The spirit of Jamaica High School is alive.
Please read the entire piece for a little bit of the history of Queens, public education, New York City, school reform and of course Jamaica High School.
The final three paragraphs are what struck me:
Ninety years ago, the City of New York broke ground on a huge, beautiful building as a symbol of its commitment to public education. Last year, it closed the school that the building housed, purportedly for the same reasons. The people who gathered angrily outside Jamaica High School weren’t really protesting its closing; they were protesting the complex of history, policy, poverty, and race that had brought it about.
When I visited the old building on Gothic Drive, a few months ago, it was undergoing renovation and was obscured by scaffolding and tarps. It looked as if it were draped in a shroud. Then I drove a mile southeast to my old apartment building in Bricktown. The area had never been beautiful, but now it sagged in a way that it hadn’t done in the early eighties, when I lived there. Rows of boarded-up properties lined the street. Our building was now windowless and abandoned. For the first time in many years, I understood myself to be from Bricktown, even as the glare from a man across the street, as subtle as an eviction notice, told me that I no longer belonged there.
Education was central to the gamble at the heart of my parents’ migration north. My mother began her adulthood cleaning houses for whites in Alabama; she ended it as a holder of two degrees from New York University—a trajectory that said as much about the possibilities she found in Queens as it did about her own determination. Bricktown’s declining fortunes said everything about what is at stake in public education—about what happens when a place like Jamaica ceases to be great and then ceases to be at all. It was obvious that a good portion of the homes in Bricktown had been foreclosed. What was less apparent was that so had a key route—the one I took thirty years ago—to get out of there. ♦
I guess my colleagues and I helped many Jamaica High School students over the years find that key route to a better life.