Steven Rosenfeld of Alternet interviewed Jitu Brown about the coalition-building he is leading to fight for educational justice. Jitu is national director of the Journey for Justice, which fights for the rights of underserved black and brown children. Jitu is a member of the board of the Network for Public Education.

Jitu led the successful hunger strike at Dyett High School in Chicago, preventing its closure.

He says:

“I always say to people, we had to go on a hunger strike to win a neighborhood school in Brownsville. We had to risk our lives, literally. So I think what people have to realize as we organize, we can’t organize in a way that’s transactional. We can’t organize in a way like we’re insiders, because we are not—even if we think we are. We have to organize like we are fighting a system that is dead-set against making sure that black snd brown children receive a quality education. That’s my understanding. So if Journey for Justice collapsed tomorrow, I’m still going to be in the struggle, because that’d how we assess it.

“This is not about playing the inside-outside game. We have to have an organizing strategy that is determined. People have to be prepared to struggle and suffer a little bit. We call it organizing outside of the acceptable protest playbook. You start at the rallies. You start at the disruptions of meetings and things of that nature. But we have to be prepared to go further. I don’t say that in an arrogant way. We have to tighten our belt, put our big-boy and big-girl pants on, and realize that.

“Let me just share this with you. On the 25th day of the Dyett hunger strike, [during] which Mrs. Irene Robinson was hospitalized twice; while we were starving in Washington Park; while the former head of the Cook County Medical Association called it a public health crisis and urged the mayor to resolve it, that same day, Mayor Rahm Emanuel and CEO of Chicago School Board Forrest Claypool had a ribbon-cutting event at a school called Lincoln Elementary. A neighborhood school for wealthy whites close to De Paul University, and they gave them $21 million for a new annex that several of the parents didn’t even want. Parents from that school advocated [to] give that money back to the South Side and the West Side; we don’t need it, they do. But despite that, while we starved in Washington Park, they did a ribbon-cutting to give them $21 million. That tells me all I need to hear. That’s what you’re up against.

“You are up against a system that does not view black and brown children as valuable. And until we on the left acknowledge that—because we on the left don’t acknowledge that. And we have zero tolerance for that, for a system—like right now, as I’m talking to you, there’s an elementary school in Chicago on the north side where children get Mandarin Chinese, Arabic and Spanish. Every teacher has a teacher aide. They have a full-time nurse, social workers, speech therapist, drama teacher. At the same time, there are children on the Southside where children have to eat lunch under the stairs because the school is so crowded. There’s one teacher aide in the entire building. And a part-time Spanish instructor that they had to lose their librarian in order to get. See, that’s separate and unequal.

“And that’s co-equal to the right and it’s acceptable to the left. And until we are honest about that, and that’s what we are trying to do at Journey for Justice; build a multi-racial alliance that’s grounded in the principle of unity through self-determination. The issues that we bring forth have to be championed by all. Not watered down in order to make white people feel more comfortable—no. We have to face the ugliness, the ugliness of how race has expressed itself in this country. And nowhere is it more profound than in public education.”