Dr. Antonia Darder Keynotes 40th Anniversary Symposium; Highlights Importance of PACHS Model

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400 participants- educators, administrators, university and high school students, PACHS co-founders, past Directors, alumni and parents- were convoked on Saturday, January 26 to Roberto Clemente Community Academy to celebrate the 40th Anniversary of the Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos Puerto Rican High School.

The day’s event- a Symposium celebrating the pedagogical philosophy pf the school and its implications and relevance for the future- consisted of the keynote address by Dr. Antonia Darder of Marymount College in Los Angeles, and a speech by José E. López, one of the founders and presently the Executive Director of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center. Professor López was introduced by Michelle Morales, Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos Puerto Rican High School Board Treasurer and Associate Director of the Alternative Schools Network.

Michelle began the morning by stating, “40 years!!! What a tremendous history for a school that fought against the impossible. Albizu Campos is a school that has defied all odds, that has stood the test of time and the test of repression. We stand before you today as a testimony to Chicago’s Puerto Rican community, having survived FBI repression, having survived about 25 years of little to no funding with a high school staff that volunteered for a majority of that time.” Flanked by 2 vertical banners of Irma Romero, a recently deceased member of the board of Directors and Oscar López Rivera, one of the schools co-founders who is presently imprisoned and serving a 70 sentence, she introduced Clemente Principal Marcey Sorensen, who welcomed the crowd to Clemente and spoke of the importance of the partnership with PACHS.

Next, Professor López spoke powerfully to the historicity of the moment, noting that several of the school’s co-founders, including Carlos Alberto Torres, Puerto Rican National hero Rafael Cancel Miranda and special guests and panelists for the Symposium, Dr. Julio Muriente, professor at the University of Puerto Rico and Carlos Quiles, educator, were present. José recalled the moment of the High School’s birth, noting that, “The backdrop to the foundation of Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos Puerto Rican High School was a very important moment. In 1966 there was a riot on Division Street, a riot which really was a rebellion. It was a rebellion against absentee landlords who had buildings filled with roaches and rats and subdivided their apartments so Puerto Ricans could live there and (the landlords) get incredible rents. It was a struggle against an education system that you were placed in the coatroom. When I came here in 1959, I was placed in a coatroom and a group of Puerto Ricans were placed in a coatroom because we were a problem in the school… It was against a host of incredible socio-economic issues… That rebellion created and brought about a new aspect and a new dimension to the Puerto Rican community and it was a dimension to organize… And in 1967 my brother, Oscar, returned from Vietnam, a decorated veteran and he came here to this community and was moved by the fact that Puerto Ricans had experienced a war situation a few months earlier…” José went on to develop the theme of the founders understanding that need to root themselves in the reality of the Puerto Rican community, which led directly to the founding of the Puerto Rican High School.

Dr. Bill Ayers, professor emeritus of the University of Illinois at Chicago, followed José and spoke of the holistic vision that is necessary to implement the kind of education that the founders of Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos Puerto Rican High School had started and that continues up to the present. Dr. Ayers has written extensively about social justice, democracy and education, the cultural contexts of schooling, and teaching as an essentially intellectual, ethical, and political enterprise.  He has been a tireless and vocal supporter of Albizu Campos and it’s way of teaching and educating.

Ayers introduced Dr. Antonia Darder, radical educator and author, who studied under Brazilian educator Paolo Freire and began by drawing the line of historical continuity between the death of Pedro Albizu Campos and the school’s founding by quoting, “Freire’s anti-colonial pedagogy, with its focus on critical reflection, dialogue and action undergirds the school’s emancipatory educational vision, which has sought to create the conditions for the “practice of freedom” and the evolution of critical consciousness among its students, parents, teachers, staff, and community.” and then recognized the exceptional longevity and persistence of Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos Puerto Rican High School by saying, “Although many alternative schools sprung up during the same period in history, the Pedro Albizu Campos High School is one of the few that has retained its revolutionary purpose; not only surviving, but continuing to thrive, despite difficult conditions that persist in our communities.”

After the moving keynote, the participants broke for lunch and a short presentation by Dr. Rene Antrop González on his book, “This School is my Sanctuary” based on his research at Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos Puerto Rican High School. From there, participants broke up into the workshops which were repeated in the afternoon also so as to give all a chance to attend. The workshops titles and presenters names are available here. Visit our flickr site for photographs by clicking here.

Following the successful Symposium, the 40th Anniversary Gala took place at Northeastern Ilinois University took place at the Alumni Room that evening. Michelle Morales, emcee, also opened the evening with a tribute to Irma Romero and recognized another co-founder, Ida Luz Rodríguez and special guests and presenters at the Symposium earlier, Carlos Quiles, Educator and Dr. Julio Muriente. Marvin Garcia, Chairperson of the Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos Puerto Rican High School Board, also spoke powerfully of his mentor, Ferd Eggan (deceased), Assistant Principal during Marvin’s tenure as principal of the HS. Lourdes Lugo, also a former principal, paid special recognition of the Alumni and Staff present, as there were representatives of all 4 decades of the High School’s history present.

A special moment evocative of the combative birth of the school occurred when Myrna Burgos, the first principal of school took the stage with Ida Luz Rodríguez, another co-founder, and first in Spanish, then in English spoke about the importance then and now, of “La Escuelita” as it was called and ended her presentation by reminding all that the powerful work of it’s co-founder, Oscar López Rivera, had yet to be completed, and must include his freedom.

José E. López, ED of the Puerto Rican Cultural Center, then took the stage to introduce the honored guest, Rafael Cancel Miranda, who began as they say, at the beginning, recounting the history of the relationship, from the introduction, while he was imprisoned at Marion Federal Penitentiary, to the community and the students by Peoples’ Law Office attorney Michael E. Deutsch, who was also present, and asked to take the stage. Don Rafael related how the student began writing to him and he to them and gradually they began calling him “Tio Pito” an affectionate nickname for the remarkable, legendary individual who went on to serve, with 4 compatriots, 25 years in prison before being pardoned by President Jimmy carter in 1979. Marta Rodríguez, a member of the first graduating class, was asked to take the stage with Don Rafa and sing a song.

Matt Rodriguez, current Principal of Dr. Pedro Albizu Campos Puerto Rican High School then closed the Gala by summarizing the momentous occasion, thanking everyone for theyr support and recognizing as all the previous speakers had, the need to unite to free the schools co-founder and political prisoner, Oscar López Rivera. The crowd of 200+ roared its agreement.

The crowd ended the evening by dancing to the music provided by Willie Garcia y Su Orquestra.