Unlike the fury green monster Grinch that children’s author Dr. Seuss created in 1957 when Jim Crow was riding high in America, the Grinch of Crown Heights came dressed as two white bureaucratic surrogates from the Department of Education.
They arrived about 15 minutes late to face about a hundred black Crown Heights parents, students, community activists and Assembly Member Walter T. Mosley, to tell them with a scowl on their face that their gym-less W.E. B. DuBois school was being shuttered and all the kids were being transferred to another in Brownsville.
W.E.B. DeBois is on the corner of Bedford Avenue and Eastern Parkway, spitting distance from the Bedford Union Armory, which is set for redevelopment that will include a state-of-the-art gym facility. And indeed, all around the neighborhood you see new luxury housing developments, and young white urban adventurers staking their claim to the neighborhood.
But like Dr. Suess’ Grinch, the W. E. B. DuBois High School comes from another era. It comes from a time when Crown Heights was a teeming working class black neighborhood. Back in those days, local elected officials and residents had a say in how and where their children were educated.
And like DuBois, the school’s namesake and himself a seminal figure in African-American history that preached self-empowerment and opposed the controversial Atlanta Compromise, this shrinking African-American community of Crown Heights is not going to go quietly in the night.
Dubois believed that black empowerment came from increased political representation through the African-American intellectual elite, the idea that African-Americans needed the chances for advanced education to develop its leadership.
And in this new era, the residents of Crown Heights aren’t dumb. They know that Mayor Bill de Blasio and his educational policymakers are not going to tell them that moving their kids to Brownsville is going to give them more educational opportunities. If that was the case, every child would be fighting to get into a school in East New York. No, community residents know that this is just another bureaucratic move by the De Blasio administration to push out people of color so that big time development can continue to move in.
But if this current scenario plays out and all the kids of color are moved to schools in Brownsville, it begs one question. What will become of the W. E. B. DuBois School building located at 402 Eastern Parkway – as choice a piece of property as there is in Crown Heights?
One possibility is it will close as one school and then reopen as another for the incoming children of the white middle-class families that are slowly but surely moving into the community.
Another possibility is it being a great Christmas gift to a developer who appears less naughty than nice, and wants to build another luxury high-rise with a big box store on the first few floors and a couple of scattered affordable housing units.
But let’s hope like Dr Suess’ Grinch, the city sees its errant ways and grows a heart. In this case, he would give the school and proper funding back to the longtime community
And all the African-American people and their children get to stay in Crown Heights happily ever after.
Editor’s Note: A earlier version of this story stated the officials arrived over an hour late. They arrived 15 minutes late.