Hartford Rising to Create a Community Bill of Rights

Mille Soto and Rob Harrison speak at the Hartford Rising Martin Luther King, Jr. Day Rally at the Clark School in Hartford

A school is determined to be in need of help; instead of consulting with the community about how improvements should be made, there is an attempt to turn it over to a quasi-public management company. When parents and community members speak out, this is dropped– for the time being — only for another school in a different neighborhood to be told it should be given away. Again, parents and community members speak out. The matter is not settled entirely, but it appears that the people will retain some control over their own schools.

In the neighborhoods where these schools are located, it is sometimes easier to get a beer than affordable, nutritional foods. This, also in a city where despite having a Ban the Box policy, all it takes is one culturally insensitive reporter for a person’s past to be moved front and center.

After noticing few, if any, positive changes since President Johnson declared a “War on Poverty” fifty years ago, Hartford Rising chose to commemorate Dr. King’s birthday by launching its plan to create a Community Bill of Rights, a social contract with government and corporations to “break the bonds of poverty.” Right before King’s assassination, the civil rights leader organized the Poor People’s Campaign.

Hartford Rising initially developed as a response to the attempt to shut down and hand over the Clark and SAND schools without any meaningful community input. It has since grown to include not just the right to quality and equal education, but more broadly, the right to have a voice in decisions being made in our communities.

Rev. A.J. Johnson, after leading prayer at Monday’s rally, said that taxpayers deserve to have a voice. Lakeisha McFarland, who serves as the President of the Clark School PTO, said that ignoring “communities like ours” will no longer be tolerated.

There are still details to be worked out, but Hartford Rising will be focusing on education equity, employment, and equality in opportunity. Mille Soto, the School Governance Council Parent Co-Chair at the Clark School, said that the neighborhood schools are not the problem, nor are teachers the problem when it comes to what is wrong with the public schools. Rob Harrison, an alumni of Clark School, spoke to how the neighborhoods have minimum wage jobs, but no living wage ones. And since the War on Poverty was declared, “we have a more segregated population” thanks to mass incarceration, said Kennard Ray of the CT Working Families Party.

Some of the approximately 50 supporters held signs comparing rates of unemployment and imprisonment during the 1960s to today. Chris Doucot of Hartford Catholic Worker, located just down the block from the Clark School, reminded those present that the unemployment numbers do not include individuals who are incarcerated or those whose unemployment benefits have run out.

Hartford Rising has a community meeting scheduled for January 30, 2014. This will be at 6pm in the Urban Hope Refuge Church, 136 Westland Street. All are welcome to attend.