“‘Separate but equal’ is no more true today than it was in 1954.”
Nikole Hannah-Jones told more than 100 community members and journalists Monday night that they aren’t “off the hook” when it comes to educating today’s children.
The New York Times Magazine investigative reporter confronted the issue of school segregation during her keynote speech for the “Race and Schools: Macon is Not Alone” forum at the Mercer University Medical School auditorium.
The event was the centennial celebration of the life of journalist Jack Tarver. It’s the third public forum in the “race and schools” project from Mercer University’s Center for Collaborative Journalism, The Telegraph and Georgia Public Broadcasting. The program also included a panel discussion with five education reporters and editors from across the country.
A January article by the Center for Collaborative Journalism showed how the racial concentration of Bibb County public schools has increased dramatically during the past two decades. Hannah-Jones said this hasn’t just happened in Macon but across the country.
The 1954 Brown vs. Board of Education ruling banned segregation in public schools, saying that “separate is inherently unequal.” But integration had reached its peak by 1988, and many schools across the country have in effect become segregated once again.
Segregated schools leave behind the most vulnerable children. Studies show that these schools have less-experienced teachers, less-rigorous instruction, lower funding and higher dropout rates. Instead of closing the achievement gap between white and black students, segregated schools are widening it, Hannah-Jones said.
“The work that I do is writing about real children who are in school right now. We are failing those children. We may want to pretend that there’s no problem,” Hannah-Jones said. “We have a moral obligation to live up to the promises we make to children.”
The community and journalists have to challenge the belief that there’s nothing that can be done about school segregation. In most places, it’s intentional and has been created, she said.
Integration is the one thing that can solve the problem, but it’s being ignored and we need to ask why, Hannah-Jones said. Integration is about justice, equality, sharing power and full citizenship.
Panelists for the program were Trisha Powell Crain, education reporter for the Alabama Media Group; Jane Hammond, education reporter for the Daily Press in Newport News in Virginia; Cynthia Liu, CEO of the K-12 News Network in Los Angeles; Christopher Quinn, education editor for the Atlanta Journal-Constitution; and Amber Walker, kindergarten through 12th-grade education reporter for The Capital Times in Madison, Wisconsin.