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“Uprooted” Wins Top Award from the Education Writers Association

The Education Writers Association announced that “Uprooted,” a project of ProPublica’s Local Reporting Network in collaboration with the Virginia Center for Investigative Journalism at WHRO, was awarded the Fred M. Hechinger Grand Prize for Distinguished Education Reporting, a top prize in the Education Writers Association’s National Awards for Education Reporting. The series also won first place in the Collaborations (all newsroom sizes) category.

The series of articles, by reporters Brandi Kellam and Louis Hansen of VCIJ, and former ProPublica research reporter Gabriel Sandoval, 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.

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, contact displaced families to ask what “restorative justice” would mean for them and seek state assistance with potential compensation for victims. In May, Virginia lawmakers created a statewide commission to investigate the role of public colleges and universities in displacing Black communities.

“A skillfully and deeply reported piece showing the ways race and racism have inflected not just the bricks and mortar, but also the enrollment decisions, staffing, and ethos of an institution, even very recently,” an awards judge said. “The reporting combined on-the-ground, deeply local knowledge and historical sweep and context, as well as useful educational context.”

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.

See a list of all of the Education Writers Association’s top prize winners. See a full list of all of the 2023 National Awards for Education Reporting winners.

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