Sarah Simmons shows different ways to honor Dr. Martin Luther King | Bleader

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Sarah Simmons shows different ways to honor Dr. Martin Luther King

Posted By on 01.22.14 at 10:30 AM

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Sarah Simmons, a relatively unknown midwife, honored Dr. King by standing up to the mayor.
  • Dick DeMarsico/Library of Congress
  • Sarah Simmons, a relatively unknown midwife, honored Dr. King by standing up to the mayor.

To commemorate the legacy of Martin Luther King Jr., Sarah Simmons decided to crash an interfaith breakfast and denounce Mayor Emanuel's school policies.

Specifically, the policies that led the mayor to close 50 unionized public schools in largely low-income black neighborhoods on the grounds that we couldn't afford them. After which the mayor—miracle of miracles—found some money to open a bunch of nonunionized charters.

To make her protest, Simmons—a midwife by profession—dropped in on the 28th annual Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Interfaith Breakfast, an invitation-only event held last Friday at the Hilton on South Michigan Avenue.

She came with two friends who stood outside the hotel holding a banner that read "School closings are racist."

The interfaith breakfast is a command performances for civic Chicago that's sponsored by BMO, Walmart, Coca-Cola, McDonald's, United Airlines, and several other corporate titans.

"I didn't have an invitation, but I walked in like I belonged there," says Simmons.

She found herself in the huge second-floor ballroom room filled with hundreds of people. "I felt out of place," says Simmons. "It was a professional crowd and I was dressed like a hobo—rubber boots, puffy coat, bad hair. Later it occurred to me that I had a CORE union button on my jacket."

CORE is the radical rank-and-file faction of the teachers' union, which is led by Karen Lewis, who most definitely won't be invited to any interfaith breakfasts involving the mayor.

Unless of course this current mayor is replaced by, oh, Toni Preckwinkle in next year's election.

Just saying . . .

Simmons sat at a table in the back, where she found herself chatting with, of all people—the mayor!

"He came up to our table and shook my hand," says Simmons. "He doesn't know me—he was just shaking everyone's hands, like politicians do. I was kind of dumbfounded."

After several songs and prayers, the mayor spoke to the crowd.

"He talked about having quality education for everyone," says Simmons. "He said something like, 'You in this room have made it. It's your duty to reach out a hand to people struggling for success.'"

An odd statement coming from the man who closed all those schools and fired all those teachers.

"I waited for him to finish and then I stood up," says Simmons. "And I said, 'How does it honor Dr. King to close 50 schools in black and brown neighborhoods and open 31 private schools?'"

You didn't.

"I did."

What happened next?

"The emcee said, 'This is not the right time for this.' A security guard appeared at my elbow, telling me to go. There was some applause, but I don't know if they were clapping for what I said or because I was being escorted out."

The guard led Simmons out of the room, down the escalator, and to the front door, while she told him all about the mayor's school cuts.

Who knows, with a little luck she might have talked him out of voting for Mayor Emanuel's re-election.

At the front door Simmons was greeted by two Chicago police officers, who told her she would be arrested if she returned to the hotel.

Apparently, she had discovered the only cops on the force who don't bear a grudge against the mayor for going after their pensions.

All in all, it shows you that there's more than one way to celebrate Dr. King's birthday.

You can hold hands with the mayor. Or you can stand up in the crowd and tell him that his school cuts and closings are some bull . . .

Well, you know what they are.

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