Protest and Invest: Statement on the NYC School/Church Eviction Controversy

Today’s post from Jeremy Del Rio is republished from his 20/20 Vision for Schools blog post.  Urban Youth Workers Institute is praying with the churches, pastors and congregations of New York City in their struggle to keep access to their church meeting spaces.

January 12, 2012
Contact: Jeremy Del Rio
(347) 921-4426

20/20 Vision for Schools stands in solidarity with the sixty-eight congregations scheduled for eviction from New York City public schools a month from today, February 12, 2012.

We join our voice with theirs to urge Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Chancellor Dennis Walcott, and the City of New York to reverse a short-sighted policy that excludes congregations alone from renting school space for community activities outside of regular school hours. This policy, rooted in the misguided idea that New Yorkers cannot tell the difference between a congregation renting space on weekends and the school that otherwise meets in the building Monday – Friday, disproportionately affects low income New Yorkers in gentrifying neighborhoods where affordable space is scarce.

We also urge those sixty-eight churches and those who stand with them to elevate the conversation from solely aprotest about space to a long-term strategy to partner with the City of New York and invest in the sustainable reform of our City’s schools. What might happen if the congregations currently threatened with eviction, PLUS those who stand in solidarity with them, shift their perception of public schools from solely a space to hold services, to a place to lead service? Meaningful service. Transformational service. Monday through Friday, not just on Sunday.

When only 25% of the graduates of NYC public schools graduate college or career ready, as they did in 2011, our city has a crisis far beyond where sixty-eight congregations worship on weekends. When the City can decide in the same year to evict congregations from underperforming schools, it’s at least partly because the city does not perceive in them any value beyond a rent check.

The best educators are life-long students, ever learning, ever curious about the world and people around them. Schools and congregations alike are places of learning, where people come to grow as individuals and in community. We invite the City of New York, the Department of Education, and New York City’s various faith communities to embrace this controversy as a uniquely teachable moment.  Let us model for 1.1 million New York City public school students how neighbors who share many, if not most, interests in common can achieve understanding and peace rather than hostility and resentment.

In an effort to unite the City, rather than perpetuate policies of division, let us mobilize congregations for the unique leverage they alone can provide in the fight for educational equity. At any given worship service, regardless of tradition, 70%-90% of the people in the pews are directly or indirectly connected to a school, positioned for impact if only their leaders would activate them for service.

Loving neighbors, pursuing justice, educating children – these are universal religious imperatives. When community and spiritual leaders nurture this motivation, exponential change is possible.

Mayor Bloomberg, Chancellor Walcott, faith leaders: the fight for students and schools requires us to see beyond parochial interests and forge partnerships on behalf of our students.  Now is the time. Lead us.

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