“You know what doesn’t make sense, hardly ever? Conversations about race,” WNYC producer Rebecca Carroll began Thursday’s panel conversation about segregation in New York City’s schools.
Part of WNYC’s Power Lines: Race, Class, The City and Its Schools series, panelists held a heady discussion during the live broadcast in lower Manhattan’s Green Space.
All people of color with personal connections to New York City’s public school system, the panelists and moderators included Hamilton Harris, a former cast member in the controversial 1995 film Kids; Staceyann Chin, the Jamaican-born star of Cynthia Nixon’s new one-woman show, Motherstruck; and former NFL Player Wade Davis.
Panelists sat below a large graphic displaying Brooklyn Heights’ overcrowded P.S. 8, and Vinegar Hill’s underperforming P.S. 307, the two elementary schools that are the subject of a hotly contested rezoning plan involving themes of race, gentrification, and community conflict.
While the conversation wavered from its focus on Brooklyn schools to general racial tensions in New York, the overall theme of the evening remained relevant and critical of both education and changes in Kings County.
New York City is home to the largest school district in the country; more than 1.1 million students attend public education institutions throughout the five boroughs, according to the Department of Education. But the city’s schools are also some of the nation’s most divided along race and class lines.
A 2014 study conducted by UCLA researchers (PDF) reported that only 20 percent of NYC’s school zones were considered diverse, an extremely low percentage for such a diverse metropolitan area.
“New York is integrated in the daytime,” Davis chided, “but at night not at all, and that’s the myth of New York City.”
During the question-and-answer session, one Brooklyn mother asked panelists how, as individuals and a community, the label of gentrifier can be overcome. “I live in Bed Stuy, I moved there four years ago with, like, lots of other white people,” she introduced herself, going on to explain she and other area residents are concerned about the quality of the schools in the area.
Somewhat surprisingly, panelists lauded her attempts at integrating and improving the community’s schools.
Yet, while the discussion provided a cathartic, educated airing of anecdotes and dissatisfaction with the state of both New York City’s education system and the gentrification-related changes happening in its historically black neighborhoods, little was suggested for how to go about fixing these deeply entrenched sociocultural issues.
The entire discussion is available online.
[Photos by Hannah Frishberg]
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