(L to R) JROTC cadet Ryan Field, Southeastern choir members Nicole Smith, Demitri Murphy, Porsha Jackson, Chiyo Williams, Leroy Lewis

After three walk-outs, sit-in, they compete in state festival


By Diane Bukowski

DETROIT – As the music, arts and drama programs of Detroit Public Schools are eliminated, some students are not taking it lying down. Members of Southeastern High School’s choir won authorization to compete in the Michigan School Vocal Music Association Choral Festival, held Mar. 11, but only after students walked out three times and held a press conference Mar. 9.,

“We’ve been practicing for this whole year, but then they took our music teacher away a month ago, and we were disqualified,” said Porsha Jackson, a soprano vocalist and president of the choir. “Robert Bobb doesn’t care about us, about the young people. We study hard all day, and music is our outlet. I have a music scholarship; we just want our music program back.”

Southeastern police confer

During the press conference, Leroy Lewis was notified by Southeastern’s Principal, Sean Vann (brother of the Rev. Edgar Vann), that he would after all authorize the choir to compete despite the lack of their teacher. Lewis said he and several other students had gone to the principal’s office after the press release went out.

“I’m in the choir and drama, and they both were cut,” Lewis, who is a tenor singer and wants to be an actor, said. “But we’re prepared to keep fighting. We want a first-class education just like students in the Grosse Pointe schools. It’s not just Southeastern. It’s all the schools, even Detroit Science and Arts (DSA), which have had their arts programs cut. We already had a series of three walk-outs of about a hundred students, and a sit-in at Southeastern. DPS police maced the kids in the sit-in. heavily. We don’t have anything, the classes are full, and they’ve laid off all but three of our English teachers, but we’re planning more fightbacks.”

Robotics products

DPS police appeared on the scene in the midst of the press conference, ready to force the students off the covered porch of the school into heavy rain, but the police eventually backed off and left.

Lewis said funding for Southeastern’s robotics team, which ranks number three in the state, has also been cut. Go to to watch robotics teams in action.

“Music is my life,” Nicole Smith said. “I have lived and breathed music ever since I was six years old. Once they take out music, how are we going to relieve our stress? They’re messing up our credits and everything.”

While the choir students were speaking, members of the Frederick Douglass Junior ROTC team joined the group. They said they had been denied permission to use the gym for their weekly Wednesday inspection, despite the fact they have been using it at that time for a year.

“The principal tried to hold us back from the JROTC academic competition too, but he had to back off because we wrote a letter,” said JROTC student Ryan Fielder. “We are done with being treated like we are worthless, like our talents and aspirations don’t matter or like all we are is a low score on a standardized test. We are the equals of every other student in Michigan and have a right to a decent education and to be treated with respect.”

BAMN leader Tabrion Joe heads chants as students join with city workers to protest cuts in services, education

Monica Smith (shown above at left in earlier protest at WSU), an organizer for By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) was at the press conference with the students. She said that as a result of their press release, an organization had volunteered funds for the choir’s bus to the Mar. 11 competition, which was to be held at St. Joseph Episcopal Church in Detroit.

She also said that the students’ choir teacher, who was transferred to Catherine Ferguson Academy but only works four days a week there, volunteered to act as their conductor at the competition.

The elimination of music, drama, ROTC, robotics and numerous other programs all over DPS, as well as the closing of 100 schools and massive lay-offs, are included in the revised deficit elimination plan for DPS for 2011-14, which has been approved and is being enforced by the State Superintendent of Schools. (See story to be published tomorrow on details.)

But all the students at the press conference left afterwards to go to a meeting to plan further actions against this assault on the children of Detroit.

BAMN students led march down Woodward from WSU to CAYMC as part of National Day of Protest to Defend Public Education Mar. 2

Print Friendly, PDF & Email
This entry was posted in Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.


  1. Amy Saari says:

    Bravo to the students of Detroit! This is a huge victory of the human spirit; I’m posting and tweeting this story all over so people can see that the arts are not a useless, time- and money-wasting activity, and our young people have a voice. Thanks; I was moved by this.

    • Hang in there, kids. Keep pushing and making noise, and don’t give up. There are a lot of us adults who keep pushing our legislators, too. We really do care. I am an independent musical researcher, and if it weren’t for the excellent program in my grade and high schools, I know I would not have become a musician. You deserve the same options and quality of education that any other student in Michigan has. Yours sincerely, Suzanne Tiemstra, Cascade, MI.

  2. James F. Mothersbaugh, Jr. says:

    “We are done with being treated like we are worthless, like our talents and aspirations don’t matter or like all we are is a low score on a standardized test.”
    RIGHT ON, BROTHER! I am PROUD of you all!! I am a 57-year-old orchestra teacher from way out west in Casper, Wyoming, and I want you to know that you MOVE me. I took pride in performing and competing with my high school orchestra (now I teach 5th and 6th grade beginners), and I know how much this means to you. Music has been my life, too. I wish I had been there to hear you all sing. Hope you sang your hearts out! You KEEP singing, too.
    “We are the equals of every other student in Michigan and have a right to a decent education and to be treated with respect.”
    I think you are feeling like many of us teachers are feeling, and we need to hang together in this. Hey, you support our musical brothers and sisters in the Detroit Symphony, too, OK? They are on strike for decent wages and working conditions as well, and are giving their own concerts apart from the canceled season.
    I’m retweeting your story and spreading the word about you. Best wishes to you all! Again, I’m proud of you!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Comment moderation is enabled. Your comment may take some time to appear.