When Chicago closed her kids’ school, she decided to fight back


Irene Robinson has had experiences that will sound familiar to many African-Americans in Chicago. Five years ago, when the city shuttered an unprecedented 50 schools, many of Irene’s grandchildren lost their schools and had to transfer to new ones. The school across the street from her house, Overton Elementary, closed too. It hit Irene especially hard because it was the place her own kids had gone to school.

Then, rents went up in her neighborhood and Irene couldn’t afford to stay. So she moved to a more affordable apartment in a different neighborhood on Chicago’s South Side. It pained her to leave Bronzeville, where her great-grandmother had settled during the Great Migration as millions of African-Americans left the South for greater opportunities. Irene has seen family members leave Chicago for the suburbs and Iowa in search of a better life, too.

But Irene isn’t taking all this change lying down. She’s decided to fight the city policies that she sees as disruptive to African-American children, families and their communities. So she started speaking up — and loudly.

The Chicago Reporter teamed up with Reveal from The Center for Investigative Reporting to tell the story of how the mass school closures affected Irene and her family, and why she’s made it her life’s mission to prevent more shutdowns from happening. This story is the latest installment in the Reporter’s “Empty schools, empty promises” series.

Listen to the story:

Download the episode, “My Town, Chi-Town,” on iTunes

This story was reported by The Chicago Reporter’s Kalyn Belsha and produced by Bill Healy for Reveal.