New York City’s public schools are among the most segregated in the country – a fact that flies in the face of the city’s history as a bastion of progressivism. For this podcast, I spoke with former ProPublica reporter Nikole Hannah-Jones, now a New York Times Magazine staff writer, about her decision to delve deeply and personally into that paradox.
Hannah-Jones wrote about the public school her daughter attends in New York City, PS 307. The school is populated by poor children of color from nearby housing projects. It also became the site of community tension when predominantly white and well-off parents living nearby were pushed into its school zone to ease crowding at another school.
Hannah-Jones has spent much of the past four years chronicling how official actions and policies perpetuate racial and economic segregation in our nation’s housing and schools. For this story, she focused on the painful choices she and other parents have to make in the absence of official efforts to right past wrongs.
Here are some highlights from our conversation:
On why she decided to write a personal story about her family’s experience in a school already in the headlines:
Hannah-Jones: I just felt that there was a story that wasn't being told. That a lot of the history and, understandably, because newspaper reporters, as in TV reporters, have very short time to turn around something, they don't have a lot of space. They have to move on to other things. I felt like we were writing about all of these tensions and this difficulty without giving any context about why we were here, and what was making this so hard, and why, in this very liberal city, we were grappling race no better than anywhere else.
About her struggle with deciding to allow her daughter’s photograph to be on the cover of The New York Times Magazine:
Hannah-Jones: In the end, I thought, if they can see this little girl, a girl that they can relate to more for class reasons, or for whatever reasons, will they then be able to finally relate to all these children who are suffering for our decisions? Who adults are making decisions for and about, and putting them in situations they don't deserve. Ultimately, that was the reason why I finally said, "Okay." I felt the small sacrifice of her anonymity as worth it if people could make a connection to all of these other children through her.
On why she chose the chilling end to her piece that she did:
Hannah-Jones: I needed to end with a gut punch, really. I needed to end with something that would stick with you, and you wouldn't walk away from this story feeling like, ‘Yeah. This was really sad, but whatever.’ It was really important for me to end with that – in the end bring it back to the reality that all these 10,000 words are about these children.
Listen to this podcast on iTunes, SoundCloud or Stitcher. For more, read Hannah-Jones' piece Choosing a School for My Daughter in a Segregated City.