It's not often you can see the rise of a political leader, but Chicago saw that this week with Asean Johnson, who spoke against his school's closing.
May 26, 2013

As a politically engaged parent, I try to pass on that level of involvement to my kids. They've been to anti-war protests; I've explained why we boycott companies like Walmart. We volunteer at shelters and I encourage them to learn more about issues that matter to them like climate change and figure out ways they (and we) can act accordingly. I really do believe that it is up to their generation to fix the stuff that so many in my generation and the one before it really screwed up.

So I admit no little thrill listening to Asean Johnson, who revved up the crowds in Chicago protesting the closing of 50 schools. Johnson, who attends Marcus Garvey School, which was slated for closing, actually was able to get officials to change their mind.

When Garvey was slated for closing, school officials asked Asean if he would be willing to speak. With the help of his teacher, he came up with a short speech. He said he told the teacher what he wanted to say and she typed it for him, giving him a little help with the grammar and structure. "The words were all his," said the teacher, Lori Harris.[..]

Over the course of several months, he spoke at a half-dozen rallies and public meetings.

He quickly caught the attention of many on both sides of the debate. At a meeting in April, Chicago Public Schools CEO Barbara Byrd-Bennett smiled broadly and wiped away a tear as Asean made his passionate plea. Later, she said Asean was "an articulate, learned young man, and that is exactly what we want for all of our students."[..]

For some events, Asean prepared speeches, which he would try to memorize and deliver without looking at his notes. But it was an event Monday, when he spoke off the cuff, that was videotaped, uploaded to the Internet and soon made him a sensation.

In the video, Asean climbs on a metal folding chair so he can see over the lectern. After greeting the crowd and introducing himself, his tone turns serious as he accuses Mayor Rahm Emanuel of "not caring about our schools." He is poised. His voice rises in anger as he says, "You should be supporting these schools, not closing them."

Noting that the action will affect mostly African-American children, he calls the closings racist. But he quickly strikes a chord of inclusion, saying: "We are black, and we are proud! We are white and we are proud! No matter what the color is, no matter if you're Asian or Chinese, it doesn't matter. You should not be closing these schools!" The crowd roars in approval. The boy pumps his fist in the air and leads a chant: "Education is a right; that is why we have to fight!"

How can you not love this little boy? It's not often that you see the birth of a natural leader, but there's no question in my mind that's exactly what we have in Asean Johnson.

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