CFA student addresses rally; other students to her left, teacher Nicole Conaway at right

By Diane Bukowski
June 28, 2011

DETROIT – Hundreds rallied outside the Catherine Ferguson Academy here June 16, prepared to keep the school open “by any means necessary” (BAMN), as the group which helped young mothers organize the nationally-renowned battle for CFA is popularly called.

UAW women workers support young women of CFA

They included dozens of supporters from the United Autoworkers (UAW), proudly displaying a banner proclaiming “Sisters in Solidarity,” students from Henry Ford High School who came in a school bus with their marching band, opponents of the “Dictator Act” (Public Act 4), who traveled from as far away as Traverse City, Michigan, CFA alumnae, and many others, especially youth. All were inspired by the example of resistance CFA students set when they occupied their school April 15.

BAMN leader Shanta Driver, CFA teacher Nicole Conaway, supporter actor Danny Glover, and Principal Asenath Andrews

CFA Principal Asenath Andrews and actor Danny Glover, who flew in from California, embraced on a makeshift farm wagon stage to celebrate that day’s announcement by DPS czar Roy Roberts that the school would remain open as a charter. But it was the young students of CFA, which educates teen mothers and mothers-to-be and their children, teacher Nicole Conaway, who with 12 students were brutalized and arrested in the April 15 sit-in, and the young leaders of BAMN who were the real stars of the day.

VOD interviewed 17-year-old CFA student Ashley Matthews, mother of a two-year-old daughter, after the sit-in. Her sentiments reflected the pride the battle instilled in the students, and the life-long lessons they learned.

Ashley Matthews slammed against police car during arrests at CFA April 15, 2011

“When I came home, my mom and step-dad watched us on the news,” Matthews said. “My mom broke out in tears when she saw how the police treated me. She told me, ‘I’m so proud of you.’ This was the most joyful moment of my life. I was so flabbergasted by all the support and I felt so much pride because I actually stood up for something I believe in . . . . It’s time for all of us to stand up, it’s our future. We can’t find another school that does what Catherine Ferguson does. I am thankful to BAMN and our supporters because they truly showed us we do have a sense of hope, that there is something you can do about what happens.”

Not only did CFA students occupy their school, they took over Detroit’s main street, Woodward Avenue, on May 10, marching miles from CFA to the Fisher Building on West Grand Blvd., which houses DPS executive offices, despite police harassment and tickets.



They also called on students, DPS workers and parents across Detroit to follow their example. They declared that such direct action was the only way to win the battle against the ongoing genocidal destruction of DPS, including the closures of half its schools and the massive privatization of its essential services, resulting in the loss of hundreds of thousands of jobs to Detroiters since 1999.

Tristan Taylor at right as CFA mother with baby speaks on struggle for her school June 16, 2011

“The battle for Catherine Ferguson has been a real turning point that expressed our power and ability to mobilize people to come out, and properly defend people when they were arrested,” BAMN organizer Tristan Taylor said. “When we went to the precinct after the arrests, that was the moment the cops started to fear us, and we changed the balance of forces. There is a fierce urgency now to occupy more schools. We must not be afraid of creating the explosion necessary to defend public education.”

“I think they should join us and fight back,” CFA student Breanna Thomas, 17, said as dozens of drivers at Grand River and Wyoming repeatedly honked their horns in support of their protest outside Horace Sheffield III’s DABO (Detroit Association of Black Organizations) on May 16. DABO, which runs a “last chance academy,” bid unsuccessfully on CFA.

Breanna Thomas, 17 speaks at June 16 rally

“Look what we have done with the little people we have,” Thomas said. “We must fight back. We are going to do an occupation again if they do not keep CFA open.”

The cynical betrayal by DPS’s new czar Roberts, who used his powers under PA 4 to hand a no-bid contract to Evans Solutions, Inc. to run CFA and two other schools on the closure chopping block, was clearly aimed at heading off another occupation of the school. Evans Solutions is a for-profit enterprise purportedly owned by Blair Evans, former Wayne County Sheriff and Detroit Police Chief Warren Evans’ brother.

It was not among the 18 companies which originally bid on the schools and is not registered with the state as a business. It operates “strict discipline academies” in the Wayne County Juvenile Detention Center and six other penal institutions for youth.

(More on Evans Solutions in the following article.)

BAMN leader Monica Smith with other youth supporting CFA students June 16

BAMN leaders include its national coordinator, attorney Shanta Driver, Tristan Taylor, and Monica Smith, who was also arrested during the April 15 sit-in. They along with many other Black youth have led BAMN throughout the attacks on DPS and the children of Detroit since 1999.

In a release distributed at the rally, they called the announcement a “partial victory,” which achieved only two of their original demands, keeping the school open and keeping Principal Andrews.

“The people who offer the funding [to keep CFA open] will demand that every student, teacher, staff person and administrator have nothing more to do with BAMN, and that BAMN is barred from the school,” they said in the statement.”But that policy can only be enforced if we choose to abide by it. . . . We will have to make sure that the brave and bold BAMN student leaders—teens, babies and toddlers, and Nicole Conaway, the one Catherine Ferguson teacher who stood with us, are not expelled, fired, transferred or jailed.

Henry Ford High School marching band joins fight for public education June 16 at CFA

“We know that there will be new attempts to sell off our school, cut back our programs and classes, etc. All civil rights victories are partial until the oppressed take power. The pact that Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. signed to end the 1963 struggle in Birmingham that we attribute today to breaking the back of the old Jim Crow was very limited in scope. Dr. King’s real victory from Birmingham was that it provided millions of people who had lived as second-class citizens for decades, with the inspiration to fight and the belief that poor Black people could beat the whole white establishment.”

Supporters came from all over the state

All DPS teachers were issued lay-off notices prior to June 16, and it is yet unclear who will be called back, if anyone. CFA staff was to meet June 23, but VOD has not received an update yet on their status.

Detroit Federation of Teachers President Keith Johnson, who was not present at the CFA rally, said at an earlier meeting that he had met with Roberts and that Roberts expressed his intentions to break the DFT contract, which already includes significant give-backs.

In contrast to the bold actions of the young women of CFA, he said DFT under its current leadership is not proposing any immediate action, but waiting for a propitious moment to file legal action.

CFA grad with mother at rally June 16

Many DFT teachers have said that Johnson holds office illegally, and have supported Cass Technical High School teacher Steve Conn, who is affiliated with BAMN, is his bid for the presidency.

Take action and organize your school– Join BAMN (The Coalition to Defend Affirmative Action, Integration & Immigrant Rights and Fight for Equality By Any Means Necessary, BAMN) at 855-ASK-BAMN  (855-275-2266), call BAMN leader and CFA struggle coordinator  Monica Smith at 313-585-6367 or email BAMN Coordinator Donna Stern at 

Website at 

Follow us on twitter: @followBAMN

Heros of CFA battle: students, babies, supporters


VIDEO of CFA students speaking at forum, by Michigan Messenger reporter Minnie Foreman

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