One year ago, I stepped down from Urban Prep Academies, the nonprofit organization I founded in 2002 with the mission of improving educational and career outcomes for Black boys and young men. I haven’t spoken publicly about it because I trusted that Chicago Public Schools (CPS) would do what was right for the students of the country’s first network of all-male charter high-schools. I now know that my trust was misplaced, and I can no longer remain silent.
In March of 2021, a 29-year-old former student made a series of accusatory social media posts involving me and Urban Prep. I knew the posts were false. Nonetheless, I directed Urban Prep to report the posts to CPS.
During the ensuing 15-month investigation, CPS never told me of what I was being accused. Instead, without my knowledge, CPS collected my phone, bank, credit-card, social media, and travel records—the vast majority for time after my accuser was an adult and years after being out of high-school. CPS even tried to search a storage unit I rent; and explored if I’d murdered (yes, murdered) a close friend who tragically drowned in Brazil…while I was in Chicago.
When CPS issued its report in July 2022, they claimed to have “substantiated” the allegation that, thirteen years ago, I inappropriately touched a student while driving him home. I was shocked by the report’s wrong conclusions, lack of evidence, length, salaciousness, calumniations, and blatant errors. For example, the report claimed charges on my credit card were for trysts at a hotel when my accuser was an adult. The charges were actually for my monthly gym membership, not for hotel rooms. The report asserted that I recently traveled with my accuser to the Bahamas; I haven’t been to the Bahamas in over twenty-years. Contrary to CPS’ policies, I was never given the chance to correct errors, provide witnesses and exculpatory evidence, or even review the report prior to its finalization.
CPS’ report acknowledged that the person who made the accusations against me and Urban Prep has a criminal record, a history of substance abuse, and mental health challenges. My accuser has admitted to fabricating the allegations and attempted to extort money from me. He also ceased cooperating with the CPS investigation only a few months after it began and won’t provide a sworn statement of his story. Perhaps most telling, three independent investigations, including two by the Illinois Department of Children & Family Services (DCFS), found no evidence to support these same allegations.
I’ve gone to the courts seeking review of CPS’ report and decision. As the matter has proceeded, CPS has refused to provide me with almost half of the materials referenced in its report. In trying to justify withholding key materials from me, CPS admitted in court that their Title IX Officer never reviewed any of the underlying investigative documentation before “adopting” the report and mandating that I be fired. CPS’ behavior flouts our country’s core principles of due process, equal protection, and the presumption of innocence.
The allegations made against me are false and the CPS report’s conclusions are wrong. In over thirty years as an educator, I have never been accused of inappropriate conduct by any of the thousands of students I’ve taught and mentored. And what’s more, none of the dozens of students and former students interviewed by CPS indicated that they have ever seen or heard about me engaging in any inappropriate conduct.
CPS leadership indicated that they would only renew Urban Prep’s charters if I was no longer employed by the organization and so I resigned. Unsurprisingly, CPS reneged on this commitment and moved to close two Urban Prep schools and open their own district-managed school based on Urban Prep’s model. A CPS Board member justified CPS’ decision by falsely stating that “a child was sexually abused, groomed, manipulated and exploited for years.” Even the CPS report didn’t make these bizarre assertions, but that didn’t stop the CPS Board member from slandering me, while the rest of the Board voted to shutter Urban Prep’s schools. They took this action after I resigned from Urban Prep and despite CPS’ Chief Portfolio Officer publicly telling the Board that CPS does not “have any school” that is as successful with Black boys as Urban Prep.
Exorbitant public resources have been and continue to be expended by CPS to engage in this incomprehensible behavior. As recently as a few months ago, CPS was monitoring and reporting on my personal Facebook and Twitter accounts. CPS has appealed the Court’s decision stopping CPS’ takeover of Urban Prep, removed students from Urban Prep without parental consent, refused to make repairs to facilities and tried to evict Urban Prep from their buildings. And what of my accuser? Over the years, Urban Prep and I have tried to help him; CPS, on the other hand, simply exploited his vulnerability, thereby exacerbating his various personal challenges. CPS is supposed to serve Chicago’s children. Sadly, their actions here demonstrate that they have very different priorities.
CPS has presented false narratives as facts, trusting that simply because they say it’s so, the public will believe it’s so. Thankfully, not everyone has been fooled. Urban Prep families, faith-based leaders and community activists have seen the truth, spoken up and asked the prescient question: why is CPS doing this? I hope more people join us in this fight for our children’s futures. CPS is using taxpayer money to deliberately harm me, my accuser and, most importantly, Urban Prep: an organization founded and led by a Black man with an unimpeachable seventeen-year record of successfully educating Black boys. This assault must stop.
In the schoolyard, bullies prevail when people lack the courage to intervene and fight back. The same is true with a school district like CPS whose “might makes right” approach quells public dissent. In both cases the only way to end the abuse is to stand up to the bully. And that is exactly what I will continue to do.