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“Uprooted” Wins Paul Tobenkin Memorial Award

Uprooted,” a project of ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network in collaboration with the Virginia Center for Investigative Journalism at WHRO, is the winner of this year’s Paul Tobenkin Memorial Award. Administered by Columbia Journalism School, this award recognizes outstanding achievements in reporting on racial or religious hatred, intolerance or discrimination in the United States.

In the series, reporters Brandi Kellam and Louis Hansen of VCIJ detailed how Christopher Newport University and other Virginia universities have displaced Black families, sometimes through the use of eminent domain, to make room for campus facilities, exacerbating the racial gap in home ownership and the loss of Black-owned land in the state. ProPublica senior editor Daniel Golden edited the series, and former research reporter Gabriel Sandoval contributed to the series.

Following publication, CNU acknowledged that the school’s construction and expansion have “come at a human cost, and we must continue to learn about and understand our complicated history.” Spurred by reporting from the series, the city of Newport News and CNU announced that they are creating a task force to reexamine the destruction of a Black neighborhood to make way for the school’s campus, and recommend possible redress for uprooted families. It will scrutinize four decades of the school’s property acquisitions and contact displaced families to ask what “restorative justice” would mean for them, and seek state assistance with potential compensation for victims. In March, The Virginia legislature approved creating a statewide commission to investigate the role of public colleges and universities in displacing Black communities.

In a documentary short, also called “Uprooted,” Newport News residents James and Barbara Johnson tell the story of their beloved neighborhood, which was displaced by the creation and expansion of what is now CNU. Weaving the Johnsons’ story in with the wider history of Newport News and other universities, the film examines the legacy of racism and Black land loss that still reverberates today. The film is directed by Kellam. It is produced by ProPublica’s Lisa Riordan Seville, with cinematography, editing and post production by VCIJ’s Christopher Tyree and graphics by ProPublica’s Mauricio Rodríguez Pons.

Learn more about the Paul Tobenkin Memorial Award.

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