Prom Justice!

Here’s a story that can’t help but inspire: last month Northside College Preparatory, an elite Chicago public high school, announced they’d be holding their prom at the infamous Congress Park Hotel – site of the longest ongoing labor strike in US history. I blogged about the 5th anniversary protest last year, an event that brought out over 1,000 protesters.

The good news? Northside recently announced that they would be pulling out of the Congress. Their decision was due in no small part to a powerful student protest led by senior Sam Hamer (who also happens to be member of JRC, I hasten to kvell…)

I asked Sam to write about the experience for me – click below for his report.

PS: The clip above was taken when Barack Obama – then an Illinois senator – walked the Congress picket line on the 4th year anniversary. As Sam mentions below, this particular video was a compelling part of his presentation to the Northside prom committee.

I learned that Senior Prom was to be held on Friday, June 5 at the Congress Plaza Hotel. On the afternoon of February 20, after having requesting a meeting with the principal, the assistant principal informed me that I would be able to present my views to an “emergency meeting of the prom committee” (her words).

I began the meeting on the afternoon of the 23rd with the attached video, not so much to make a political appeal but to make clear the scale of importance regarding this injustice. I then proceeded to relay some facts: i.e. that Congress workers made $8.80 an hour with minimal benefits while the standard is now $13.20 with significant benefits. Also, I made it clear to the committee members that having prom at the Congress would misrepresent Northside as a place where liberal thinking and cultured morals abound.

Furthermore and more pragmatically, having a Congress prom would be quite unpleasant: the union, JCUA, JRC, and other organizations would get wind of the news and, voilà, a large, frustrated collection of picketers would undoubtedly show up that evening, making for one unpleasant prom and a bunch of bad media publicity. Additionally, the pool of teacher chaperons would immediately diminish as the teachers themselves are part of the largest union in the city.

The members of the committee agreed with me completely on the moral grounds but they voiced opposition because we would be forgoing the $3000 deposit the school had put down on the event as well as the time and effort the committee had contributed heretofore. In terms of the $3000, it would have to be made up somehow (the school couldn’t pay it; this is Chicago Public Schools we’re talking about after all) and the most obvious method at that point would be an extra $10 fee tacked on to the already pricey ($80) per person ticket.

Thankfully, the discussion between the committee, certain members of the faculty and administration attending the meeting, and me ended with the decision that our own financial burdens should never take precedence over the daily struggles of working class families that are less fortunate than we. When I got home I said the Shema.

On March 4, the prom committee (which now includes me; I guess if you complain to them you have to join them) met once again and decided that prom would be at the W Hotel on Adams. I am meeting with the assistant principal tomorrow to discuss some ways for how best to fundraise in order to make up the $3000 while providing an effective educational tool to teach less knowledgeable students about the Congress Hotel situation.

10 Replies to “Prom Justice!”

  1. one of the most inspiring blogposts……………..of course you kvell over this young man. what a profound testament to all you attempt to teach in your community. kudos all around (also to the school administration for doing the right thing!!!)

  2. A great example of how no one is ever to young to engage in social change! Hey adult meeting planners out there: take note!

  3. Nice going, Sam. Proud that you were able to make a difference and act on behalf of those whose voices are not being heard. Now that you are on the prom committee maybe you can do something about them holding the big event Erev Shabbat.

  4. This article made it to Portland, Oregon. Sam Hamer’s actions should inspire us all and move us to act when we know we should. Thanks.

  5. I am also kvelling : ) . Sam is also the leader of the Jewish Student Union at Northside, which I help run. Many people know what’s right, but few have the strength, energy, mind to see that through. Yasher koach, may your strength continue!

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