he met along the way. The lack of a neighborhood school has been a burden on the Black community in Evanston for generations. I am glad the district has committed to build a new school. But this can’t be just any school.
Most people are aware of the Fifth Ward’s long history of redlining and other racist policies by the banking industry, the city, state and federal governments. As shown in the city’s EPLAN report, the census tract making up most of the Fifth Ward suffers from the highest poverty rates, lowest life expectancy and the highest rates of physical disease, stress and mental illness in Evanston. Since then, the Covid pandemic and continuing concerns about safety and racial justice have made these problems worse.
These disparities are clear environmental justice and climate equity issues. In the Fifth Ward, we are far from ready to combat the climate emergencies coming our way. With more frequent flooding and heat waves expected, consider the impact on low-income neighborhoods like ours. Not everyone can afford air conditioners and or even fans. Our community needs investments in climate equity; Fifth Ward residents should be at the planning table to meet these challenges.
District 65 and the City of Evanston owe much more than a new school for our children in the Fifth Ward. We need the best learning environment possible for our students, staff and teachers. The school should not only meet the highest green building standards, including zero emission construction with non-toxic materials and energy efficient operation. It should perform as a healthy school that serves the community as a clean, comfortable, safe space for learning and growing that is bright, cheerful and conducive to reducing stress. This school should also be a model for schools across the country, to demonstrate that climate equity is not an option.
The new Fifth Ward school represents a commitment by the district, the city and the community at large to invest in this historic Black neighborhood. As Evanston has acknowledged harm in our housing reparations program, let us not lose this opportunity to do what is right.
I encourage the Fifth Ward community to speak out and let the District know that this is the kind of school we want for our families. It is long overdue. Please attend one or more of the upcoming public meetings and make your voice heard:
– 10 to 11:30 a.m. Saturday, Feb. 4, at Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center, 1655 Foster St.
– 6:30 to 8 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 7 at Fleetwood-Jourdain Community Center
– 10 to 11:30 a.m. Wednesday, Feb. 8, at Christ Temple Missionary Baptist Church, 1711 Simpson St.
Janet Alexander Davis
What exactly does it mean to have “zero emission construction”? Construction of a building or school or anything requires cranes, bulldozers, trucks, and so on. How exactly does one build something with zero emissions? This suggestion is not only infeasible, if it was feasible the cost would be exorbitant.
Let’s focus on getting the school done as quickly and cost-efficiently as possible.
Thank you Ms. Alexander Davis (Open Letter, Roundtable 1/31/23)
While all the conversation has been around bricks & mortar, taking precious green space for the congested area from outdoor youth activities, expanding the K-5 original school plan up to MS, adding another floor or more, the most important thing that has not been discussed is Climate & Environmental Justice.
I applaud Ms. Alexander Davis and the community organizations that are attempting to address theses issues in our city, gov’t bldgs., school bldgs, etc.
The 5th Ward has been waiting for the return of “their neighborhood” school for over 70 years, as over 600 children have been bussed out!
The school bus fumes of over 40 buses are difficult to breath as 15 bldgs in D65 of majority students “walked” to their neighborhood school every school day!
Have these disparities been addressed in building a new school in the 5th Ward? Will it be eco-friendly and environmentally safe with the latest technology and lastly, will it be for the 5th Ward students and their families?
It is my hope that more than Fifth Ward residents speak up in support of this school. I realize that Ms. Davis seeks Fifth Ward residents to speak to the type of school that best fits their needs; aside from this specific topic, it’s time for residents of other wards to express their support of a Fifth Ward school. Listening to Alder Deloris Holmes’ “history lesson” was a reminder that more affluent wards (and she named them) have traditionally been less sensitive to the needs of our neighbors in the Fifth.