Students Arrested at Protest to Save Academy for Pregnant and Mothering Teens


VIDEO: Students Arrested at Protest to Save Academy for Pregnant and Mothering Teens

Students and teachers of Detroit Public Schools’ Catherine Ferguson Academy began a sit-in Friday, April 15, 2011 in response to news that their school has been slated for closure. CFA, an educational facility for young mothers, is one of four of this model in the entire nation. The community mobilized rather quickly and bore witness to the arrests and removals of the women from the school grounds.

When the school day ended on April 15th, a group of students and teachers from Detroit Public Schools’ Catherine Ferguson Academy didn’t go home as usual. Instead, they settled in and made themselves comfortable, preparing to occupy their school for as long as possible. CFA is a school for pregnant and mothering teens, one of few of its kind in the country. Thanks to an on-site daycare and on-site prenatal care, young women there are able to integrate motherhood with education. An organic urban farm on the campus offers the students the chance to provide healthy, fresh food for their kids while learning about environmental sustainability at the same time. And while national drop-out rates for pregnant high school students are around 70 percent , CFA boasts an astounding 90 percent graduation rate—and 100 percent of the graduates go on to college. For young women with the odds so severely stacked against them—who, as young women of color, primarily from low-income backgrounds, were already facing an uphill socioeconomic battle even before becoming pregnant–CFA offers hope and opportunity they would never dream of having otherwise. And thanks to Detroit Public Schools’ financial manager Robert Bobb, the school is scheduled to permanently close its doors this summer. That’s why students decided to take matters into their own hands, staging an occupation of the school they love. “When people at my regular high school realized that I was pregnant, I was told my chances of being a success in life were over,” said Ashley Matthews, a junior at CFA. “At Catherine Ferguson, they told me they wouldn’t allow me to be anything BUT a success. I love CFA, and I am prepared to fight to keep it open, not only for myself, but for all the girls who will come behind me.”  

I was part of a group of protestors on the outside of the school—ready to speak to media or law enforcement, draw attention to the cause, and support the girls in any way they requested. When I spent some time inside with friends delivering bread and peanut-butter, the girls (some who had their small children inside) were serious and organized, but at the same time in high-spirits. They played CDs over the loudspeaker and danced down the halls as they stockpiled food and water in a classroom and hung signs in the windows that read “We’re Inside CFA And We’re Not Leaving.” They were young girls embarking on an adventure, but at the same time fully aware—probably far more aware than the people in positions of power and privilege—of just what was at stake. And it was completely inspiring to see these girls standing up and taking direct action, refusing to be silent and powerless.

Outside, it wasn’t long before we heard rumors that police were on the way. The students decided they preferred for us to continue supporting them from the outside, and barricaded themselves in the library while we did our best to keep watch at every entrance to the building. Initially just a few officers arrived, followed shortly by news vans. But when it became clear that the occupiers were not going to leave willingly, the officers quickly radioed in for backup. I’ve witnessed abuses and excesses by law enforcement in the past. But I was still shocked to see at least ten police cruisers arrive at the school, while what seemed like dozens of officers stormed in the front doors as if charging in to break up a violent, hostile riot instead of a peaceful, unarmed sit-in being staged by teenage girls. And even still—while they drove their cars up on to the lawn, surrounding us and blaring their sirens in an attempt to disperse the crowd—I kept thinking to myself: there is no way they are going to arrest those girls. It simply seemed too cruel a possibility to even imagine, that after everything these girls had already been through, they would be hauled off to jail—some in front of their small children—for an act of desperate and peaceful resistance, motivated only by a desire to go to school.

Unfortunately, my hopes turned out to be terribly naïve. It’s difficult to even describe the experience of watching those girls—some as young as fourteen—being dragged out of their school in handcuffs. I’ve seen friends taken away in handcuffs for peacefully protesting before; it is an experience that I find induces an adrenaline-fueled mixture of rage and desperation, an impassioned drive for action rolled up in a crushing sense of powerlessness. But watching that same thing happen to such young women—who have already been so disadvantaged by the society we live in—was like that experience multiplied by a thousand. Words fail to articulate how heartbreaking and infuriating it was to witness such a disgusting injustice.  

Fortunately, at least, the girls were ticketed and released quickly rather than being slapped with misdemeanor trespassing charges. But that hardly seems like a bright spot when considering how far beyond ridiculous it is that they were ever arrested and taken to jail in the first place. In interviews on the eleven o’clock news, school officials and law enforcement stated that they understood the girls’ frustration, but that this kind of action is no way to go about getting the point across, and suggested that perhaps the girls should instead write financial manager Robert Bobb a letter. What the students of CFA know, of course, and what all successful civil rights activists throughout history have known, is that some things call for more than just writing a letter, signing a petition, putting in a call to a local representative. “Desperate times call for desperate measures” might be a bit of a cliché, but it’s also the truth. CFA is the one thing offering these young mothers—and all those who will come after them—hope for the future. Without this school, chances are they will always struggle just to meet their families’ basic needs, or they will end up dangerously financially dependent on men. CFA offers an alternative. CFA teaches these girls that whatever choices they’ve made, it’s not too late to have dreams and goals and aspirations, and that motherhood needn’t mean giving up on those things. CFA doesn’t treat teen moms as statistics, but as human beings with their own desires and potential. These girls have every reason to feel as though they’re fighting for their lives. And that’s not something to just sit at home and write a letter about. “As a teacher, I can find another job,” said Nicole Conway, a CFA science teacher who made the choice to join her students in the occupation, “but for my students, if Catherine Ferguson closes, there are no alternatives.”

In a city with a graduation rate of just 62 percent–and that’s after a dramatic increase in the past few years—it is painfully ironic that the students of CFA have been criminalized for desperately fighting for an education. But if any good can possibly come of last Friday’s events, I hope at the very least to draw nationwide attention to these young women and their ongoing fight, and to send a message to Robert Bobb not just from Detroit but from around the country that closing CFA is simply unconscionable. The rights of young women to an education are not expendable, and they do not suddenly become expendable when those young women become young mothers.

Video footage from the arrests:

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  • forced-birth-rape

    ~ This is a wonderful example of how christians, republicans, conservatives, and pro-lifers do not want women and girls to be educated or have a decent chance at life.

     

    I have known since I was little that christians use pregnany and birth to subjugate women, that is one of the reasons they want under age girls pregnant, and not to know how not to get pregnant by way of sex eduction, get them subjugated before they even turn eighteen.

     

    When I was researching to become a better christian I read article after article of christian men and preachers condemning women for having jobs and going to college, they were seething with hatred that there is more women in collage then men. Where I come from men make much more money then women with out going to collage, so women have to go to collage to make enough money to support themselves.

     

    The number one goal of christians in America right now is to get as many women and girls pregnant, trapped, out of work, out of school, submissive to a man, and subjugated as possible.

     

    Who else does not want women and girls to have education, jobs, rights over their own bodies, lives, vaginas, and futures, and want women and girls submissive to men?

     

    Answer the Afghanistan taliban. ~

  • forced-birth-rape

    “Unfortunately, my hopes turned out to be terribly naïve. It’s difficult to even describe the experience of watching those girls—some as young as fourteen—being dragged out of their school in handcuffs. I’ve seen friends taken away in handcuffs for peacefully protesting before; it is an experience that I find induces an adrenaline-fueled mixture of rage and desperation, an impassioned drive for action rolled up in a crushing sense of powerlessness. But watching that same thing happen to such young women—who have already been so disadvantaged by the society we live in—was like that experience multiplied by a thousand. Words fail to articulate how heartbreaking and infuriating it was to witness such a disgusting injustice.”

     

    ~ This is the future for women and girls who refuse to submit to republican christian authority, females are for sex, babies, and serving men, nothing more, nothing less.

     

    They are not allowed to not be pregnant, or to not serve men.

     

    They are not allowed school or jobs.  

     

    They do not arrest christian terrorist for terrorizing raped eleven year old little girls as they are going into Planned Parenthood, but they arrest fourteen year olds who want to go to school.

     

    It is time for republicans to stop going on fox news talking about how much superior they are then islamic countries, they are bilding their own shit theocratic state that targets and hurts women and girls. ~

  • beenthere72

    The video brought tears to my eyes.   Looking further into this, it appears this is most certainly making national headlines.  The state has given this Robert Bobb guy WAY too much power.      A huge new example of why these Republicans are such hypocrites about their small government bullshit.

     

    http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/26315908/ns/msnbc_tv-rachel_maddow_show/#42725827

     

    http://blogs.forbes.com/erikkain/2011/04/19/michigan-emergency-manager-robert-bobb-issues-layoff-notice-to-all-detroit-public-school-teachers/

     

    I don’t understand how an elected official in charge of public schools can also be paid a salary from foundations that push for privitization and charter schools.  

  • lisaguido

    Thanks for writing about this. I think the power of their protest derives from their seriousness — YES, they are willing to risk arrest, they know the stakes are very high. Rock on, students!


  • equalist

    I think the most telling part of this is the graduation and college stats on the school.  If nothing else it makes it painfully clear that republicans are afraid of education.  So afraid in fact that a school with such an impressive success rate is apparently a threat that must be squashed.  Put together with Bush’s brainchild of “Every child left behind” it’s pretty clear that the right wing view is that only the wealthy deserve education, and that the poor are only good for pushing out the next generation of soldiers to be shiped off for wars to make the rich richer, and minimum wage or less workers to raise corporate profits.  The whole thing is sickening, and I can only hope that this situation gains massive media attention to show people what the right are really fighting for, cause it sure as hell isn’t jobs.