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Elitism, or Equity and Enough

How do these three words in the title tie with a tale of two Chicago schools? Well, the story is triggered from a current public school scenario. The situation has an overcrowded school in a wealthy downtown district considering consolidation with another school filled with public housing children.

Parents are concerned… concerned that their beloved children might be adversely affected by the potential merger. The scenario is one pitting those afforded choice against those with little choice. It’s a reality that has played out in like ways across the United States for generations.

Public schools are part of our many commonwealth systems created for the good of all citizens. However, after living in two major urban centers for 25 years, I see a heightened crisis with American’s individual comfort now favored over choices to blend in socio-economic diversity within these systems. We have become wealthier as a nation and escalation of privilege has fueled our choices towards personal protection and privatization. This storyline especially plays out within urban schools.

This inability to blend seems to be a shadow side of American individualism partnered with capitalism. We work hard, then we are hopefully afforded that move up the ladder. However, with that move up, a desire also seems to be fostered for only doing life with those planted on the same new wrung of the ladder.

This Chicago school scenario is a prime example of the challenge. A more privileged group of parents are expressing concern over school community blending with those deemed as living below their lifestyle norms. It’s an example of “them” and “us”, with separation created through socio-economics.

This separation scenario continues to grow as more Americans are able to successfully move up. I now view this phenomena as part of an unrecognizable growing humane moral crisis, created by our own shadows that we can’t seem to own. Shadows that also appear as a lasting residual effect from past American sordid societal choices yielding us with an unreconciled discriminatory heritage. Let’s face it, as a nation, we have continually struggled with creating domineering postures of power that do not necessarily provide equal opportunities of liberty and justice for all. Those postures are rooted in…

Elitism – the belief or attitude that individuals who form an elite – a select group of people with a certain ancestry, intrinsic quality or worth, high intellect, wealth, specialized training or experience, or other distinctive attributes – are those whose influence or authority is greater than that of others…

Elitism can look different with every wrung on the American prosperity ladder. In this school scenario, certain parents are upset about blending with a public housing-based population. However, the privileged parents in this saga should at least be acknowledged for choosing to blend in our public schools. Most parents further up the ladder typically choose more elite private schools for their children.

After several American generations, it also seems that our lack of socio-economic community blending has created a broader mindset that it is now totally normal to choose affluent community isolation from those who are labeled poor. This “norm” has also furthered the growth of both “stacked wealth” and “stacked poverty” neighborhoods. Both “stacks” are exclusionary community models.

We are all privileged as Americans, by the fact that we live in a democratic nation filled with it’s accompanying opportunities. However, our individualized success, along with our partnering lifestyle patterns have created these “stacked” communities. Areas with more than enough and those without enough.

Enough…as much as is necessary; in the amount or to the degree needed

Talking about enough is not a concept to shame those who find success. Rather, the hope is to encourage those who are truly prosperous to think deep about what kind of nation we are creating with our collective individual choice and lifestyles. After all, many of us simply do not have much margin for mindful prosperity conversations or any civic engagement. Those things are simply hard to fit in when we are working to “bring home the bacon”, or continually “on the go” with so many other opportunities.

I also understand the “up” pattern choice as well as anyone. The model has somewhat been the only picture painted as prosperity for Americans. It was the picture painted for me by my family, education, church and business peers. However, I got to a level of “up” where I could no longer reconcile sustaining the pattern, especially as a person of faith.

I now believe our country is at a point where we need to collectively redefine prosperity and create a new vision with accompanying models to emmulate. We have allowed both our heritage and the bias and cultural views of previous generations to frame our view of prosperity, without altering personal models and community choices towards inclusion in this century… We would never use business models from a previous century. Why do we stick with these old prosperity lifestyle models?

This school merger in Chicago could be the start of an incredible life-giving collaborative model for both my city and our country. It could be a new form of community prosperity “with” one another. An opportunity to begin reconciling our heritage of segregation, which has plagued our city for generations.

We must also own the fact that many of our current U.S. urban issues have been caused by our heritage domination patterns. Our ancestors arrived and settled on land taken from Native Americans. Then, they imported African slaves to build the base for our entire U.S. economy. These two factors alone have created horrific and lasting American problematic “norms”… We can choose to change that!

Our cities’ “stacked poverty” has created hopelessness, along with unprecedented murder in Chicago. “Stacked wealth” communities have created affluent, comfort-obsessed adults and children with a lack of empathy for fellow human beings living below affluent norms. Research and many books document that.

These “stacked” scenarios have also perpetuated a citizen mindset that education, government and charity systems will take care of the under-resourced without any socio-economic diverse lifestyle relationships.

Americans, we desperately need some new reformed prosperity models of community “with” one another to truly make our nation great! Models that instill values of equity.

Equity – justice according to natural law or right; specifically: freedom from bias or favoritism

All humans want to feel safe, comfortable and connected in community. Dr. King described this in America as “beloved community”. So, it is my hope that this potential Chicago Public School merger could be the start of a bigger movement towards that vision. A movement centered around redefining prosperity with new socio-economic blended community models.

May Chicago choose to trump elitism and begin creating new equity models that provide each child in all of our 77 neighborhoods with enough. And, may those of us with more than enough start choosing different, reforming personal lifestyles with a bend towards equity and choices of inclusion, especially within our public schools. If this ordinary mom can choose to do that as her family equity model, I know that others can too…

Chicago, can we make 2017 the year where we truly begin to lean into beloved community as our reformed prosperity model… for liberty and justice for all?

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