Religious leaders in the Hill District gathered behind University Prep 6-12, March 1, for a press conference, just one day after 30 girls started a school-wide brawl.
School officials said they will continue investigating what caused the incident, before making an official statement.
Six clergymen along with representatives from the school board met with media behind the Hill District school to describe their outrage and plea for a change in the city’s current education structure.
“There is a breach in the moral, ethical and justice issues that go beyond the punches thrown and beyond the blood that was shed yesterday,” said Rev. Victor Grigsby, president of the Hill District Ministers Alliance and pastor of Central Baptist Church.
He said that the true culprit of the bedlam from Monday is a failed and broken school system managed to produce one of the worst education systems’ in the state.
“What we saw yesterday was unacceptable and intolerable on every level,” said Rev. Grigsby.
Hill District Education Council Executive Director Davonna Graham said,”Not in any scenario should a parent be forced to send a child to such an unsafe, underperforming environment.”
She said it is the responsibility of the adults in school district to ensure that children are not placed “in an environment where their only resource is their fists.”
She also said that the school system is set up for the children to be unsuccessful, and demanded that University Prep be the top priority in all of Pittsburgh.
“This is an emergency. We are in crisis,” Graham said. “If we don’t do something now, we’ll all pay for it later.”
Lifelong activist and former city councilman Sala Udin said that the school system brings together various neighborhoods into one school without taking precautions to ensure that those communities are “well integrated and well prepared” to dwell in the same school.
Udin brushed-off claims that there is a ‘turf war’ going on inside the school.
“There are neighborhood tensions, but what is needed is an organized plan provided with adequate resources to relieve those tensions,” he said.
Udin lamented on the fact that at the inception of the school, it was assumed and that since it teamed with the University of Pittsburgh, it would have adequate resources and staff “to prepare students for a university experience.”
“Right now, people consider the name of the school a joke. It is not preparatory for university, as much as it’s preparatory for the penitentiary,” said Udin.
He said that the objective is to remove the irony from the name.
Celeta Hickman, a member of the Equity Advisory Panel that advises the Pittsburgh Public School Board Cabinet, said that she wasn’t surprised about the fight on Monday.
“I had emailed my staff members and my supervisors last week to say that the lid was getting ready to blow up here with the girls,” she said.
Hickman has worked with girls at University Prep for three years, and she said, “some of the girls there are just brilliant.”
“When I got the list of who fought, it was the brilliant ones,” said Hickman. “There is inequality in this district for girls—especially African American girls.”
Hickman said that the millions of dollars pumped into the “We Promise” program for boys, but there is no program for a “She Promise” program for girls.
“(The girls) know it and they feel it,” said Hickman.
Samson X Horne is a contributing writer for the New Pittsburgh Courier. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.