Access to a quality education is something that most people believe should exist for children in their own neighborhoods. While many folks may hold this belief in theory, few are willing to fight for it with the same determination as Aliya Moore. A native of Detroit’s west side and mother of two, Moore is an activist who began her organizational work struggling against the injustice of state-imposed emergency management over Detroit Public Schools. While many opted to move from Detroit after years of economic decline and the onset of the 2008 financial crisis, Moore refused to leave the city that is her home, contains her family’s history, and reflects her identity. In 2013 when it was announced by emergency manager Roy Roberts that Oakman Orthopedic, a school designed to accommodate students with special needs was to be closed, Ms. Moore stepped into the role of activist and took action.
Despite being a school for students with special needs, Oakman was open to general education students from the neighborhood. Aliya’s daughter Chrishawna had been enrolled at the school for years and her youngest Tylia was often by her mother’s side when she volunteered at Oakman. The school was in the neighborhood that they lived in and as most neighborhood schools do, stood as an integral part of the community. “I saw a child, he had one leg, you know, and he came to school and kinda shy, withdrawn. Within that next week of him being there, he running down the halls, you know. It’s just like, you saw life. And it’s like, to close that, it just…really impacted my whole life and started me into this activism.”
Moore knew Oakman as good as any parent or administrator. Because of her first hand experience with Oakman, she saw the reasons emergency manager Roy Roberts gave for closing the school as suspect and later discovered them to be entirely false. Roberts was appointed to take control of DPS by then governor Rick Snyder in 2011. When it came to Oakman in 2013 he called a meeting at the school where he told them that the school needed $900,000 in repairs and that enrollment was down 50%, figures he failed to substantiate to parents and school administrators in a meeting he held at the school to announce the closure. Parents, teachers, and even the principal seemed resigned to the inevitability of the school closing.
Aliya Moore wasn’t about to let a school close without a fight though, particularly one where she had witnessed children thriving, including her own. The next day at a school board meeting Aliya met a woman that would baptize her in the methods of community organizing. When long time Detroit activist Helen “Queen Mother” Moore overheard that Oakman—a school her granddaughter attended—was slated to be closed, she committed herself to help keep it open. “We just went into planning mode on, you know, strategies of how to get the word out there to keep it open,” said Aliya. This marked the beginning of Aliya’s affiliation with Queen Mother Moore’s organization Keep the Vote/No Takeover.
In the ensuing battle to save Oakman, Aliya grew into her role as an activist. The meeting with Roberts occurred in April of 2013 and in the months following Moore “ate, breathed, and slept Oakman.” Moore found that the schools that the students were to be dispersed to, Henderson and Noble, were not adequate in accommodating children with special needs and even filed a formal complaint with the Department of Education. Besides the fact that Henderson and Noble buildings were ill equipped to handle the needs of incoming Oakman students, they were also much further from the neighborhood. To illustrate the dangers students would endure walking to school, Moore organized a march to Henderson and also staged a protest at Noble. Along the 2.5-mile journey the children would be encountering numerous vacant buildings, a hostile environment brought on by the economic decline of the city and accelerated by the foreclosure crisis. Besides the hazard of poorly maintained empty buildings, vacant structures often attract criminal activity. Both schools also had more than double the population of Oakman, diminishing the amount of care and attention given to each student. Moore managed to take the fight to Lansing after an alum of Oakman provided funding to bus parents and students to the capital to make their case. The state offered nothing but a letter to the district to be more transparent. “I had parents whispering in my ear, you know, “Be careful. Thank you for fighting for us, but be careful.” And it’s like, I really started to see it. This stuff is real if you’re messing with people’s money.”
Moore’s organizing work quickly attracted the support of a number of other organizations, individuals, and media outlets. Tom Pedroni, a professor of education at Wayne State, assisted Moore and wrote an article in the Michigan Citizen that completely dismantled Roy Robert’s justification for the closure. Organizations like By Any Means Necessary (BAMN) offered organizational support. Keep the Vote/No Takeover took out ads in newspapers, rallied area residents, sought action from city council, doing everything they could to keep Oakman open. Aliya brought widespread attention to the cause of Oakman when she was featured in a story by Curt Guyette about the fight for the school and the broader failures of state’s emergency management over DPS.
Despite these efforts, the struggle to re-open Oakman continues. The state and its revolving door of emergency managers succeeded in closing a school that was a critical part of Aliya Moore’s community. Despite the school’s closure, Moore is undeterred in her advocacy for the revitalization of public education in Detroit. She is still fighting to re-open Oakman and her activism in that struggle gained her the knowledge and experience to continue the fight for other Detroit schools that remain in danger. “You just got to keep fighting and know that it’s gonna come back. It’s gonna come back because it wasn’t right.” Aliya remains active in Keep the Vote/No Takeover and at Paul Robeson Academy where her she is a member of the PTA and her daughters currently attend.
Guyette, Curt. “After Six Years and Four State-Appointed Managers, Detroit Public Schools’ Debt has Grown Even Deeper.” www.metrotimes.com. Metro Times, last modified Feb 25, 2015 accessed Jan 22, 2020, https://www.metrotimes.com/detroit/after-six-years-and-four-state-appointed-managers-detroit-public-schools-debt-is-deeper-than-ever/Content?oid=2302010.
Pedroni, Tom. “DPS Disregards its Own Rules in Rush to Close Beloved Community School.” Michigan Citizen, Aug, 2013. https://proxy.lib.wayne.edu/login?url=https://search-proquest-com.proxy.lib.wayne.edu/docview/1430384468?accountid=14925.
Ibid. Guyette, Curt. 2015.
Aliya Moore, interviewed by Peter Blackmer and Oriana Yilma, May 17, 2019, Voices from the Grassroots Oral History Collection, Detroit Equity Action Lab, Damon J. Keith Center for Civil Rights, Wayne State University Law School.